As often happens, China is at a significant political turning point: the National People’s Congress, the single House of the Chinese Parliament, made up of approximately 3,000 delegates, has opened.
It has the power to oversee Government’s activities, to legislate and directly appoint some of the most important State’s leaders.
Together with the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference of the People, the National People’s Congress is the highest legislative Chinese body.
The Congress is elected every five years and meets every spring for about 12-15 days in a row, usually in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square.
At the opening of the current Congress on Saturday, March 5, Prime Minister Li Kekiang, also in his capacity as Head of the State Council, reaffirmed that the GDP growth rate set by the government would be 6.5-7%, lower than previously set, but certainly much higher than the GDP growth rate of any Western economy.
According to the data analyzed by Li Kekiang, in the last financial year China’s GDP amounted to 67.7 trillion yuan, with a 6.9% increase as against the previous year.
Agricultural production has also increased for the twelfth time in a row, while consumer prices are growing much more slowly than GDP and agricultural and industrial production.
Last year 13.12 million new jobs were created in urban areas, a figure higher than the previous NPC forecasts.
The service sector accounts for 50.5% of the total GDP, just to dispel the usual, old and taken for granted analysis that sees China growing only in labour-intensive and low technology sectors.
Gone are the days when China was a replacement economy; the country is now a global leader of technological innovation.
Conversely, China will take advantage of the current period of reduced GDP growth – which, however, remains a mirage for us – to invest in high-tech and labour-saving, but high value added, sectors which will compete directly, or better, absorb our high technical and product innovation sectors.
Li Kekiang said that the Internet has now reached all Chinese enterprises, with the number of new businesses which in 2015 grew by 21.6%, equivalent to nearly 12,000 new start-ups a day.
Again according to the Chinese government, the per capita disposable income increased by 7.4% in real terms while, since the end of last year, bank deposits have grown by 8.5% – equivalent, in absolute terms, to four trillion yuan.
For the first time 64.34 million Chinese people living in rural areas have had access to pure and drinking water – a transformation which will lead – in China as in Europe in the past – to the most significant and stable increase of average life expectancy.
Chinese people living below the poverty line have decreased by 14.42 millions. It is a sign that the current transformation of the Chinese economy is not only heading for the expansion of the internal market, but also for fewer social inequalities.
It was the theme of the recent speeches “within” the Party made by Secretary Xi Jinping, that relates the fight against corruption to greater social equality – a theme that has focused again attention on the specific type of Chinese economic development.
It is no longer a simple phase of capitalist accumulation, as described by classic political economy theories (and by Marx), but a socialist system where growth adds to the fight against poverty and the increase in wages and consumption.
China has never been, not even in the early days of the “Four Modernizations”, a socialist economy that adapted itself to an export-led development.
This is the economic and ethical-moral importance of the fight against corruption, which has characterized Xi Jinping’s leadership and direction from the very beginning.
As announced by Xi Jinping in mid-January, the anti-corruption campaign will hit not only the higher ranks of the regime, but also the most modest and peripheral sectors and functions.
Clearly Xi Jinping wants to use the fight against corruption to eliminate its old enemies, those who blocked his rise to the CPC Secretariat for at least two years – but there is more in the new ethics of the Party and its ruling class.
For Xi, the issue lies in using two criteria: the abolition of the informality of procedures, but rather the strengthening of their strict formal legality, and also the restoration of all the ancient cultural and ethical values of tradition and ancient culture within the Chinese society.
It is socialism which favours Confucius, not the other way round.
Hence a new Cultural Revolution to avoid China’s mere adhesion to the mindset, consumption and business style of “Western dogs”, as Europeans were called during the “Boxer rebellion”.
Over a thousand “economic fugitives”, guilty of very severe crimes of corruption and illegal enrichment, coming from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, have already been brought to Chinese justice.
The “tigers”, namely the corrupt people – just to use the terminology of the Chinese press – have been exposed in the Central Military Commission, in the intelligence services, in the People’s Liberation Army and in many State and Party’s ruling bodies.
For Wang Qishan, the Head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the main anti-corruption body in the country, during 2016 three types of officials will be scrutinized: those who have continued their corrupt practices after the results of the 18th CPC Congress, in 2012, when Xi rose to power; those who have “serious problems” and have generated a “fierce people’s reaction”, and finally all those who occupy key posts and are waiting for promotion.
Reverting to Li Kekiang’s analysis at the National People’s Congress underway, the CPC and especially Xi Jinping’s “line” want: a) to maintain stable growth, perhaps less rapid than in previous years, thus avoiding risks in the global financial market while making the necessary structural adjustments, which are usually expensive and unpopular.
Furthermore, b) a new proactive fiscal policy has been implemented, which has allowed to reduce some taxes, domestic rates and use local budgets productively.
Another factor, c), are the 3.2 billion yuan in new governments’ and local authorities’ bonds, which have been used to pay off previous debts, with a decrease in debt servicing for peripheral governments equal to approximately 200 million yuan.
Funds have also been created for special operations, especially for water management, for the most deprived urban areas, and for rural residential areas, while d) private spending has been targeted to the sectors which are the most promising for the government and the CPC: travels, on-line shopping, information technology equipment.
In short, the Chinese government’s choice has been to put an end to the generic stimulus policies, which have radial effects on the whole economic system, so as to foster structural reforms.
311 types of products have been liberalized; 123 professions and activities no longer need permits authorizations or government concessions; 85% of the authorizations for new economic activities have been abolished, while only one business license with a unified tax code is now used in China.
Administered prices have fallen by 80% and those regulated by local governments by over 50%.
Hence liberalization has the function of balancing the system, not of generating the old Marxist (and Ricardian) “primitive accumulation”.
Restrictions on Chinese investment abroad have fallen by 50%, while over 90% of Chinese projects funded abroad can be implemented only on the basis of investors’ reports, without further constraints.
