One Belt One Road review from Russia

China Greenbank Books Politics

A Russian edition of One Belt One Road: China's Long March Toward 2049 is in the works. Meanwhile, here's a review of the English edition from Russia:

The One Belt One Road Initiative: China's move to global leadership

by Sergey Zhiltsov - Doctor of Political Science, Head of the Department of Political Science and Political Philosophy of the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry

One Belt One Road: China’s Long March Toward 2049

Michael H. Glantz with Robert J. Ross and Gavin G. Daugherty

A Greenbank Book, The Sumeru Press Inc. Canada, 2019

Abstract: the review examines the main provisions of the book One Belt One Road: China’s Long March Toward 2049. The publication, based on extensive material, shows the role of China’s initiative launched in 2013. The article examines the impact of the initiative on China’s relations with various countries of the world and its role in the implementation of Beijing’s long-term goals on the world stage.

Keywords: China, The great silk road, world politics

In recent decades, China has consistently increased its efforts not only to solve domestic economic and social problems, but also to strengthen its position on the world stage. In this context, the initiative proposed in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping can be considered logical. It was called “One Belt One Road” (OBOR). The prerequisites for the emergence of this initiative, its objectives and prospects are explored in the book One Belt One Road: China's Long March Toward 2049, which was written by American expert Michael Glantz, together with Robert Ross and Gavin Daugherty.

China’s initiative goes beyond the development of regional trade and can be seen as a measure aimed at forming a new model of cooperation between Beijing and various countries. At the same time, we are talking not only about the countries that are located on the routes that have received the collective name “ancient silk road.”

As the authors note, it might seem to an outsider that this is just a new name for the state program of China, which unites all kinds of activities to create commercial infrastructure, which was carried out in the respective regions, but which has not been completed. It was like filling a new bottle with old wine. This initiative was designed to improve the marketing of new trading and manufacturing opportunities. However, though it would not seem at first sight that OBOR is “business as usual,” actually it is far from that.

 China decided to use the concept of “the great silk road,” which should strengthen nostalgia for the times when the country was developing dynamically and played a prominent role in the development of other territories. At the same time, China’s appeal to history should create a sense of continuity for Chinese policy, justifying the course to promote infrastructure projects. It is that policy, at the first stage of the initiative, to which China assigns the role of a striking force, designed to ensure the implementation of the plans.

China’s efforts are aimed at forming a new system of relations in the regions, which in the long term can play a key role for the development of China's economy and lead to Chinese dominance in world politics. By 2049, China expects to become a developed country that will become a leading player in world politics. OBOR is considered by China as one of the components of the policy that will allow the country to rise to the level of the dominant global economic and political power.

As the authors of the book note, there were prerequisites for all of this. The OBOR initiative received positive feedback from political leaders in many countries. The leaders of the countries of Africa, Europe, Asia and South America began to consider proposals on cooperation within the framework of OBOR.

The silk road brand has attracted the attention of many politicians over the past three decades. In the late 1980s, E. Shevardnadze, the Minister of foreign Affairs of the USSR, wrote about this, suggesting steps to expand cooperation between countries located in the Eurasian space. In the early 2000s, similar proposals were made by the United States. In 2011, the US State Department viewed the new silk road initiative as an attempt to enhance trade and economic integration between Afghanistan, Central Asia, Pakistan, and India, and the North-South silk road was seen as a complement to East-West ties in Eurasia.

The modern Chinese initiative is based on the trade routes that historically formed the ancient silk road, which ran from the Western part of China through the territory of Eurasia to Europe. At the same time, the initiative “One Belt One Road” geographically and conceptually goes beyond the historical heritage. OBOR covers the Sea route from China through Southeast Asia to Africa and on to Southeast Europe and even South America. The OBOR also covers a land route that runs from China through Central Asia and on to Europe, which attracts Beijing with its capabilities. President XI Jinping aims to make China one of the largest centers in the field of trade, large-scale construction and commercial activity of the 21st century, not only in Eurasia, but also around the world.

At the first stage, OBOR was positioned as an initiative that would contribute to the implementation of Chinese projects on trade, investment and infrastructure construction. However, as the authors note, the project very soon “overstepped” the geographical framework, spreading to many regions. Moreover, since Chinese President XI Jinping announced the idea of OBOR, the desire to join this initiative is constantly growing.

Modern China has given its policy elements of romance, which were supposed to hide the true objectives of Chinese politics. The reconstruction of the “ancient silk road,” the glorification of the times when the European elite admired exotic spices and fabrics from China, increased interest in the initiative by Beijing. Skillfully playing up the legends of the past, China is positioning this initiative to lead the world to a new economic and political reality.

