Today, more than 60 countriesof the world have seen in practice that the implementation of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative (BRI) contributes to the economic prosperity of the countries along the ancient Great Silk Road and economic cooperation in the region; exchange and contacts between different civilizations; and the peaceful development of processes that are taking place in Eurasia. It also became clear that the project has not only economic, but also cultural, and sometimes military – political significance.
It should be noted that there are several main foreign policy strategies of the BRI:
Construction of transport highways. The BRI project involves the construction of new roads (not just the improvement of existing highways). New roads are being built using innovative technologies. Today, China has innovative technologies for building high-speed highways, due to which it was able to make a significant breakthrough and achieve world leadership in this field. According to 2014 data, 111.9 thousand km of high-speed motorways and 16 thousand km of high-speed railways have already been built on the territory of China. Thus, the successful construction of high-speed highways has reached the level of export output.
The construction of transport highways, in turn, entails the development of infrastructure. Thus, new development centers are emerging along the new expressways, the logistics network is expanding, tourist routes are being developed, and many new jobs have been created. This, in turn, contributes to the development of the regional economy as a whole.
Transport and infrastructure development leads to the increasing trade. Thus, the BRI connects various countries of Eurasia, as well as opens new trade channels.
The development of mutual trade through the use of national currencies leads to stability in the currency policy.
One of the conditions for the country’s participation in the BRI is to comply with the main condition – political stability and guarantees of public security. Thus, the new Silk Road can be a guarantee of stability and security in the regions.
BRI also leads to the development of cultural exchange of Eurasian countries and peoples with each other. Achieving a common goal can contribute to the cultural exchange of the participating countries, and can also bring together and unite the Eurasian peoples.
Thus, responding to the global trends of globalization, based on the principle of mutual benefit and having a far-sighted perspective, the Chinese BRI project has a number of foreign policy strategic advantages that can contribute to the consolidation of the countries of the Eurasian region and the disclosure of their economic potential.
However, speaking about the strategic significance of the land and maritime Silk corridors, it cannot be omitted their military – political and geopolitical nature. Thus, in order to secure oil imports from the Middle East to China, Beijing is forced to simultaneously create several international transport Silk corridors. Since Iran is the main supplier of oil to the PRC, Maritime oil delivery communications have become of strategic importance for Beijing. In the logistics chain, the most vulnerable point is a relatively narrow one (up to 2 – 3 km) is the Strait of Malacca, in which the United States attaches exceptional importance to controlling this communication and possibly blocking the Strait. The US Navy is many times superior to the Chinese Maritime forces, and bilateral military alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand allow to effective control of Maritime routes in the PRC. Beijing, in turn, together with the construction of the BRI Southern corridor, is deploying military bases and electronic intelligence facilities in friendly Southeast Asian countries (Myanmar, Cambodia) and ensuring the political sovereignty of Myanmar, which has large reserves of energy raw materials. Today the PRC is considering an additional possibility of building a shipping channel across the Isthmus of Kra (Thai Khokhok Kra) in Thailand bypassing the Strait of Malacca.
It should be noted that the Maritime Silk transport corridor is being created from the Chinese province of Xinjiang to the Indian ocean, acting as a guarantor of Pakistan’s security. With financial assistance from Beijing, a modern deep-water port of Gwadar is being built on the Makran Coast of Baluchistan (Pakistan). This ambitious project aims to create a new economic center of the Middle East similar to the Arab Dubai (see Fig.2). The deployment of the Chinese naval base and electronic intelligence station in Gwadar will ensure the security of oil imports from Iran, the main foreign supplier of energy raw materials to China, and control the transportation of oil from the Persian Gulf to India. Given the vulnerability of China’s Maritime communications with the Middle East, Beijing, as part of the BRI project, plans to build oil and gas pipelines from the Arabian sea coast to China’s Xinjiang to provide imports bypassing the Strait of Malacca, as well as to continue the high-altitude Karakoram highway to the port of Gwadar. In this regard, the Chinese are seeking to acquire a chain of naval bases in friendly countries of South – East and South Asia. For example, the PRC has managed to reach agreement on the deployment of such bases in Myanmar (where a network of Chinese radar posts already operates) and Pakistan (in the port of Gwadar, where a Chinese electronic intelligence station is deployed), and negotiations are underway with Thailand, Cambodia and Bangladesh.