The aim is clear: to boost China’s export mix to avoid asymmetric shocks.
In 2015 China also used over 126.3 billion US dollars of foreign investment in its business, with a 5.6% increase, while the non-banking and financial Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) operating in China amounted to 118 billion US dollars, with a 14.7% increase.
Moreover the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was inaugurated, involving also Italy, and particularly the Silk Road Fund, while the renminbi has recently been included in the currencies of the International Monetary Fund’s “basket” for its “special drawing rights”, the currency issued by the IMF.
Finally, d) the “Made in China 2025 Initiative” has been launched to update the manufacturing productive systems and, above all, to finance and update the small and medium-sized enterprises’ technologies.
In the best Maoist tradition of the “balance between regions”, this corresponds to the development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei integration and to the expansion of the Yangtze’s Economic Belt.
With a view to rebalancing the masses’ purchasing power and stabilizing society, 7.2 million housing units subsidized by the central government have been built, with a new initiative to build schools in rural areas and make compulsory education universal.
In the current NPC, reference has also been made to rural areas to spread a new political formula, namely the “Three Stricts, Three Honests” internal education campaign, initiated by Xi Jinping in December 2014, which is meant to strengthen public ethics and “political ecology”.
With this campaign, Xi wanted to hit political careerism and the overlap between political elites and economic and business elites.
It is worth recalling that the “Three Honests” are: “be honest in making decisions”, “be honest in forging a career” and “be honest in personal behaviour”.
The Three Stricts are: “be strict in moral conduct”, “be strict in exercising power”, “be strict in disciplining yourself”.
As we can infer from this brief description, Xi Jinping’s (and Li Kekiang’s) theory and slogans are perfectly suited to the current economic policy, not only with regard to corruption, but also to everything relating to the expansion and stabilization of economic development in a context of democratization of income and support for the old and new Chinese poor walks of society.
Hence, for Xi and Li Kekiang, the political and economic project is now clear: to preserve a high rate of economic development, despite the external conditions and asymmetric shocks coming from countries in crisis (and from the United States), and then to perfect the structural adjustments, which have a clear significance.
Their significance is the urbanization of China’s people, 50% of whom lives in cities; the reduction of private energy consumption, which fell by 18.2%, with a pollution rate which decreased by 12%; the growth of transport infrastructure, with 121,000 km of railway lines, 19,000 of which are high-speed; finally, the promotion of scientific and technological innovation.
This is the reason why the economy of the service sector, adequately backed by the Chinese government, will anyway support growth, while the structural undervaluation of renmbimbi, the axis of the financial protection of Chinese assets, will continue to play its role as a de facto subsidy to Chinese exports.
The Chinese economy learns from its mistakes very quickly, also thanks to its centralization, and the share of GDP generated by services will optimally support the Chinese expansion in an international market where the share of manufacturing and old technologies is shrinking.
The origin of the Four Modernizations and President Xi Jinping’s current choices
On September 13, 1971 Lin Biao tried to flee to the USSR with all his family, aboard a Trident plane of civil aviation, which had left with little fuel and no active radio contact.
The crash of the aircraft in Mongolia, where both Lin and his whole family died, was caused by the order given directly by Mao to shoot down the plane.
What had happened, obviously in political and not in personal terms?
The answer is simple: Lin Biao was very strongly opposed to the new agreement between China and the United States and hence had organized a military coup. For Lin Biao all the room for US geopolitics was to be found in what the Third International’s forces traditionally defined as “imperialism”.
For Mao Zedong, imperialism was vital for both the USSR and the USA- and considering that he was far from the continent that was the prize for which of the two won the Cold War, namely Europe-he refused to make too many differences between the two.
As a man of Tao and Zen, Mao treated an evil with another evil.
Mao Zedong, however, also knew that a new economic relationship with the United States was needed, after the long economic crisis and the factional instability within the Chinese regime. The Soviet Union could certainly not give it economic stability and hence the “Great Helmsman” turned to the distant enemy rather than to the near quasi-friend.
Nothing can be understood about China, including current China, if geopolitical choices are separated from economic, financial and industrial ones which, however, are subjected to the strategic “policy line” defined by the Party – a policy line that is cultural and always based on a very long term.
On September 29, 1972 the diplomatic relationship with Japan were resumed, along with those with the United States. An evident overlapping of different geopolitical lines which, however – in the minds of the Chinese decision-makers -were similar also from the symbolic viewpoint.
In 1973 Deng Xiaoping reappeared in public, upon direct order by Mao Zedong.
Those were also the years of the late definitive success of the “policy line” of Zhou Enlai, who had successfully gone through the Great Cultural and Proletarian Revolution, which had partly overwhelmed him, and led the 10thCPC Congress.
That was the compromise which held the Party together, after Lin Biao’s elimination. An unstable agreement between the reformist “Right” (Zhou had spoken of “four modernizations” many years before, exactly in 1965) and the Left, silenced by Mao, that had crossed the red line of the Cultural Revolution and the failed communization of rural areas.
In those years, also the Party’s Left lacked mass management of the people and the Party and had to agree with the other factions, while Mao mediated and also created “third wheels”.
Create something from nothing – one of the Thirty-Six Stratagems of the Chinese Art of War.
In 1973, just before the equilibrium between Zhou and the old CPC apparata broke again, Deng Xiaoping was fully rehabilitated and also became member of the Chinese regime’s deep axis, namely the Central Military Commission.
In 1975 Deng was elected vice-President of the Central Committee and member of the Politburo Standing Committee.
The connection between the reformists – if we can call them so – siding with Zhou Enlai, and the “centre” of the Party’s apparatus – that regained its roles and posts by ousting the Armed Forces -prevailed once again.
Again in 1975, the National People’s Congress praised the “Four Modernizations” already proposed by Zhou and, in its final statement, hoped “that China would be turned into a modern and powerful Socialist country in the approximately twenty years before the end of the century”.
