Silk Road ini­tia­tive shows China’s de­sire for lead­er­ship role

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

While still sa­vor­ing its tri­umph over the United States in the launch­ing of the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank, China is push­ing ahead on an­other ini­tia­tive which Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping also in­tro­duced in 2013: The Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt and the 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road, twin projects which are breath­tak­ing in scope and which could po­ten­tially af­fect more than half the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

In a key­note ad­dress on Satur­day at this year’s Boao Fo­rum for Asia, Pres­i­dent Xi voiced China’s will­ing­ness to shoul­der “greater re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for re­gional and world peace and devel­op­ment” and ex­panded on his twin pro­pos­als, which are re­ferred to by Chi­nese of­fi­cials as the “Belt and Road.”

In Septem­ber 2013, the Chi­nese leader, while vis­it­ing Kaza­khstan, pro­posed the con­struc­tion of a Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt to strengthen eco­nomic ties be­tween China and the coun­tries of Cen­tral Asia and Europe. The pro­posed eco­nomic belt along the old Silk Road, Mr. Xi said, would reach from the Pa­cific Ocean


to the Baltic Sea and would see a trans­porta­tion net­work link­ing East Asia, West Asia and South Asia.

The fol­low­ing month, while ad­dress­ing the In­done­sian par­lia­ment, the Chi­nese leader for the first time spoke of a new “mar­itime silk road” to en­hance the part­ner­ship be­tween China and the coun­tries of Southeast Asia and to pro­mote mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion. It would run from the south­ern Chi­nese coast through the South China Sea and the In­dian Ocean be­fore reach­ing the west coast of Africa and then mov­ing into the Red Sea and the Mediter­ranean, end­ing in Europe, like the land route.

In his Boao Fo­rum speech, the pres­i­dent said the “Belt and Road” — like AIIB — are open ini­tia­tives and are not meant to re­place ex­ist­ing mech­a­nisms for re­gional co­op­er­a­tion.

Seek­ing to dis­pel sus­pi­cion that China would dom­i­nate as­so­ci­ated projects, Mr. Xi re­as­sured his lis­ten­ers by say­ing: “In pro­mot­ing this ini­tia­tive, China will fol­low the prin­ci­ple of wide con­sul­ta­tion, joint con­tri­bu­tion and shared benefits. The pro­grams of devel­op­ment will be open and in­clu­sive, not ex­clu­sive. They will be a real cho­rus com­pris­ing all coun­tries along the routes, not a solo for China it­self.”

The same day, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment re­leased an “ac­tion plan” on the pro­posed Belt and Road ini­tia­tive, ex­plain­ing that it is meant to “connect Asian, Euro­pean and African coun­tries more closely” and pro­mote mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial co­op­er­a­tion “to a new high and in new forms.”

The Belt and Road ini­tia­tive is meant to in­te­grate the economies of coun­tries ad­join­ing China and along both the land and mar­itime routes. The key word is con­nec­tiv­ity in all forms, link­ing not only in­fra­struc­ture but also fi­nance and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions.

The am­bi­tious pro­pos­als in the ac­tion plan call for hard­ware in the form of port in­fra­struc­ture, rail­way links and avi­a­tion in­fra­struc­ture as well as transcon­ti­nen­tal sub­ma­rine op­ti­cal ca­bles, re­gional power grids and an In­for­ma­tion Silk Road.

This will not be fi­nanced by Bei­jing alone although, in Fe­bru­ary, China an­nounced the set­ting up of a US$40 bil­lion Silk Road Fund. Pre­sum­ably, the AIIB may also be called upon to fund in­fra­struc­ture projects.

While call­ing for re­gional in­te­gra­tion, the plan also pro­vides for greater eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion within China, with the up­grad­ing of 15 ports and the ex­pan­sion of the Shang­hai and Guangzhou air­ports into lo­gis­ti­cal hubs.

The ac­tion plan also pro­vides for lower non­tar­iff bar­ri­ers, peo­ple-topeo­ple ex­changes and devel­op­ment of cross-bor­der e-com­merce. In­deed, some parts of the ac­tion plan read as though what is be­ing pro­posed is a gi­gan­tic free trade area ex­tend­ing across three con­ti­nents.

Separately, Wu Jian­min, a re­tired se­nior diplo­mat, pub­lished an ar­ti­cle ex­plain­ing the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive. “The ‘One Belt and One Road’ ini­tia­tive con­cerns 65 coun­tries and 4.4 bil­lion peo­ple,” Mr. Wu wrote. “This is China’s most im­por­tant and strate­gic ini­tia­tive.”

“China is not look­ing for uni­lat­eral gains, but work­ing for the com­mon pros­per­ity, for China’s devel­op­ment is in­sep­a­ra­ble from the world; and world’s sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity are in­sep­a­ra­ble from China,” Mr. Wu wrote. “We all long for a more peace­ful and pros­per­ous world in the 21st cen­tury. China is ready to work with all other coun­tries to make our planet a bet­ter place to live.”

Th­ese are noble sen­ti­ments. They re­flect China’s new­found de­sire to play a lead­er­ship role in the world. If China suc­ceeds in pulling off this gi­gan­tic ini­tia­tive and bring­ing about strong eco­nomic growth for much of the world, it will have truly proved it­self a new su­per­power.

Truly, the age of Deng Xiaop­ing, when he called for Chi­nese to “hide our ca­pa­bil­i­ties and bide our time, never try to take the lead” is over. A new era has dawned, and China feels that its time has come. Twit­ter: @FrankChing1

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