Given the political and geopolitical nature of the project, it should be noted that it is consistent with the logic of the classical geopolitical formula: “Whoever owns Eurasia owns the world”. Knowing this geopolitical axiom, Beijing at the beginning of the XXI century decided to initiate a new integration project in Eurasia.
According to the long-standing tradition of the “Chinese box” (foreign policy strategies “string of pearls”, “blue water”, etc.), the main geopolitical goal of the Chinese project is gradually revealed to the outside world. Thus, Beijing is supposed to gradually open its intermediate foreign policy and economic tasks in order to finally achieve the General goal. Speaking about the final goal, it should be understood that the BRI project will unite a Large Eurasian multidimensional space, including the PRC, Central Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, out of a population of 3 billion. people (more than 40% of the World’s population) with a huge consumer market. The world’s longest economic corridor has a huge potential for regional development and interaction. BRI has rich energy, mineral, tourist, cultural and agricultural resources. A multidimensional innovative model of regional cooperation will allow the countries of Eurasia to expand the geo-economic space for their development by forming the following directions (corridors):
1. transport corridor,
2. energy corridor,
3. trade corridor,
4. the information corridor,
5. scientific and technical cooperation,
6. agricultural development,
7. development of the cultural sector
8. increasing educational and career opportunities,
9. tourism development,
10. security and political interaction.
Thus, the BRI, along with the revival of the Maritime Silk Rad and the international economic corridors “Bangladesh – China – India – Myanmar”, “China – Pakistan (Baluchistan)”, “China – Tajikistan – Iran”, and the creation of port outposts in South – Eastern Europe, indicates the intention of the PRC to take soft “economic” control of the entire Eurasia (see Fig.1). In fact, for the first time, the outlines of the Chinese geopolitical Eurasian project have been outlined, which will have to be considered by both EU strategists and Russian intentions to create the Eurasian economic Union and American ambitions in Eurasia.
The Chinese “Silk project” serves as a bridge between the Asia – Pacific economic ring and the European economic ring, and will contribute to the development of the Western regions of China. According to analysts, the foundation of this initiative in Beijing is the implementation of five tasks (“connections”):
- strengthening of political and economic ties, balanced development of the West and the East, including at the level of regional cooperation;
- strengthening of communication links in Eurasia, creating a transport corridor from the Pacific ocean to the Baltic sea and creating a transport network connecting East, West and South Asia;
- ensure uninterrupted trade and simplify trade and investment activities, strengthen trade relations and economic cooperation with Central, West and South Asia;
- strengthening of monetary circulation based on settlements in national currencies and increasing the international economic competitiveness of regions;
- expanding the openness of the People’s Republic of China to Eurasia and bringing Nations closer together on the basis of activating and strengthening friendship between peoples.
Thus, BRI, which is based on a multidimensional approach (“five connections”), will promote mutually beneficial international cooperation. In this regard, in contrast to the US, which relied on the path of the world hegemon for neoliberal globalization, China in its foreign policy has taken a course towards regionalization of international economic relations.
The ambitious concept of the BRI has given impetus to the development of infrastructure projects around the world. This concept provides for the development of economic cooperation on the continent through the construction of transport infrastructure. Increasing its effectiveness, together with the removal of trade barriers, should lead to an increase in the volume of mutual trade in the region, as well as increase the role of national currencies, especially the Chinese yuan in mutual economic operations. In addition, the implementation of infrastructure projects should give an impetus to the development of sparsely populated and economically lagging inner provinces of the PRC, Inner Mongolia in the Xinjiang.
Thus, the BRI is not only a geopolitical and geo-economic project of Beijing, but also a multipolar and open cooperation process. It is based on Chinese regionalism, the production of not another regional Union and hegemony with elements of closeness and conservatism, but a process of gradual progress based on economic interaction, versatile cooperation and consultation, mutual respect and tolerance.
This initiative should be viewed from several perspectives. First, this is a whole scattering of infrastructure projects. Some of them are already being implemented, and even more are in the plans for the near future. And it is not just about expanding the geography of Chinese activity in the world. If the current initiatives are successful, China will be able to play a system – forming role throughout Eurasia.
So far, BRI – related projects are mainly concentrated in South – East and South Asia, in the traditional area of Chinese foreign policy. But in the future, the mainstay of the Chinese initiative will be transport corridors leading from China to Europe.
