Asia&Pacific Chinese President Xi Jinping with world's leaders at the New Silk Road Forum

Published on May 25th, 2017 | by Lidija Bojčić


Chinese New Silk Road: is it really?

Here the rising world power of China with its claim to redesign the international order. There the multitude of states of the world with confusing interwoven interests and traditions. In order to bridge the gap between the two, the People’s Republic China has presented a project with a worldwide orientation, with the Forum on the “New Silk Road”, which has just ended in Beijing. The Europe’s governments and the European Union are skeptical. Thanks to the funds that China has, there are chances of success, albeit far more limited than the world’s prospect. But does China mean what it says?

What happened with participants from more than 100 countries, including 29 heads of state or government in Beijing in mid-May, has developed into unimagined dimensions from modest beginnings with avalanche-like speed. When Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke for the first time of a “New Silk Road” in a visit to Kazakhstan in September 2013, he had no longer in mind as a bundle of infrastructure measures as they had proved themselves in China in recent decades. China, meanwhile on the way to a medium-sized consortium, and already adequately supplied with roads, railways and airports, produced more concrete and steel in abundance and had sufficient labor and financial resources,

The new project was nothing but what the inhabitants of the People’s Republic are well known for: slogans and slogans suggest goals that may be unreal but stimulate the imagination of people, create trust in the party and unite them behind it: the “Great leap forward” was such a slogan, the “harmonious society” and the “Chinese dream” of the nation’s revival were different. With the “New Silk Road”, this tactic is being transferred to the international level for the first time. The enthusiastic reception that the initiative struck seemed to justify the strategy: in 65 countries, one would invest many billions of US dollars, it was finally said. The term “New Silk Road” has been used several times in order to finally turn to the present term “belt and road initiative” (Yi Dai Yi Lu; English “One Belt, One Road” or Belt Road Initiative – BRI). It also includes ports and sea routes to Africa and South East Asia and South Asia. The worldwide enthusiasm is, however, due to the misunderstanding that Beijing means things as it is, and that it actually intends to use like the resources of the Marshall Plan to reach the world with a network of Chinese trade corridors as sales channels for Chinese products cover.

Of course, Beijing is also aware of the fact that the real world, in its complexity, is usually rubbed quickly with that of the slogans. Soon a variety of problems arose. At first, there were hardly any investors who had benefited from the Beijing funds – in 2016, there was only one project, a bridge in Pakistan. The fear that Chinese investors would pretend projects without consideration for local needs was as much in Central Asia as in Southeast Asia or Africa. The European Commission was particularly keen to ensure compliance with European directives, particularly as East and Central European EU Member States were particularly keen to invest Chinese funds for their infrastructure planning. The EU, which is aware, that China strictly controls its own market in all free-trade confessions, called for the final declaration of the Beijing meeting in May, a commitment to transparency, public tenders and compliance with social and environmental standards; and at once came upon Chinese resistance. India and Japan feared the strategic implications of the Chinese economic expansion and did not participate in the forum.

Beijing tried to deal with these problems in various ways. Thus, in the pre-forum phase, more funds were spent to finally pay a sum of one trillion US dollars. It gradually pushed the responsibility for the success of the project to its partners: China wanted only to initiate an initiative whose realization now also depends on other factors. It moved the entire initiative into the field of softpower politics: the historical Silk Road mutated into the Chinese project of ancient peace, the Chinese media flowed with reports on the many, self-cultural, promising aspects. It is interesting to google about “China Daily Belt and Road” to hit a “Silk Road Song” or on YouTube on English-language children’s stories on China’s plans. Finally, what had been transferred from China’s diplomacy to domestic policy with a foreign policy objective was turned into an instrument of Chinese domestic policy. The success of the Beijing meeting has now been a testament to the international reputation of the People’s Republic and thus part of the preparation of the Communist Party Congress in the autumn of this year.

With the Beijing meeting, the world will not be guided by Chinese propaganda. A much more modest success than the tension of the globe with Chinese Belts and Roads is nevertheless to be foreseen: if new major projects arise, they will be owed to what China’s softpower actually makes today: the financial strength of the country. And in the medium term, this will increase considerably.





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