Political transformation through the new economy, as well as preservation of the regime through political transformation itself.
We could call it “the Tao of geoeconomics”. Acceleration of industrialization and modernization, but without creating the disaster of rural masses, who were objectively unable of providing the start-up capital for implementing any of the Four Modernizations. This was the real difference with the USSR of the 1930s.
That capital had to be produced in innovative companies and be attracted from outside.
At the time, however, the CPC was not yet firmly in the hands of any factions. In September 1975, the national Agriculture Conference saw the harsh clash between Deng Xiaoping and the old “Shanghai group” of the Cultural and Proletarian Revolution that, however, no longer controlled most of the Party.
Zhou Enlai died in January 1976 and shortly afterwards, in Tiananmen Square, there were severe incidents, albeit with the constant presence of many wreaths reminding of Zhou.
Later there were also strikes and unrest, until the capture and trial of the “Gang of Four” in Shanghai. It had inspired the “Cultural Revolution” and was then directly accused by Hua Guofen – the man appointed by Mao to lead the transition- of having prepared a coup.
China’s transformation, however, began again from rural areas: at the second Agriculture Conference in Dazhai, in December 1976 – where various cases of corruption and “social polarization” were described and stigmatized- the discussion focused on the First Modernization, namely that of rural areas.
When you regulate too much, a parallel and illegal market is created. This always happens.
Obviously this also happens when total communization is applied to the economic cycle of rural areas.
Certainly those were residues of Sovietism in the CPC’s doctrine, but also of the a-dialectical implementation of Marxism-Leninism in historical and social contexts in which the analysis of the founder of “scientific Communism” had never focused.
In fact, when you read the works and correspondence that Marx dedicated to the Russian agricultural issue, you note that the author of “Capital” foresaw a direct Socialist social transformation stemming from the maintenance of the social and community networks in traditional villages. It may seem strange, but it is so.
This system operates only with a non-industrialized State that is scarcely widespread in the territory. Otherwise, the problem is that of capitalism in rural areas to generate the surplus of urban and industrial investments.
Even in the Second Volume of “Capital”, Marx’s model is essentially this one.
It is precisely on the agricultural issue that the stability and success of many Communist regimes isdefined and, not surprisingly, the first of Zhou’s and later Deng’s Four Modernizations was precisely that of agriculture.
The topic characterized all Party’s organizations, but it was in late December 1978 that the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee decided to decentralize the economy – another factor strongly different from the Leninist tradition – and even to liberalize it, in addition to a process of ideological revision, namely Gaige Kaifang that roughly means “reform and opening”.
That was also related to the request for opening international trade based on the criterion of “mutual benefit” and equality between the various countries.
Hence, also from the ideological viewpoint, Deng became the Supreme Leader of the Party – as well as of the State apparatus – and announced the Open Door policy.
An extremely important fact was also the separation of the Bank of China from the People’s Bank of China, so as to serve as single State body for foreign exchanges.
That was the start of the “Long March” towards the Four Modernizations, with an unusually united Party, and currently towards “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” , as well as – at geopolitical level -President Xi Jinping’s New Silk Road.
In January 1980, the “four freedoms” – of work, people, goods and capital – were abolished.
The new planning needed to manage all aspects of productive forces.
That was explained by a covert war of the Chinese economy against the penetration of foreign capital and joint ventures, which in fact were immediately regulated by specific legislation enacted the previous year.
The great British operation of economic control over the South-Chinese coasts was resumed from Hong Kong, but the Chinese government eliminated the possibility of such an action by Great Britain (and by the USA, at least partly).
Hence the Party’s unity had to be reflected in a new context and, to some extents, in the whole society, so as to prevent the liberalized Chinese economy from taking the Party and Socialism away. A new rationale for the CPC’s Leninist unity.
The new Act on contract law was enacted in March 1981, and in 1982 also the new civil procedure law was enacted, which became effective on October 1, 1982.
In September 1983, at the 12th CPC Congress, there were three groups within the Party: the nostalgic Maoists, a small and narrow majority for Deng Xiaoping; the Orthodox group that still wanted a nationally planned economy, as in USSR -hence probably the heirs to Lin Biao; finally the real reformists.
Deng won with a clear, but not overwhelming majority.
Hence, everyone was waiting for the Four Modernizations to fail, so as to go back to the old routine of the Plan.
As also happened in the USSR, it was often fully imaginary compared to the actual reality of the things done and produced.
It was in 1983, however, that the Third Front strategy was implemented, i.e. Mao’s directive – drawn up as early as 1962 – according to which the national strategic industries had to be moved from the coasts – militarily and politically difficult to defend – to the internal areas. Without said Mao’s directive, the New Silk Road could not be understood even currently.
Hence 14 open coastal cities that were declared so in 1984, but with a new law on profits that served as mainstay of Modernizations: companies were asked to pay a certain share of profits to the government, but they could withhold some profits if they matched and exceeded the requirements of the contract with the State.
In 1985 a new regulation also involved government bonds. The seventh Five-Year Plan began, underlining a “scale” approach, in which the coastal areas – gradually freed from traditional strategic companies – were driving the economic development, which later spread like wildfire even in the internal areas.
It was the Hong Kong model that Deng Xiaoping’s executives copied and adapted.
For a short lapse of time, Chinese analysts and Party planners also looked to the Singapore model, with the (single) Party of Lee Kuan Yew.
It isby no mere coincidence that Shenzen was close to the former British colony, and often the Chinese attracted and favoured the companies of the British area towards the new Chinese coastal areas also characterized by free-market economy.
Advanced and high-tech services in coastal areas, and lower value-added, but still inevitable, productions in internal regions.
A new dualism, where rural overpopulation had to be gradually absorbed by inland strategic companies.
A double geopolitical status of inland areas which, in many cases, is repeated also in the current Belt and Road Initiative.
In 1986, the “open-ended” contracts for the manpower working in State-owned companies came to an end.
