By Balázs Sárvári and Anna Szeidovitz
Corvinus University of Budapest
The Silk Road project is a key element of a “new round of opening to the world” as the Chinese strategy, defined by Xi Jinping, reveals the goals and barriers of the country’s global responsibility.
Our age is the transition period during which China is constantly further included in globalization. Although due to China’s intensifying presence, the global networks will have more and more Chinese characteristics, the concrete process is how China joins globalization and not how it modifies the current workflow, or how China spreads its own global narrative around the world. In other words, “China is seeking to ‘supplement’ the existing international order rather than to revise it” (Godement, 2015, p. 2). This restructuring does not mean the weakening of the USA, but a turn to global partnership, which empowers the developing countries.
It is essential to differentiate China’s “One Belt, One Road” (yi dai yi lu, hereafter OBOR) initiative from any alliances since there are no direct political strings attached. On the one hand, this refers to national, on the other to global geopolitical challenges. The rhythm of China’s economy means a continuously increasing need for resources and markets, henceforward also a need for a progressive policy that ensures this broad meaning of national security. It already includes maintaining the infrastructure and the institutions needed for China’s sustainable development (Geeraerts, 2011, p. 58).
Since “Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that ‘economic imbalances’ are the root causes of conflict and that China should provide more ‘public goods’ to mitigate them,” (Godement, 2015, p. 7) there is a highlighted comparison with the Marshall Plan, which had quite similar rhetoric. In his speech at Harvard University on the 5th of June 1947, George C. Marshall (1947) stated that “Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos”. Next to the above-mentioned similarity there are also basic differences between them. Whilst the American project’s goal was to prevent the escalation of a new World War by consolidating poverty in Europe and to contain the Soviet Union, the Chinese target aims to build a strong partnership with the EU that fits the new global order, to pacify with market rules the (potential) conflict zones that will be crossed by the routes and to develop its poor western regions by linking them into the world economy.
In the European countries, there was a big lack of investments and a need to alter their relations after the economic downturn of 2007. These intentions motivate them to intensify relations with China. Today’s China’s economic presence in the region is highly connected to the modern Silk Road concept that will be fully realized in about 35 years, as a recent report (Li, 2014) describes, what may exactly be the centenary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (2049). The historical timing has special meaning since it is understood as one of the first steps of China’s high-profile diplomacy (Huang, 2015). The China– EU relations are an essential milestone on the road China accepts to pursue within the global framework.
All these indicate a complete geopolitical plan. Its economic side is motivated by the disillusionment from the effectiveness of the Western institutions. Until the beginning of the economic crises, Western economies, and mainly the U.S. were accepted as the responsible powers for the balance of the global economy. The downturn served as a wake-up call for China to take its part in rebalancing these imbalances through, for example, the OBOR. China decided to accept the law of globalization and to fulfill the given void. China in that way adapts to the change in global governance that turns the OBOR concept into a contribution to the stability of the new world order.
It is necessary to build up a supply-based commercial system that differs from the historical Silk Road. That was an organically developed infrastructure to meet foreign demand for Chinese silk. The idea of the OBOR comes from China, more concretely from its understanding of the distribution of global power in the 21st century. This time, unlike in ancient or medieval times when the cultural exchange was a subsidiary, the production process will follow geopolitical planning and thus a global vision. Nowadays, this normative convergence is the primary goal and in itself the political side of the OBOR.
It is a much deeper strategy than a simple cost-benefit analysis. This already shows that China did not simply import the laws of classic capitalism. Its cultural heritage is the source of this development and the so-called OBOR project is a pragmatic tool in that regard. This proves that the common global interests are the sources of competitiveness.
Henceforward, it is a misunderstanding to explain this or any other Chinese project as a regime-changing tool, like Zhang Jun expressed:
Clearly, China has faced major challenges within the existing global system as it tries to carve out a role befitting its economic might. That may explain why, with its “one belt, one road” initiative and its establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), China’s government is increasingly attempting to recast the world order—in particular, the monetary and trading systems—on its own terms. (Zhang, 2015)
The Sino-European partnership has vast strategic potential. China is increasingly suspected to be a Trojan horse in the European Union since its growing activity may target to weaken the continent’s political economic power. However, that is far from Chinese interests. The complexity of the phenomenon needs to state that (1) China is not a leading power in Europe; (2) it does not have the capacities to serve as a dividing force. Essentially, the suspicious rhetoric does not harmonize with the Chinese foreign policy guidelines that provoke strong and united Europe since only this can maintain the international environment for the sustainable development of the Chinese economy and society. From a European point of view, the normative convergence of a global vision at a European level is difficult, not to mention the strain of merging it with the Chinese vision. It is false to think of Europe as a single entity. In reality, various national interests are competing against each other and many cultural restraints hinder the creation of a single common European standpoint.
China currently has interests in a multipolar world instead of an America dominated unipolar one that highlights the role of a prosperous and strong EU since “it is the most likely candidate to become another pole” (Turcsányi, 2014). As Geeraerts (2011, p. 57) expresses, “[t]he unipolar moment is definitely fading and slowly giving way to an international system characterized by multilayered and culturally diversified polarity”.
To further the proposal, the Chinese government has set up two institutions, the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund. The AIIB has been set up with 50 members including countries outside of Asia. Like many of the other aspects of the OBOR, the AIIB is to become fully operational in the future, intended for use by the end of 2015. Its authorized capital is 100 billion U.S. dollars (in comparison, the shareholders of the World Bank own over 250 billion U.S. dollars) (The World Bank, 2015). The Silk Road Fund Co Ltd. is a 40 billion U.S. dollar fund dedicated exclusively to developing the transport and trade links in countries and regions along the Silk Road (Fung Business Intelligence Centre, 2015, p. 8). Other regional funds have also been set up (e.g., China-ASEAN Investment Cooperation Fund (for South-East Asia) and the China-CEE Investment Cooperation Fund (for Central and Eastern Europe)), which assist China’s large international infrastructure construction policies (van der Putten & Meijnders, 2015, p. 31). The latter is endowed with 3 billion U.S. dollars and was announced in December 2014 with the aim to further enhance cooperation including plans of constructing “a new corridor of interconnectivity” (Rolland, 2015, p. 2).
Even if these concepts seem to be well founded, we should admit both sides of China’s benefits due to its presence in the region: the short term goal of economic self-enrichment and the long-term (geo) political goals. Only the future will show how China will go on to use its influence to push its interests.
About The Authors:
Balázs Sárvári is a teacher assistant at Corvinus University of Budapest. His major fields of research are political economics of globalization and cultural heritage and China’s position in global issues.
Anna Szeidovitz is a student and research assistant at Corvinus University of Budapest. She is currently doing her master’s degree in international business and economics, and holds a BA in international relations.
Cite This Article:
Baltic Journal of European Studies. Volume 6, Issue 1, Pages 3–27, ISSN (Online) 2228-0596, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bjes-2016-0001, February 2016
This excerpt is taken from an article which is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License, by the authors and original publisher.
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