Does One Belt, One Road need a „security belt“?

von Ralf Ostner

The CPChina´s OBOR initiative is welcomed by many countries of the world including most Western countries except the USA, Japan and India. As China wants to build infrastructure projects connecting Central Asia, the Greater Middle East , Africa and Europe there isn´t any Western megaproject like the New Silkroad. The last Western megaproject was Desert Tech which wanted to build a solar panel belt in Africa to deliver electricity for the industrialization of Africa and the consumption of Europe. However, Desert Tech was canceled as the Western economic and political system is not that farsightetd, visionary and strategically thinking as China and it has no state funds or investment funds which think in geopolitical terms, but are profit orientated and want a quick revenue from their investment.However another factor against Desert Tech was the political and militarily unstable enviroment in Africa.

China´s OBOR initiative wants to connect regions which are best known for their instablity– Central Asia, Afghanistan/Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa.Therefore the question is: Can the One Belt, One Road be successful without having a stabilzing security belt? Such a security belt already exists in the region of Central Asia within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organiszation (SCO) which except economic and cultural cooperation also includes military cooperation and annual excersises against terrorism, seperatism and Islamism.However, the creation of the Pakistan-China- Economic Corridor faces threats from Islamism like the Pakistan Taliban, Al Qaida, IS and seperatists groups like Beluchinstan militants.Here China can rely on the Pakistan army and give military assistance,but India is angry about OBOR in Pakistan as it perceives it as a threat to its souvereignity and would be very suspicious if the PLA was deployed along the corridor or the PLAN in ports in Gwadar or Sri Lanka or Burma.However, India would voice some symbolic protest and counterbalance the Chinese influence—India wants to build a port in Iran next to Gwadar and strenghtens its relations with the USA.So far no real problems would emerge in the Asian region, but the Middle East and Africa is a different story for OBOR as it faces extremist Islamist movements and terrorism, the collapse of the territorial integrety and souveignity of states like in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lybia, Somalia or Sudan. To project stability China would have the following options:

Build a network of military bases along the New Silkroad. In some respect this will happen, but not to the extent as the USA has military bases worlwide and not at this scale.The USA set up their global military bases network due to the result of the Second World War when the other states faced German and Japanese aggression and afterwards communism.This has been a unique opportunity for the USA , but today a new worldwar is unlikely and other states don´t want to be drawn in a conflict between the USA and China, nor give China military bases which could alienate them from the USA.Therefore this option couldn´t be China´s way to create a security belt for OBOR. China with its policy of noninterference, peaceful rise and its tradition of antiinterventionism, anticolonialism and antiimperialism won´t enter this path.The CP China is a learning organism and draws its lessons from the arrogant, interventionist mentality of the USA which destabilzed the Greater Middle East with its wars in Iraq and Lybia. Boots on the ground became very costly for the USA, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq hyped the US state deficit and nearly ruined its economy. As Chinese leaders are not stupid, but dialectical and strategic thinkers they won´t repeat the mistakes and errors of the USA. The Chinese also think in terms of comprehensive national power, have a very holistic and strategic view of power, have read their Sun Tze and Deng Xiaoping which perceive military power as instrument of the last resort.

Build military alliances. Also very unlikely as it´s not China´s policy and even the SCO is not an anti-NATO or an military alliance. Likewise China has seen what NATO and the USA did in Iraq and Lybia, that military alliances need a military core body to project military power worldwide and China could have a military power as the USA at maximum in 2050, if it wants to build such a military power or not choose another path of the peaceful rise.

Military cooperation. As China faces the same threats in the Greater Middle East and Africa, mostly Islamist terrorism and extremism, especially the IS and other Islamist groups it could support the antiterror coalition of the West and the anti-IS coalition.Maybe it would be also an option, if China tries to convince the USA that OBOR is not directed against them and that AFRICOM and the PLA could make a military cooperation for the stabilization of Africa.

Military assistance, training, arms exports to countries which will be part of the OBOR initiative and economic and diplomatic efforts to stabilize them and their neighbouring countries. That will be in my opinion the prefered Chinese instrument to create a security belt along the OBOR project.

 


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