In October 1987,the 13th CPC Congress was held, in which – for the first time – there was talk about the “commodity economy”, i.e. a two-tier mechanism, in which the market is matched and also “corrected” by the old national planning.
A sort of re-edition, for internal use, of the formula “one country, two systems” implemented by China with the agreements for Macao and Hong Kong.
In 1988, however, the 7thNational People’s Congress officially legitimized the private initiative (not the mere ownership) and enabled private individuals to buy State-owned companies.
The term “People’s ownership” was also deleted, while individuals and groups, even non-Chinese ones, could buy land with a system similar to that of the British real estate leasing.
Profits, wherever made, had to be reinvested in the company that originated them, before requesting any financing from the People’s Bank.
The Special Economic Zones, modelled again on the Hong Kong system, became five.
Hence innovation on the coasts and strategic companies in the central regions – mainly public ones, which still remained almost completely public.
In April 1989, Jiang Zemin rose to power.
Student demonstrations also began in Tiananmen Square, where, year after year, the various anti-regime organizations gathered: Falun Gong, the networks of many illegal parties, unrecognized union organizations and many “spontaneous” groups.
And some old “Red Guards”.
Zhao Ziyang, the Party leader already defenestrated by Jiang Zemin, was in fact at the centre of “spontaneous” organizations.
The various Autonomous Federations of Workers -spread by location and not by industry – were legally created.
Gorbachev’s visit took place in May 1989.
That was the key moment of a long series of doctrinal, practical, cultural and historical differences that – from the very beginning – divided the two great Eastern heirs to the Marxist-Leninist Third International.
What really mattered to the Chinese leadership was that the Russian crisis did not overwhelm the Chinese Communists: that was the meaning of the declaration signed by Gorbachev, which regarded the “peaceful coexistence” of the two Communist regimes.
The leader of the Soviet Party was made fun of – not even so elegantly – not because he had reformed the Soviet economic system – in a way, however, that the Chinese deemed wrong – but for one reason only: he had relinquished the Party’s role in the reformist process, which the CPSU had to lead and guide for China, from the very beginning.
An “economicist” mistake, as the CPC’s ideologues said – yet another proof of the Marxist roughness of the “Northern enemy”, as Deng Xiaoping called Russia.
Sarcastic sniggers on the lips of Chinese leaders. Then Gorbachev explained again his perestrojka and glas’nost, but the Chinese leaders, whose power was based on Party’s bayonets, kept on not taking him seriously.
Days before the arrival of the Soviet leader, at least one million people had gathered in Tiananmen Square.
The problems that the Chinese leadership had to solve in a short lapse of time were radical: the “hard” wing that was previously a minority prevailed and managed to convince Jiang Zemin.
The Party and its authority – the basis of any transformation, even the most radical one – were re-established without much talk. It was impossible to think about a heir to the “Long March” that dissolved the Party within “society”.
On May 19, the CPC decided to follow the hard line and the military forces reached the areas near the Square, from the outskirts of Beijing.
Few hours later, the Square was completely cleared, but that was done the hard way.
Shortly afterwards, at the 4th CPC Plenum, Jiang Zemin – also following the experience of Tiananmen Square – returned to one of his old theories and developed the “Three Represents” model, i.e. the idea that the CPC’s power was based on its “vast representation” of the Chinese productive forces, of the cultural and technological avant-gardes and of the wide strata of population.
In other words, the Chinese society – and its economy, in particular – was reformed by bringing the elites together, part of whom were in Tiananmen Square, but also the large crowds still organized by the Party.
A Confucian middle way that was particularly successful.
Hence, Zhao Ziyang definitively lost the game within the Party that, however, was also inside the Tiananmen Square insurgency.
Once the crisis was over, Deng Xiaoping left also the last very strong power in Jiang’s hands: the leadership of the Central Military Commission.
Shortly afterwards – and there was nothing more symbolic than that event – the Stock Exchange of Shanghai reopened. A reopening that had been expected since the 1930s.
Later also the Shenzhen Securities Exchange opened. In both of them, any securities – including those issued by the State – were traded, but there was only one deep logic: to acquire productive capital to generate strong and self-sustained development of the coasts and of the high value-added industries that had to compete on the world free market, without granting protection and aid that would go to the detriment of the deep productive structures of the internal regions.
In 1992, Deng’s journey to Southern borders had a clear route, although the CPC’s leadership had always had some doubts about the “free economic zones”. The core of the issue was that the GDP had to be increased in the lapse of time between the 1990s and the beginning of the Third Millennium.
It had to be rapidly increased from 6% to 10%.
Without that “quantitative” assessment – just to use the old Communist jargon – there could be no “qualitative” transformation of Chinese society.
Everything had to be done soon – well, but soon. That was the characteristic of Deng Xiaoping’s years – extraordinary years, in some respects.
In a short lapse of time, the Party developed the concepts of “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” and of “market Socialism”, which are so important also in President Xi Jinping’s current policy line.
There were also other changes that, in a few years, led to the current Socialism with Chinese characteristics, as advocated by President Xi Jinping. However, everything could be done from a legal view point began in those years.
The transformation process of the Chinese economy is long, powerful and complex, but – unlike what is often said in the West – it is never a mere market mechanism or a naive adaptation of the Party or the State to the absolute Western rules of globalization.
As early as the 1990s, China has decided to govern market globalization and not just being a part of it. It wants to lead the process so as to be – now that the end of the century about which Deng thought has long been over – the axis of globalization and the centre of the new global hegemonies.
US-China Global Rivalry and BRI
Starting in 2001 from the low-cost industry, China has established most advanced technology today. To a first approximation, China is struggling at its best, to emerge as global power or super power, or in other words you might like to say about. However, in some respect, it still faces challenges, in domestic politics, military’s capability and most importantly what its equivocal vision of whether unipolar or multipolar world.
