The Myth of the New Silkroad:Xi´s Great Leap Forward?

Read the article by Ryan Manuel in the Jamestown Foundation’s Chinese Leadership Monitor: „Twists in the Belt and Road“

Assuming that the BRI is a centrally planned, strategic-geopolitical project based on a well thought-out master plan and the mastermind Xi, the article shows that it is above all an economic project that is essentially determined by local cadres. Foreign Ministry and military officials remain outside, it was not Xi’s priority, mainly state-owned enterprises are promoted and lending and financing are only 8% awarded by the AIIB and 92% by national funds and the 4 state-owned banks. In addition, the direction was changed completely, although the BRI was included in the constitution. Was BRI first a project to promote exports, it now officially serves as a result of the trade war with the US to secure imports and export only Chinese standards. Also, BRI does not encounter as much love as hoped from abroad. Because not as claimed 185 states participate in it, but only 53. The criticism of foreign countries is growing – because of debt traps. Also, the statistical figures on BRI investment seem to be propagandistic over-dimensional inflated. The internal criticism is growing as well, but can not be articulated openly and the contradictions increase, indeed block the development of the New Silk Road. Despite all opposing propaganda by CP China: The BRI could become Xi’s big leap forward

https://www.prcleader.org/manuel-belt-road

The importance of the local cadres and how they try to keep their position under the transformation of China from a one-party rule into a one-man dictatorship, describes another article by Min Xinpei Bureaucratic strategies of coping with strongman rule: How local officials survive in President Xi Jinping’s new order

https://www.prcleader.org/pei-bureaucratic-strategies

This analysis by the US think tank Jamestown Foundation which also has a special section“Russia in decline“  is not just American propaganda as Russian experts also have similar doubts about BRI after an inital phase of euphoria about the project and the propaganda of the CP China. A good summary about the Russian elite discourse is the article:

The “Belt and Road” in Russia: Evolution of Expert Discourse

From Caution to Euphoria to Disappointment

Alexander A. Gabuev – Senior Fellow and Chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program, Carnegie Moscow Center.

Ivan Yu. Zuenko – Research Fellow, Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography of the Far East Department, Russian Academy of Sciences.

Resumee: The implementation of the “Belt and Road” initiative became dependent on the pro et contra balance that is not conducive to cooperation for the time being. “Gains and prospects” are abstract, while “risks and threats,” on the contrary, are quite concrete and cannot be ignored.

https://eng.globalaffairs.ru/number/The-Belt-and-Road-in-Russia-Evolution-of-Expert-Discourse-19915

The first doubts whether the Chinese New Silk Road really was such a thoughtful geopolitical project going beyond a military port in Djibouti and unconnected military forums with Africa came to me when I became a guest commentator at China Radio International and once asked the question of how the New Silkroad should also be militarily stabilized and secured. The simple question of a security belt was censored at the same time and the article was not published, as was the fact that so far the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have not been significantly involved in the Silk Road project. On the one hand, it dampens Western fears that China wants to take over the world militarily. But on the other hand it also shows the lack of stabilization of the whole project, which, according to the Jamestown Foundation, is more of an economic project than a really centrally thought-through megaproject with a plan and perhaps Xi Jinping who makes it a top priority. There is a danger that he will not have a grip on the project he has so loudly promoted and which was now written in the constitution like his longterm rule and the Xi Jinping ideas. The essential abstract corridors of the New Silkroad seem to be determined, but how they are concretlly organized seems yet not to be a decision of the central government or Xi, neither the foreign ministery or military , but of local cadres and their connections to state-owned companies. Here is the article for China International Radio which was not published:

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

Publiziert am 6. November 2017 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.However, the confrontation between Iran and Saudiarabia which is fueled by the USA and brings conflict in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and parts of the Arab and Northafrican world will be a challenge for Chinese intermediators. Russia, Syria, Iran and Turkey had their summit to solve this problem, but the USA and Saudiarabia are playing their own game. Hard to say, how OBOR could be stabilized in a unstable region like this. China has to build OBOR in the stabile countries and promote stability in the rest of the region. Therefore OBOR can only be built in the stabile regions and the instabile regions wait for their stabilization, but China can only play a minor part in it.

Über Ralf Ostner

Ralf Ostner geboren 1964 in Frankfurt am Main, 1984 Abitur in Bayern--Leitungskurse: Physik und Kunst/ Schülerzeitung. Studium der Physik (Nebenfächer: Mathematik, Chemie), Wirtschaftsgeographie (Nebenfächer: BWL, VWL) und Studium der Sinologie. 1991 Abschluss als staatlich geprüfter Übersetzer in der englischen und chinesischen Sprache am Sprachen- und Dolmetscher-Institut/München (Leiter der Chinesisch-Abteilung: Herr Zhang, ehemaliger Dolmetscher von Deng Xiaoping und Franz-Josef Strauß).Danach 5 Jahre Asienaufenthalt: China, Indien, Südostasien (u.a. in Kambodscha während des ersten Auslandseinsatzes der Bundeswehr, Interviews mit Auslandschinesen, Recherche im Karen-Guerillagebiet in Burma, Unterstützung einer UNO-Mitarbeiterin während den Aufständen in Nepal und bei UNO-Arbeit in Indien), Australien. Danach 5 Jahre als Dolmetscher, Delegationsbegleiter und Übersetzer in München. Abendstudium an der Hochschule für Politik /München (Schwerpunkt: Internationale Beziehungen). Abschluss als Diplom-Politologe (Diplomarbeit: Die deutsch-chinesischen Beziehungen 1989-2000 unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der SPD-Grünen-Regierung). Delegationsbegleitung von Hu Ping, Chefredakteur der chinesischen Dissidentenzeitung "Pekinger Frühling" (New York)und prominentester Vertreter eines chinesischen Liberalismus bei seiner Deutschlandtour (Uni München, Uni Mainz, Berlin/FU-Humboldt) bei gleichzeitigem Kontakt mit Liu Liqun (Autor des Buches "Westliches Denken transzendieren"/ heute: Deutschlandberater der chinesischen Regierung).Chefredakteur der Studentenzeitschrift UNIPOL . Projekte am Goethe-Institut und bei FOCUS TV. Seit 2000 Übersetzer (chinesisch-deutsch), Graphiker, freier Schriftsteller und Blogger.
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