China can meet ‘Belt and Road’ chal­lenges

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

As the top pri­or­ity for China’s pe­riph­eral diplo­macy in the newera and the ma­jor re­gion of ac­tiv­ity for the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt and the 21st Cen­tu­ryMar­itime Silk Road, South­east Asia oc­cu­pies a spe­cial place in China’s “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive”.

But the ini­tia­tive faces some chal­lenges. The first is some coun­tries’ con­cern over the Belt and Road. Some peo­ple say the ini­tia­tive smacks of neo-colo­nial­ism be­cause they wrongly as­sume its pur­pose is to ex­ploit energy and min­eral re­sources in the re­gion, which will harm the re­gional economies and the en­vi­ron­ment. There are also cul­tural con­cerns that Chi­nese in­vest­ment might change the cul­tures and lifestyles of some coun­tries.

The ma­jor con­cern, how­ever, is geopo­lit­i­cal. Some say the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive is akin to the “Mar­shall Plan” and “String of Pearls”, and part of China’s grand strat­egy to change the re­gional and global or­ders and seek hege­mony. And as neigh­bors, the mem­bers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east AsianNa­tions are con­cerned about China’s strate­gic in­ten­tions.

The sec­ond is in­vest­ment risk. Some ASEAN mem­bers are un­der­go­ing trans­for­ma­tion and even fac­ing un­rest at home , af­fect­ing their re­la­tions with China. This poses in­vest­ment risks that could even end in fail­ure. Typ­i­cal ex­am­ples in­clude the aban­don­ment of the “Rice for Train” treaty with Thai­land, and the sus­pen­sion of the My­it­soneDam­pro­ject and in­ter­rup­tion in theKyaukpyu-Kun­ming rail­way pro­ject in Myan­mar. On China’s side, some en­ter­prises do lack pro­fes­sion­al­ism, with a fewnot hav­ing even the ba­sic idea about the laws and cus­toms of the coun­tries they have in­vested in.

The third chal­lenge is big-power ri­valry in the re­gion. As theUS pushes ahead with its re­bal­anc­ing to Asia strat­egy, it has sig­nif­i­cantly strength­ened its al­liances and part­ner­ships with some South­east Asian coun­tries, as well as con­sol­i­dated its mil­i­tary pres­ence in the re­gion. TheUS has been hold­ing mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with re­gional coun­tries more fre­quently, in­volved it­self in­Myan­mar’s demo­cratic trans­for­ma­tion, signed a de­fense agree­ment with the Philip­pines, and re­laxed the re­stric­tions on ex­ports of weapons to Viet­nam. Washington has also got in­creas­ingly in­volved in the South China Sea dis­putes on the pre­text of de­fend­ing free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion but ac­tu­ally to in­ter­na­tion­al­ize the dis­putes and crit­i­cize Bei­jing’s recla­ma­tion pro­ject on theNan­sha is­lands.

Ja­pan and In­dia, too, are tak­ing a lot of in­ter­est in the re­gion. Ja­pan has deep­ened its de­fense co­op­er­a­tion with the Philip­pines through a de­fense agree­ment and mil­i­tary drills. And In­dia has been closely co­op­er­at­ing with Viet­nam on arms sales and ex­plo­ration and ex­ploita­tion of oil and gas in the South China Sea. Ex­ter­nal pow­ers’ in­volve­ment in the re­gion has in­ten­si­fied ten­sions, which could be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive for the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.

Given these chal­lenges, China and ASEAN need to strengthen co­op­er­a­tion to pro­mote the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive. First, the two sides should co­op­er­ate more closely on the se­cu­rity front to build mu­tual con­fi­dence. And to ease ASEAN mem­bers’ sus­pi­cions and con­cerns, China should be more pa­tient and frank with its se­cu­rity pol­icy and take con­crete mea­sures to pro­mote re­gional se­cu­rity. The two sides can also co­or­di­nate and co­op­er­ate on spe­cific de­fense is­sues like strength­en­ing mil­i­tary ex­changes, and hold­ing more joint train­ing pro­grams and drills.

Sec­ond, the two sides need to strengthen eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion. China, on its part, should pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to ASEAN mem­bers’ de­mands and needs, and take mea­sures to in­te­grate its eco­nomic strate­gies with them on the prin­ci­ple of “jointly built” in or­der to al­lay fears over China dom­i­nat­ing the projects. Also, it is im­por­tant for Chi­nese en­ter­prises to learn about and ob­serve lo­cal in­vest­ment poli­cies and rules, and en­sure the projects serve the in­ter­ests of the lo­cal peo­ple by, for in­stance, spread­ing ed­u­ca­tion and cre­at­ing jobs.

Third, the South China Sea is­sue has to be prop­erly han­dled. China and ASEAN can co­op­er­ate on mar­itime se­cu­rity un­der the “dual-track” ap­proach. Mar­itime dis­putes can be ne­go­ti­ated through bi­lat­eral di­a­logues, while China and ASEAN can have mul­ti­lat­eral mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion on is­sues such as re­source de­vel­op­ment and pro­tec­tion, free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, mar­itime re­search and res­cue oper­a­tions.

This be­ing the Year of China-ASEAN Mar­itime Co­op­er­a­tion, the two sides should seize the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop the ac­tion plan for the 21st Cen­tu­ryMar­itime Silk Road. The au­thor is with the Na­tional De­fense Univer­sity of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army.

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