It sounds well that, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as of its first kind and biggest developmental project in the history, will open its trade, economy and influence, across the world.BRI is transcontinental and transitional, cooperation and connectivity-based long-term mega project to China and its allies but countries like US, Turkey and India have perceived it as geopolitical, economic colonialization. For the similar reasons, Turkey and India had not attended “Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation”, held in Beijing, China last month. BRI spreads across Asia, Africa and Europe, subsuming 68 countries. BRI countries, sharing 30% of global GDP, 62% of world population will find it advantageous and economic driver of change. In reality, BRI will decide of what shape the world would be in 21 century and the next super power. However, BRI’s perennial progress until its completions, is the real test of leaderships of Chinese and also of world.
US as global leader, is being hamstrung by US-Russia rivalry, US-China fickle economic relationships, China’s openness to international market, Russia growing hegemony and categorially the “Globalization”. US’s influence as major economy, and supplier has been fading away each passing day. The quip, what I had struggled then, have lost now, is not an exaggeration about US.
China’s military capability is not so high compared to US. What if, China has to engage in a conflict for a long time same the US has been in Middle East. This is of much significance, to ponder.
Globally diplomatic and strategic campaign by US and its allies and security situation are main Challenges to BRI. For instance, Pakistan, a flagship partner of BRI, has been enduring insurgency, backed by multi-fold foreign agencies. Last year November attack on China’s consulate Karachi, bomb blast in Quetta, Baluchistan in April and recent Gwadar attacks mirror the security challenges to BRI. Stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s relationships with Afghanistan, India and Iran, would affect the progress of BRI.
China’s military capability is not so high and sophisticated compared to US. What if, China has to engage in a conflict for a long time same the US has been in Middle East. This is of much significance, to ponder. To circumvent proxies, if may any, China and its allies, must share a sophisticated intelligence—the most advance than ones the individual has today.
Europe and China in a Globalized World: The Geopolitical Impacts of Belt and Road
Donald Trump’s rise to power, his “America first” policy and the announcement by Chinese President Xi Jinping of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), designed to revitalize the Silk Road, are the three mile- stones demonstrating a radical shift in globalization.
Our globalized world is in fact going through a decisive moment in its history, something that can be seen in the creation of the cult of personality surrounding the Chinese President, the introduction of China’s Social Credit System (SCS) and, finally, the crisis of confidence that has taken hold among the European Union’s (EU) member states, resulting in the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU (Brexit), among other developments.
G-2, G-Zero and the Multipolar World
By putting in place protectionist measures, the world’s two superpowers, the United States and China, have begun a trade war. The announcement by the US that it would impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, among other goods, has prompted China to impose its own tariffs on more than 100 products from the US. By mid-July 2018, the value of the taxed products traded between China and the United States had reached US$100 billion. According to experts, this will reduce world trade by 0.5% and economic growth in China and the United States by between 0.1% and 0.3% (Le figaro and AFP Agence, 2018).
Caught between these two powers, the European Union is responding in a similar fashion, i.e. by imposing customs duties worth €2.8 billion on certain US products (Reuters, 2018). Less united than ever, the EU must contend with Brexit and its impacts throughout the Union. The dissatisfaction Europe’s citizens feel about the EU’s lack of effectiveness continues to grow. The future of Europe, the European identity and the Union’s role in today’s globalized world are all being called into question.
It seems we are living in a G-Zero world, a world in which no country, region or group is able to play a leading role on the international scene. On the contrary, G-Zero means a “free-for-all” in which multiple political strategies are being implemented. Each country or region is trying to find its own effective solutions to the challenges of globalization, very often putting others at a disadvantage.
Will this G-Zero world ultimately lead to a G-2 world in which all depends on how relations between the United States and China develop? More than ever, the EU must formulate common strategies vis-à-vis the two superpowers. Alternatively, will multipolarity prevail? A multipolarity characterized by peaceful cooperation among countries?
If so, the result could be a world in which the various players take action, certainly in competition with each other, but in a complementary manner. New international regulations and standards would provide a framework for this “cosmopolitical” (Nida-Rümelin, 2017) global govern- ance while avoiding military conflicts. This would be a world in which the EU, above all, could define its geopolitical strategy in a way that prevents it from finding itself at the mercy of China and the United States.
After reviewing the main characteristics of globalization, internationalization, the competition among nation-states and transnational forces (see the following Introduction section), this paper analyzes BRI as a geopolitical instrument within China’s overall strategy, which is designed to manage developments and exert power (see the section BRI: A “China First” Strategy). It then explores the impacts of BRI and the “China first” strategy on Europe (see the section BRI and the EU: An Opportunity for Europe). Finally, it discusses the importance of bridging differences and cultivating an “identity of the heart” in keeping with the geopolitical vision of Jacques Ancel.
Introduction: Globalization, Deterritorialization and Transnationalization
Geopolitics — the study of territory and power — is at the heart of this paper. Globalization means the cross-border movement of people, goods, services, capital and information. It is not a new phenomenon. What is new is the increased interdependence between nation-states and the impact of various non-governmental actors (e.g. international companies, interest groups, NGOs) at the international level. In addition, there is greater competition between the national forces that arose from the old world order produced by the Treaty of Westphalia and the new trans- national forces resulting from globalization.
Political responses to globalization, i.e. internationalization, have been very varied, sometimes even conflicting. On the one hand, protectionist measures have been put in place, such as customs duties, border controls and, in Europe, a return to the logic of nation-states. On the other, measures promoting economic openness and expansion are being undertaken, from the re-conquest of the old Silk Roads to the harmonization of European trade and defense policies (e.g. the Common Security and Defence Policy, an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy).
