Ger­man ex­perts im­pressed by ini­tia­tives


Since China pro­posed the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt and 21st Cen­tu­ry­Mar­itime Silk Road ini­tia­tives in 2013, Ger­man think tanks have been pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to the projects. And some Ger­man ex­perts on China can in­flu­ence their coun­try’s pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

One such ex­pert, Na­dine Gode­hardt, a re­searcher with the Ger­man In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional and Se­cu­rity Af­fairs, said in a June 2014 re­port the “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tives” were “a re­ac­tion” to the US pol­icy of “re­bal­anc­ing in Asia” on one hand and an ex­ten­sion of China’s 2011 New Silk Road Strat­egy on the other. Gode­hardt also sawthe ini­tia­tives as an an­swer to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s idea of Eurasian in­te­gra­tion.

Say­ing that Ger­many and other Euro­pean coun­tries, even the West as a whole, paid lit­tle at­ten­tion to China’s in­flu­ence in its west­ern neigh­bor­hood, Gode­hardt also viewed the ini­tia­tives as “a proof that the Chi­nese lead­er­ship will more con­fi­dently rep­re­sent the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­ter­ests of the coun­try”. Gode­hardt be­longs to the group of Ger­man ex­perts who in gen­eral have a pos­i­tive viewof the “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tives”.

An­other Ger­man ex­pert, Moritz Ru­dolf, of theMer­ca­tor In­sti­tute for China Stud­ies, has said that, “in­stead of sim­ply con­nect­ing China with Europe”, the ini­tia­tives are “aimed at build­ing a China-cen­tric in­fra­struc­ture net­work that cov­ers the whole re­gion”, which would strengthen “its po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic am­bi­tion over­seas”.

And last year Helga Zep­pLaRouche, founder of the Han­nover-based Schiller In­sti­tute, re­it­er­ated in sev­eral in­ter­views that while the Silk Road opened an epoch of mu­tual un­der­stand­ing for hu­mankind, the new Silk Roads com­bined with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy would sig­nal the be­gin­ning of a new age, in which coun­tries can re­al­ize their com­mon goals through more in­ti­mate con­nec­tions in­stead of re­solv­ing con­flicts through war.

For Gode­hardt, re­gional po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity is a ma­jor con­cern for the ini­tia­tives, es­pe­cially the threat of ter­ror­ism in Afghanistan and lack of po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in Cen­tral Asian coun­tries. She says China should fac­tor in the re­gional se­cu­rity prob­lems to build a se­cu­rity belt out of the ini­tia­tives.

Main­stream Ger­man think tanks be­lieve China’s ini­tia­tives are in ac­cor­dance with Ger­man and Euro­pean in­ter­ests, and thus of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for co­or­di­na­tion. Eber­hard Sand­schnei­der, of the Ger­man So­ci­ety for For­eign Poli­cies, said “Ger­many is in­ter­ested in a more in­ti­mate trade re­la­tion­ship with China… based on rec­i­proc­ity”. China needs sup­port from Ger­many, too, to strengthen trade ties with the West and bet­ter deal with do­mes­tic eco­nomic chal­lenges, he said.

In his 2014 ar­ti­cle, “Ger­many’s China Pol­icy Takes a Lead­ing Role in Europe”, Se­bas­tianHeil- mann, found­ing direc­tor ofMer­ca­tor In­sti­tute for China Stud­ies, said Bei­jing of­fers a good chance for con­crete co­op­er­a­tion and the eco­nomic belt in Cen­tral Asia will help pro­mote Ger­man and Euro­pean poli­cies. There are al­ready “ex­ist­ing Euro­pean poli­cies that are com­ple­men­tary” to the ini­tia­tives, Heil­mann said, re­fer­ring to the Trans­port Cor­ri­dor EuropeCau­ca­sus-Asia, which con­nects Europe with Asia, and INOGATE, an en­ergy pro­gram be­tween Europe and coun­tries bor­der­ing the Black and Caspian seas. Th­ese poli­cies make it pos­si­ble for China and Ger­many, even other Euro­pean coun­tries, to work to­gether in Cen­tral and West Asia.

Also, in her re­port the “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tives”, Gode­hardt ad­vised the Euro­pean Union to hold for­mal talks with China on the ini­tia­tives, say­ing they of­fered two spe­cific benefits. First, they will sim­plify the ex­changes of ideas over in­ter­ests, projects and in­vest­ments. China has al­ready held pro­grams such as a con­fer­ence on ur­ban­iza­tion in Urumqi, cap­i­tal of Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, in De­cem­ber 2013, but no Euro­pean rep­re­sen­ta­tive par­tic­i­pated.

Sec­ond, Gode­hardt said, talks be­tween China and the EU can help iden­tify sec­tors in which the two sides can have pur­pose­ful co­op­er­a­tion. For that, they have to hold de­tailed dia­logue in­stead of just meet­ing to set ab­stract tar­gets, es­pe­cially be­cause Chi­naEU ties are al­ready highly in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized. In­fra­struc­ture, agri­cul­ture, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and ur­ban­iza­tion are sec­tors where they can co­op­er­ate.

If heeded, Gode­hardt’s ad­vice could lead a step closer to a dia­logue on the “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tives” and make of­fi­cial co­or­di­na­tion be­tween China and the EU a re­al­ity. The au­thor is vice-direc­tor of and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Ger­man Stud­ies, Bei­jing For­eign Stud­ies Uni­ver­sity.

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