The New Silk Road

Theoretically, China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) — or the “Silk Road Initiative” — coincides with or follows up China’s “Go Out Policy” which was set by former Chinese Premier Hu Jintao a number of years ago. The current Chinese Premier, Xi Jinping, announced BRI in 2013. In addition to advancing BRI through bilateral initiatives, China has also tried to advanced BRI through international and multilateral forums such as the ‘World Trade Organization’ (WTO). But BRI is currently stalled in the WTO as well as other international forums for political and social reasons more than anything else. Labor, environmental, and human rights issues are merely tangential or perhaps even a distraction from the political, social, and geopolitical issues standing in the way of BRI.

The conceptual and physical layout of BRI comprises of six “corridors” which have both land and maritime components:

1. Central Asia and Russia Corridor

2. Eurasian Corridor, which aims to connect Mainland China to the Port of Rotterdam in The Netherlands

3. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

4. Middle Eastern Corridor

5. Myanmar-Bangladesh-India Corridor

6. Indochina Corridor

BRI-related projects have led to losses for China in places such as Venezuela, Iraq, Indonesia, and a few other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. However, China’s BRI-related endeavours in the developing world have not entirely amounted to losses. And on the flipside, the prospects of success from a Eurasian standpoint are great, given that it is a foregone conclusion that connectivity and infrastructure positively correlate with productivity and increases in trade. Connecting Eurasia will unleash a kind of economic and social potential that has yet to be seen, given that as things stand, Eurasia comprises of approximately 70 percent of global GDP and approximately 75 percent of the world’s energy supply. One must also take Eurasia’s cultural and social wealth into account, which in turn buoys the economic and material aspects of a Eurasian project.

The greatest gain for China would be to bring the European Union (EU) on board with BRI. In fact, the basic interests between Europe and China are very much aligned, notwithstanding BRI. Therefore, bringing the European Union on board with BRI is a move that relies heavily on communication and dialogue between the EU and China more than anything else. As things stand, growing Chinese economic influence is viewed by certain individuals and groups as extractive and exploitative in nature rather than mutually beneficial and positive-sum for China’s interlocutors. But with a growing emphasis on the core objectives of BRI — as well as the ability to communicate these core objectives to the international community — more countries may come on board with the project over the course of time.

Currently, BRI wields sixty or so signatory countries, and in turn, these countries wield more than half of the world’s population and over one-third of the world’s GDP. In turn, Eurasian connectivity and infrastructure — and thus BRI — is essentially underpinned by two core objectives:

1. Global trade

2. An “open world economy”

Nevertheless, the project is viewed by many folks in the West as a self-serving initiative on the part of China aimed solely at benefitting Chinese ‘State-Owned Enterprises’ (SOEs). But BRI is actually a byproduct or response to a broad, large-scale, and uncontrollable economic and social phenomenon, namely, globalization. Certain folks have theorized that BRI is a way for China to overcome “domestic saturation.” But in reality, BRI is a response and knee-jerk reaction to globalization more than anything else.

However, with globalization comes political instability and social strife on a grand and global scale, thus the setbacks which BRI has faced in its overall implementation. As a result, even if China were to effectively communicate the core objectives of BRI to a British audience or a European audience and thus bring these audiences on board with the plan, BRI and thus China will be drawn into the political and social strife which has captured a wide range of countries.

Another major obstacle to BRI is Sinophobia in Washington. However, Sinophobia — along with Islamophobia — cannot be solely attributed to Washington. In fact, Sinophobia and Islamophobia extend even into China’s closest neighbours. In turn, Washington has tried to advance its “Focus on Asia” or “Asia Pivot” through the exploitation of the Sinophobia that exists on the part of China’s closest neighbours. But Sinophobia along Chinese borders may not faze China, given that the “Go Out Policy” of China and thus the BRI actually equate to a “Go West” endeavour. In sum, it remains to be seen as to whether basic cognizance of the tangible and non-tangible benefits of connectivity, development, exchange, and productivity can override bigotry, extremism, fear, and ignorance.

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