The transnational forces resulting from de-territorialization are competing with traditional national forces, especially when it comes to securing natural resources. This is attributed to the Internet and networking; moreover people all around the world have much more knowledge at their disposal, particularly about globalization’s harmful effects. Indeed, there have been losers in addition to winners. Some countries or regions have massive international trade surpluses, while others are experiencing large deficits. In addition, cross-border economic crime, illicit transactions and money laundering are commonplace. There has been an accumulation of wealth in some regions, often controlled by political–economic elites. This injustice is increasingly fueling citizens’ mistrust of the prevailing political classes. This, in turn, is leading to an increase in social conflicts and protest movements, causing the effectiveness of the democratic system to be questioned.
There are shared challenges, however, that unite all the actors involved in this geopolitical issue: international terrorism; the effects of climate change including on food production; competition for natural resources; chronic economic, social and political crises, due, in particular, to the rise of an illegal and opaque global economy; widespread political apathy; and, finally, digitization, which is leading to a radical change in how people work. Current international institutions and organizations no longer offer effective solutions. The old world order, an after-effect of the Second World War, is in decline, while a new world order has yet to take shape.
BRI: A “China First” Strategy
Xi’s announcement in 2013 that China intended to revitalize the ancient Silk Roads marked a turning point in the country’s national policy.
Indeed, this vast project targeting infrastructure and commercial net- works will extend throughout Eurasia, an area of great geopolitical and commercial importance. The project is strengthening the links between China and countries all along the “belt”. It is, in fact, not a single project, since there is no master plan, but is comprised of a multitude of roads, railways and waterways. It includes the Pacific Silk Road, which passes through the Arctic Ocean, and the Digital Silk Road, which covers cyber- space (The Economist, 2018). BRI is also considered “the road of Xi Jinping” which only reinforces the cult of personality surrounding him. BRI focuses on major infrastructure projects (Figure 1). The 2015 action plan presented the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the Maritime Silk Road Belt (MSR) with a total of six corridors. According to the initiative, roads and sea routes are to connect China to Central Asian countries, Russia and, ultimately, Europe — but especially to Africa, in order to secure natural resources, particularly oil. In Eurasia, BRI covers more than 65 countries with a population of more than three billion, in keeping with the leitmotif advanced by the Communist Party of China (CPC) of “developing the region’s wealth and preserving peace, friend- ship, trust and understanding”.
In order to ensure financing for this vast infrastructure project, China has established two institutions that are complementary to, as opposed to competitors of, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (World Bank) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB):
-The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB): The Asian investment bank for infrastructure projects, with 57 member countries (in addition to European countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg).
-The Silk Road Fund: A Chinese sovereign fund.
Many political leaders in the countries along this belt are welcoming this vast project with open arms, since it will improve infrastructure, ensure connectivity and, subsequently, promote economic development. However, as with any Chinese investment, compliance with standards and regulations is not a priority for Beijing. The corruption and opacity relating to the investments flowing from China are likely to benefit political elites more than the populations of the respective countries.
In addition, dependence on the investment flows generates an imbalance in China’s favor, preventing recipient countries from maintaining their economic autonomy.
The driver behind this commercial project is, above all, a new ideology being advanced by the CPC. Indeed, the main purpose of BRI is to secure and control transport routes for natural resources, particularly oil and gas. This basically means the transport routes that connect African resource-producing countries to production sites in China. The most important corridor is the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This route connects the city of Kashgar in China to the port city of Gwadar in Pakistan and is an integral part of China’s overall strategy. Almost 80% of all Chinese imports of oil pass through the Strait of Malacca (Figure 2). As a result, CPEC will significantly reduce transport time. In addition, it will improve Pakistan’s infrastructure due to the massive Chinese investments it entails. Not only will this help develop Pakistan’s economy, reduce the country’s energy shortages and boost its productivity, it will also increase Pakistan’s dependence on China. At the same time, the infrastructure projects are being financed through concessional and commercial loans, which will fuel the corruption already prevalent in Pakistan (Luchnikava-Schorsch, 2018; Hussain, 2017).
It is therefore necessary to view BRI not only as an instrument for asserting China’s power but also as a global meta-strategy that proposes an alternative world order, at least at the commercial level, to the liberal order established by the West. It is also why geopolitical, strategic and military aspects should be considered more than economic aspects. New waterways and port construction serve more than just commercial ends. Ports can serve as military bases for the Chinese navy. For example, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) inaugurated its first overseas maritime naval base in Djibouti in 2017 (Lagneau, 2017). Dispatching 400 troops, the PLA stated that it wants to support UN peacekeeping operations and its own naval operations, particularly in the Indian Ocean. China’s military presence, however, is of concern not only to the United States but to India as well. China–India relations are already tense due to disagreements over territories in the Himalayas, among other issues. CPEC passes through high-risk areas such as the autonomous region of Xinjiang and the northwest Pakistan–Afghanistan border region. The Chinese army is therefore securing infrastructure construction sites, transport roads and ports all along the corridor. In this context, BRI is a strategy that primarily serves Chinese interests. Certainly, this new Silk Road offers business opportunities to companies both in Asia and in Europe. Nevertheless, two aspects are important here: BRI is an ideological tool designed to maintain China’s internal stability, i.e. control by the CPC, while also serving as a strategy that brings together civil and military interests under the rubric of “security”.
While Europe tries to identify a new vision, China has provided its geopolitical strategy with a second wind. Capitalism got its start in modern China when the country opened to foreign investment in 1978 and when peasants were granted permission to keep their surplus production. By unleashing its citizens’ entrepreneurial spirit, the country hoped to overcome its technical and technological backwardness. Mobilization of the often-inactive Chinese population ensured national unity in keeping with the motto of “becoming rich”. After years of economic growth and accumulated wealth, the CPC is using BRI, among other activities, to give itself not only new justification for maintaining its power but also a new ideology capable of ensuring party unity, internal stability and national cohesion. President Xi is strengthening his position, supported by the Chinese people. The country’s authoritarian regime, moreover, is tightening its grip. Internationally, the Chinese economy is an integral part of global production chains. Remarkably, China is also increasingly becoming a source of innovation, especially digital innovation.
