SIPRI today announced the launch of a new report on the security implications of China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (the Road).
The report, ‘The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road: Security implications and ways forward for the European Union’, examines the impact of the two most strategic maritime spaces that the initiative traverses: the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean Region. It assesses the implications of the project for European Union (EU) foreign and security interests, but should also be relevant to all stakeholders of the Road.
Strategic Maritime Spaces: Time for greater international dialogue
The report finds that the Road will expand China’s maritime strategic space far beyond its adjacent waters. Like previous and existing powers, China is seeking to reduce the impact of disruptive forces on key supply chains. However, according to the report, this initiative is not entirely acquisitive and is likely to lead to positive developments and cooperation across many areas.
In the South China Sea, the Road rekindles some pre-existing strained relations between China and regional states, the report finds. Tensions within the region aggravate an arms build-up but are simultaneously somewhat eased by the prospect of developing the regional blue economy and putting aside of maritime disputes, explains the report.
Opening up the Indian Ocean Region
In the case of the Indian Ocean Region, the report finds, the Road stimulates competition over development-support and connectivity; but it also precipitates greater militarization and maritime rivalry in an already complex region. The report argues that the Road could—in combination with the Silk Road Economic Belt—reshape the nature of the Indian Ocean Region as a more interconnected global commons; a change from the region’s previous role as a relatively enclosed security space.
More challenges than solutions for the EU
While a key goal of the report is to inspire greater international dialogue on the governance of strategic maritime spaces, the report also finds that—over the medium and long-term—the Road in its current incarnation may pose more security challenges than solutions for the EU. According to the report, this particularly applies to freedom of navigation.
The Road overlaps with some EU maritime security interests, the report explains, but cooperation avenues will require more frank dialogue, greater political trust and creative thinking.
About the report and the Belt and Road Initiative
‘The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road: Security implications and ways forward for the European Union’ follows SIPRI’s research on the security implications of the Silk Road Economic Belt in 2017. Both reports were funded by and developed in close cooperation with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
The Belt and Road Initiative—a development cooperation framework first introduced by the Chinese government in 2013—is expected to increase economic cooperation and connectivity in Eurasia and beyond. Although the initiative has raised much enthusiasm, some stakeholders are concerned with some of the initiative’s local and regional security implications.