Chinese economic investment policy is expanding as well. Thus, the total investment within the “One belt, One road” is estimated at a huge amount: from 2 up to 7 trillion dollars. China is investing about $12.5 billion in creating a transport hub based on the port of Gwadar in Pakistan and linking this port by rail and road with North – Eastern China. Another $5.5 billion in China and Chinese private investors will allocate for the construction of the Boten – Vientiane railway in Laos. But there are also investments that are not directly related to transport infrastructure. In 2016 it was mentioned that Chinese investment in countries that have joined the initiative amounted to about $50 billion and that in the coming years, Beijing plans to triple this amount.
China’s long-term infrastructure investments require a completely different approach to investment protection. China will not be content with being an important trading partner. Thus, it was noted that Beijing needs “shares” in regional political projects, participation in solving international security problems, and levers of influence on the political situation in partner countries. Without guarantees of consistency in the policy of countries – participants, China will not risk billions.
China is already creating new and strengthening existing mechanisms of political dialogue throughout the BRI space: with ASEAN, with Russia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Vietnam, CEE countries and others.
China’s interest in domestic political processes in the Eurasian countries is becoming more and more noticeable: new, long-term interests will force Beijing to play the same role in the capitals of its partners as, for example, the United States do, and use the same techniques and tools (lobbying, grants, “soft power” and hard political pressure).
In order to successfully implement the tasks set, China will have to revise some of the ancient principles of its foreign policy. Thus, the BRI involves the creation of dozens of new diplomatic formats, the signing of hundreds of deals, and the conclusion of thousands of explicit and secret agreements. All these steps will change the political situation in Eurasia. Therefore, the policy of implementing the initiative will finally confirm that China is a global player, active and independent.
It should be noted that the modern Chinese leadership finally breaks with the tactical move made at the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms: to focus on internal reforms, not to get involved in foreign policy adventures, not to indulge great – power ambitions.
For the doctrine of the “Chinese dream”, proclaimed by Xi Jinping in 2012 immediately after he came to power, converting the success of reforms into proper international status is a goal as important as continuing economic growth or fighting the country’s property stratification.
Another important shift in Chinese policy was the absence of representatives from India at the“One Belt, One Road” Beijing summit. In Delhi, there are many reasons to fear Chinese activity, but perhaps the most significant is related to the construction of the Karakoram highway.
This section of the Pakistan transport corridor runs through the territory of Kashmir. India continues to consider Kashmir its own – and despite this, China has decided to make significant investments in the disputed territories. This may indicate a revision of the PRC’s position on national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Until recently, Beijing was categorical – any interference in the Affairs of a sovereign state, which is carried out outside the framework of the UN Charters, is unacceptable. It cannot be justified by anything, not even by a humanitarian catastrophe or systematic violations of human rights.
It seems that this doctrine is also changing, and China will become more flexible: to protect the sovereignty of third countries when it is profitable, or to recognize border changes when Chinese interests require it. In the future, this may be a dangerous signal for some countries.
Assessing the scale of the initiative, some experts noted that China has begun to move to the West. This is absolutely true in geographical terms – the project set the vector for Chinese expansion in the coming decades, and it includes not only the whole of Asia, but also Europe.
However, China’s rapprochement with the West as a political phenomenon is not worth talking about. The current project is almost more political than economic. Its success guarantees China’s place as a key center of power in the modern world. But in order to succeed, Beijing will need to maintain the maximum autonomy of its policy – that is, to build and implement its own global order of the day, in opposition to the West.
“The debt trap for CEE” is what many EU leaders call the BRI. In practice, in recent years, the European Union has tried to limit China’s presence on its territory and counter its influence. Thus, in 2017, the EU launched an investigation in connection with the construction of a high-speed railway between Belgrade and Budapest. Officials concluded that the plan, which will stretch BRI into the heart of Europe, violates EU rules on public tenders for major transport projects. As ForeignPolicy noted in turn, experts warned that another Chinese project – the construction of a high-speed highway in Montenegro – could increase its debt to a volume that could result in severe consequences for such a small country.
In the fall of 2018, the EU unveiled a plan to compete with the BRI and limit China’s influence. This strategy for connecting Europe and Asia should improve the way the two regions interact, while paying a lot of attention to environmental and social norms, taking care that the participating countries do not get caught up in debts that they will not be able to pay.
Soon, the 2019 Munich security conference struck a balance in what one of the meeting’s reports described as China’s “debt trap diplomacy” (Montenegro owes China the equivalent of 80 percent of its GDP. China accounts for 20 % of Macedonia’s external debt, while B&H accounts for 14 % and Serbia for 12 %).