Externally, China is flexing its muscles in a number of locations, including in the South China Sea, transforming “a number of islets in the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos into military bases, where the government is building ports and airstrips” (RFI, 2017).
Assured by its strong position on the geopolitical level, the Chinese government is embarking on a more assertive foreign policy. Domestically, the country’s government manages the country as a global enterprise. Five-year plans are a management tool used to set the economic strategies of Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs), both internally and externally, to ensure that standards of living increase for the Chinese population. This legitimizes the CPC’s ongoing rule. The BRI vision thus mobilizes the nation, safeguarding the unity, stability and harmony of China as a whole. At the same time, however, the growing cult of personality means that China is increasingly becoming a revisionist power.
New security strategy
As mentioned above, BRI is above all a “geostrategic–military” initiative since it brings together civil and military interests under the rubric of “security”. Indeed, these interests are at the center of all decisions and actions on the political and economic levels. Using the term “security”, China’s political strategy aims to safeguard national interests both domestically and internationally. Several dimensions of “security” are differentiated: national sovereignty and national unification, along with military, economic, cultural, social, scientific and technological security, as well as the security of information, security of environment and resources and, finally, nuclear security (State of Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, 2015). The main objective of this major security strategy is to preserve the country’s unity, prevent social unrest and legitimize the power of President Xi and the CPC.
In conclusion, we can see that the countries interacting with the European Union are pursuing a strategy that places national interests at the center of their respective political actions. The United States and Trump’s “America first” vision, the strengthening of the authoritarian regime in China, the new cult of personality surrounding Xi Jinping, the return of Mao’s personality cult and BRI are all ultimately driven by national ideologies. On the international level, the global community could thus be dominated by superpowers such as China, the United States and Russia. Due to the weakness of international organizations, ideologies are prevailing, determining the world order. The failure of the European project could become a cruel reality if Europe does not quickly find a new vision while avoiding ideological tendencies — formulating its interests as it does so.
BRI and the EU: An Opportunity for Europe?
Diplomatic relations between Europe and China began in 1975. Since then, there have been regular ministerial meetings and Sino-European summits. More than 60 sectoral agreements have been concluded. China and the EU trade goods are worth more than €1.5 billion each day (Eurostat, 2018). The EU is China’s main trading partner; for Europe, China is second only to the United States.
For years, the EU’s trade balance (Figure 3) with China has been in deficit, with the shortfall reaching €176.4 billion in 2017. This has been a constant conflict between Europe and China. Despite numerous discussions between Beijing and Brussels, the imbalance persists for most member states, although not for Germany, Finland and Ireland (Eurostat, 2018).
In 2016, the EU adopted a new strategy on China that tries to respond more effectively to the scale of China’s economic power and its role as an increasingly important global player (Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council, 2016). The strategy complements the EU-China 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, which marked its 15th anniversary in 2018 (Press and information team of the Delegation to CHINA, 2016). In addition, the EU is negotiating an investment agreement with China to ensure fair opportunities for both sides. The EU also wants to encourage China to give a greater role to market mechanisms and reduce state intervention. The 2020 agenda does not seem to be succeeding. China is not really interested in accepting European norms and standards and is pursuing a “divide and rule” strategy in Europe instead. Indeed, BRI further amplifies the 16+1 meetings, which China is using to negotiate with Eastern European countries. The 16+1 format risks are loosening the ties between Eastern Europe and Brussels. China is pursuing this tactic by negotiating on three levels: with European institutions, with individual member countries and with Eastern Europe as a whole (16+1). An examination of Chinese foreign investment shows that the government continues to invest massively in Europe, always to some extent in “freeloader” style. China’s preferred targets are the United Kingdom (financial sector), Germany (Mittelstand/machine-tool, automotive sector), France (tourism, cosmetics, leisure, wine), Greece (infrastructure) and Portugal (real estate). Trade is growing steadily and with it the interdependence between EU member states and China.
Investment flows into Europe from China amount to €10.2 billion (2016) with EU investments in China totaling €12.8 billion in 2016 (Eurostat, 2018). Yet even if China is investing more and more in Europe, the scope must be put into perspective: of China’s total FDI, only 5–6% has been made in Europe. The majority of Chinese investments still take place in Asia — notably Hong Kong (75.5%), Singapore (3.7%), Taiwan (3.6%), South Korea (2.8%) and Japan (2.5%). The United States accounts for 2.4% of total Chinese FDI, the Netherlands 1.7% and Germany 1.2% (Otte, 2018). In the Asian region, BRI infrastructure projects will have a very significant impact in coming years. Even if Europe is more or less at the end of this new Silk Road, Eastern European nations have become, since BRI, the center of China’s interest. Especially Poland and the Baltic countries can serve as a point of entry for goods transported via the Silk Road. BRI can then serve as a catalyst to rebalance trade relations in favor of Europe as a whole, but only if the EU finds a common strategy for this initiative. It is therefore important not to fall into the trap of intra-European competition, or to be divided by China. On the contrary, common European interests must be identified in order to protect key EU sectors and give priority to European actors.
Above all, closer cooperation with pro-European countries is necessary, as is monitoring and guiding Chinese investments throughout the European continent. BRI will change the foundations of world trade in the medium term, and the EU risks granting even greater access to European high technology. This poses a real threat since China, as discussed, links its civil and military interests. China’s influence and geopolitical–military power could thus have an impact in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe. First and foremost, BRI is a Chinese ideology that is making it possible to pursue the Chinese dream, modernize state- owned companies and facilitate their financing by promoting access to international credit. Additionally, the increased prosperity of the countries along the BRI routes will ensure Chinese trade remains stable, a key aspect given that the Chinese economy is heavily dependent on exports.
