On Strategic Correlation (or, the Importance of looking like you’re doing something when you sort of might not be)

Let’s get this thing started.

At Andrew’s suggestion, I made sure to listen to this China Africa Project podcast on One Belt One Road. The brief summary is that China wants to build infrastructure and set up agreements to make trade flow more easily across a Eurasian land route (the belt), and a Indian Ocean maritime route (the road). It’s a pretty natural extension of the String of Pearls idea meant to protect maritime trade between China and the Middle East, it’s another excuse for China to build sandcastles in the South China Sea, and it happens to totally exclude the Americas in this sweet new trade opportunity. Must have been an oversight.

In the course of the podcast, the discussion turned to the the idea that China doesn’t intend on directing the entire OBOR project. What this means in practice is that Egypt and Sudan might decide to build a new rail line between their countries, and this rail line could be branded as part of the Maritime Silk Road’s East Africa leg. This is a pretty sweet deal for the Chinese: they get to claim participation in every infrastructure project along the belt and road. This likely wouldn’t come in the form of claiming credit for inspiring each individual infrastructure project. Instead, we might see reports touting the success of One Belt One Road that includes every expanded harbor and new rail line created, regardless of Chinese influence. Here we get to the title: correlation doesn’t imply causation, and the announcement of One Belt One Road doesn’t necessarily mean that every new infrastructure project  between Beijing and London is inspired by One Belt One road. But any given project could be.

The lesson: If you’re reasonably certain something is going to happen, claim you’re interested in making it happen. You might actually get credit for it.





3 thoughts on “On Strategic Correlation (or, the Importance of looking like you’re doing something when you sort of might not be)”

  1. But would Sudan really want to pony up the dough for a railroad if they thought that it would only really create a connection between them and Egypt? Egypt? Her?

    Without the promise of greener pastures than Egypt, I doubt Sudan ponies up the dough for this. I feel like the Chinese didn’t cause this, but they kinda caused it.


  2. Fair point: to get credit, your claim actually has to be credible. Does infrastructure beget infrastructure? Is growth its own cause? Perhaps so, so the Chinese wouldn’t be claiming credit for nothing.


  3. Infrastructure only matters when it makes meaningful connections. Imagine being President for life of Kazakhstan. Why would you build a major railroad between Astana and Ulaanbaatar? You’d have to negotiate with a bunch of non-Kazakh actors, invest loads of money, and expend political capital. For what? A couple hundred barrels of yak milk? To pull some Tugriks away from Mongolian tourists? No, you do it because you’d then have a connection to China.

    Maybe China shouldn’t get credit for building it, but for leading the charge and for providing the incentive for others to bandwagon.


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