At the same time, it should be noted that according to a number of European analysts, China’s economic expansion may indeed be a political risk both at the EU level and in individual member States. However, the current European debate about China’s economic presence in Central and Eastern Europe contains a number of inaccuracies that make it difficult to assess the scale of the phenomenon and its political consequences. One of the main problems is the lack of accurate information about the nature of China’s participation in financing infrastructure projects in Central and Eastern Europe.
World experts also mention the “dark side of Chinese investment”. Thus, investments in a vast network of harbors around the world have made Chinese port operators world leaders. Chinese companies carry more cargo than companies from any other country. Five of the world’s 10 largest container ports are located in China, and one in Hong Kong. Its coast guard owns the largest law enforcement fleet in the world, its Navy is the fastest growing among the great powers, and its fishing Armada numbers about 200,000 naval vessels. In strategic and military terms, China’s investment policy within the BRI has led to the replication of the example of Gwadar, where Beijing used its commercial knowledge and financial muscle to secure ownership of a strategic trade base and then use it in military operations. Similar scenario was replicated in other key locations : in Sri Lanka, Greece, and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, Chinese investment in commercial ports was followed by deployment or visits by ships of the PLA fleet, and in some cases the announcement of a longer term deployment of military contingents.
Not only the world’s largest ports have attracted Chinese investment. A dozen small harbors – some located in key strategic locations such as Djibouti, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Darwin in Australia, Madai island in Myanmar, and projected ports on the Islands of Sao Tome and Principe in the Atlantic ocean and Walvis Bay in Namibia – also have developed investments or intentions to build a Chinese port.
Investment policy in most cases has its own consequences. Thus, the financial power at China’s disposal can make its requests fail-safe. Sri Lanka and Greece are examples. In Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena, shortly after he came to power in 2015, suspended a $ 1.4 billion “port city” project in Colombo that was being built by Chinese companies. M. Sirisena was concerned about China’s growing influence after two unscheduled visits in late 2014 by a submarine and a Chinese Navy warship to a Colombo container terminal owned by a Chinese state-owned company.
In Greece, China’s acquisition of a controlling stake in Piraeus, one of Europe’s largest ports, also signaled a merger of commercial and strategic programs. When A.Tsipras, the country’s Prime Minister, hosted a Chinese warship and naval command in Piraeus in early 2015, Chinese state publications quoted him as saying that he supported the sale of the port to China. Less than a year later it was sold for 420 million dollars.
It is true and it is worth understanding that the Chinese initiative can be used as a unique opportunity to overcome the economic backwardness of many countries and poorly developed regions of the world. China offers an alternative model of economic development for countries in Asia, Africa, South America, and Central and Eastern Europe. Economic and infrastructural development may be the most important opportunity that can be used in both Asia and Europe, as well as in Africa.
But it is also true that the BRI project is undoubtedly a globalizing one, but it is Chinese globalization, which may be as far from the West as the Chinese Communist project.
Thus, it should be noted that the construction of BRI is a big project that requires step-by-step implementation. Today, official Beijing calls on all countries to unite and move together towards results that will be positive for the peoples of the world. However, it should also be remembered that along with big changes always come consequences, and the question of whether all countries are ready to deal with them will not lose its relevance until the Chinese investments begins to bring profit to all participants of the initiative simultaneously.
The concept of “string of pearls”was proposed by Christopher Person, a Lieutenant Colonel in the us air force, later a Pentagon analyst. In January 2005 it was first used in a report for the US military prepared by the expert company Booz – Allen Hamilton. It specifically demonstrated to the world the growing influence of China in South-East and South Asia and the Indian ocean through the appearance on the map of such points in its strategic Arsenal as Hainan island, Woody Islands near the Vietnamese coast, Chittagong (Bangladesh), Sittwe and Coco Islands (Myanmar), Hambantota (Sri Lanka), Gwadar (Pakistan), Seychelles archipelago, etc.
For China, this strategy is primarily aimed at protecting its oil flows, establishing the country as a global Maritime power with diverse interests around the world, and overcoming US attempts to block access to China or its access to the world’s oceans.
The concept of “blue waters” is defined by China’s access to the world’s oceanic expanses. Along with the old land route, there is a Maritime silk road that stretches from China through South Asia and the Indian ocean to Africa, and through the Red sea and the middle East to the Mediterranean sea and Europe. This also includes South America and the future passage through the Arctic.