Areas of action for the EU
In view of BRI, not only must European companies act, so must all EU institutions. A new vision for Europe must be articulated if Europe is to avoid being taken hostage by Chinese interests. The strength of the European Union is directly linked to how it manages its diversity. In Europe, freedom of thought reinforces creativity, which is necessary for technological progress. The high quality of Europe’s companies is the result of their innovative power. Due to its democratic structures, respect for human rights, rule of law and high social standards and norms, the EU acts within a regulatory framework based on ethical and human values. On the commercial level, BRI offers many opportunities for European companies as investors, experts, consultants and managers. Potential activities include the following:
-Investing in infrastructure projects, such as construction of railways and roads.
-Supplying equipment, such as that needed for ports.
-Serving as partners in the areas of engineering, procurement and construction (EPC).
-Serving as consultants for project management, especially in the area of operational security and the application of international and local laws.
-Managing infrastructure operations (Wijeratne et al., 2018).
There are many opportunities and risks here. As with any transnational project of this magnitude, major differences in the relevant corporate cultures must be overcome. Above all, trust between the various international actors plays a crucial role.
In addition, different legal frameworks exist which can lead to conflicts between international and local laws. Moreover, the “time” factor should not be overlooked, since BRI is a massive project that will only be completed in the long term. In short, there are myriad factors which could hinder European companies from serving as partners within the framework of this initiative.
French President Macron — Hope for Europe?
The election of Emmanuel Macron as President of the French Republic gave, for a brief time, new momentum not only to France, but also to the EU. Macron’s visit to China was closely watched, especially by the French and German press. The French President was the first European leader to welcome the initiative to create a “new Silk Road”. Yet a comparison of the outcome of his visit to China with that of Chancellor Merkel’s in 2015 is less than satisfying. Only 39 of the 50 envisaged contracts have been signed and half are mere declarations of intent. Thus, the French President did not truly introduce a new approach to dealing with China. With all due respect, he only highlighted the importance of the historically friendly relations between China, France and Europe. Macron’s mistake was to invoke France’s rivalry with the United States. Alluding to the Chinese proverb “When the wind of change blows, some build walls, others build mills”, the French President referred to the con- struction of the wall between Mexico and the United States. From the perspective of a G-2 scenario, China will always measure itself against superpowers like the US and consider France and Europe medium-sized actors instead. In addition, Macron has not addressed the problems resulting from France’s and the EU’s lack of geopolitical impact given the overwhelming power of players such as China and the US. What future thus awaits the EU as a new era of global governance dawns?
As globalization’s pace slows, the need increases to belong to a territory, region or country. The dynamics of transnational flows erase neither borders nor the places delimited by those borders (Zajec, 2016). On the contrary, it is clear that the geopolitical powers of nation-states such as China, the United States and Russia are growing. This growth has been accompanied by resurgence of personality cults (e.g. those surrounding Xi and Putin) and of ideologies guided by national interests. BRI is a good example, since it is the ideological pursuit of the Chinese dream. The strategy behind Trump’s “America first” campaign follows the same logic, being a call to revitalize the American dream.
European identity crisis
The EU, on the other hand, lacks a dream. Following the massive inflow of refugees to the European continent, Europe’s citizens have been legitimately demanding that border controls be restored and strengthened. It is necessary to define the European identity as a result. The EU is also an arena where national and transnational forces (e.g. global companies, interest groups) interact. And precisely these transnational forces, especially international companies, often behave more or less autonomously, regardless of the regulations issued by nation-states. The EU is an inter- mediate actor, at best a forward-looking one. It is not a “United States of Europe”, neither can it boast of being a true global force. After all, European power is clearly limited in economic terms. Being a global player requires a shared vision on the economic, political, military, social and cultural levels.
Globalization in its current form has given rise to a kind of new, highly conflictual bipolar world, one that requires a redefinition of the world order. The resulting rivalry is playing out on several levels:
-Institutional: Democratic system versus authoritarian regime, even dictatorships.
-National versus transnational forces.
-Nation-states versus global companies, business alliances and interest groups (lobbying).
-Within the EU: Nation-states versus European institutions, and Western Europe versus Eastern Europe.
The identity of the heart, a nation of the heart and the strength of differences
The leaders of European institutions should not underestimate the national strengths of the member states and their respective populations. According to this logic, President Macron is wrong to want to pursue the strategy of “even more Europe” without taking into account legitimate feelings of belonging and national identity. Jacques Ancel (1879–1943) contributed the notion of identity to geopolitics. According to Ancel, groups of individuals take shape based on a common memory, history, culture and language, eventually defining themselves within a border: “He defends a nation of the heart in and of itself that is non-rational” (Gauchon and Huissoud, 2008, pp. 7–11). In this sense, the EU can act as an avant-garde player, questioning a power’s sustainability — values versus mercantilism. A new “cosmopolitical” order of this sort must ensure fair trade relations, transparency of transactions, social justice and, above all, a more equitable distribution of natural resources and goods on a global scale. More precisely, it is the human dimension and the application of moral and ethical values that are essential if there is to be an evolution towards a cosmopolitics, a process that must respect borders and, thus, national sovereignty (Banik, 2016).
In our globalized world, neither the EU, China nor the United States is an isolated island paradise. No actor is privy to the absolute truth. The challenges of climate change, growing global competition (for natural resources, food, water, etc.), the rivalry between national and transnational forces and, above all, international terrorism are forcing us to face new realities. The illusions must be relinquished that underlie today’s ideologies (those found in Europe; patriotic Chinese-style capitalism;
“America first”; personality cults; a return to revisionist power structures). We must bridge our differences and move towards a cosmopolitical global governance based on human values — towards an “identity of the heart”. As Europeans, let us begin evolving towards a “Europe of the heart” in keeping with Jacques Ancel’s geopolitical vision (Banik, 2016).
“It is the heart which is worthwhile and which must be considered above all.” (Jacques Ancel)
Notes: This paper was originally published in “China and the World: Ancient and Modern Silk Road, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1–18 DOI: 0.1142/S2591729319500032, reproduced with the permission from the author.
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