It is obvious that China is driven not only and not so much by nostalgia for historical successes. The “One Belt One Road” initiative reflects China’s economic and strategic goals, which pragmatically calculating its steps in world politics. XI Jinping is using the OBOR for a geopolitical breakthrough, spreading Beijing’s influence across the entire planet.

As the authors note, since 1949, the Chinese government has repeatedly used various “campaigns,” slogans and symbols to stimulate, encourage and increase the understanding of its citizens of the need to support the policies of their country’s government to achieve ideological, political, and economic goals, or solve security problems. The slogans of each campaign were brands of activities undertaken by the government at one level or another. For China, the OBOR initiative can be seen as another campaign aimed not so much at increasing the activity of its citizens as at stimulating the activities of its companies and local authorities.

For decades, China has been involved in international projects in cooperation with individual countries for the construction of dams, pipelines, roads and railways, as well as for the reconstruction of outdated infrastructure, such as ports and bridges. The difference in this case is that using the OBOR brand, China focuses, coordinates and implements its efforts aimed at turning China into a world political power. The authors emphasize that in the last century, infrastructure projects created new economic opportunities, changed domestic and international relations, and even proved to be catalysts and instruments of war. With the center of gravity in the economy moving eastward, today’s projects (including OBOR) may be harbingers of a new order.

China is de facto in the process of creating an Asia-centric new geopolitical world order that is already challenging the dominance of the US and the West. The latest example of China's attempts to create a more Asia-centric geopolitical power aimed at expanding its influence over non-Asian countries is the launch of a freight train from East China to England, 16 days in transit. This new rail system should be seen as another achievement of OBOR. At first glance, the value of this new way may be more symbolic than significant in terms of a trade. The significance will be from the point of view of observers. In addition to the trade benefits that this route from China to England can bring, there are serious geopolitical benefits.

Moreover, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the growing uncertainty in world politics due to the unwillingness of the US to fulfill its obligations with respect to previously adopted agreements, as well as the isolationist course of Donald Trump, strengthen the attractiveness of China. Beijing demonstrates the openness of the OBOR to all countries, consistently reinforcing this with appropriate rhetoric and infrastructure projects. We can say that the walls and barriers erected by the United States (literally and figuratively) contrast with the “bridges” China is building in its relations with countries of different regions. According to the authors of the book, this has allowed China to significantly strengthen its position in different regions of the world.

The authors of the book emphasize that OBOR is a very ambitious program for several reasons. The first is China's attempt to create a new world order in the 21st century, assuming the absence of one dominant global economic power in the West, which was the case for twenty years after the end of the cold war. To this end, China proposes that the world invest $4 trillion in the implementation of the OBOR program, which will allow countries to realize their economic development potential, using the path that will make them part of the Chinese initiative. To achieve this goal, there is only one way – priority infrastructure development. The Chinese government and corporations will operate in the OBOR member countries through the so-called “silk roads.” Such assistance will enable China to use its surplus production capacity and workforce to produce materials and provide the competencies needed to build infrastructure facilities along the OBOR pathways.

The second benefit for China through the use of “soft power” will be the strengthening of relations with the countries of Central, South, South-West, West and South-East Asia. The implementation of these efforts will require several decades, which will eventually allow China to acquire new trading partners, as well as access for Chinese goods to new markets.

China is also expanding the circle of trade and investment partners in the post-Soviet space within the framework of the OBOR. Over several decades, China’s trade with the five Central Asian States – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – has reached $50 billion, while trade with Russia, previously the largest regional player, amounted to only $30 billion. The authors of the study write that China has already reformatted the energy sector of Central Asian countries. Currently, Chinese companies own almost a quarter of Kazakhstan’s oil production capacity and consume more than half of Turkmenistan’s gas exports. China has signed gas and uranium deals worth $15 billion with Uzbekistan. Ultimately, according to the authors of the book, this could lead to a conflict with Russia’s national interests and its political and economic sphere of influence.

Currently, the two neighbouring countries (Russia and China) have one desire: to limit the global influence of America. In their book, the authors express the opinion that the OBOR project contains obvious opportunities for both China and Russia. China will provide Russia with much-needed investment and infrastructure, and Russia will create the necessary infrastructure to “breathe life” into its lagging economy.

According to the authors of the study, OBOR has suddenly become a brand that China can successfully use. If this initiative receives positive international response in the near future, OBOR as a brand will allow China to stand out from other national and joint international efforts to implement large-scale infrastructure and development projects. It will also allow China to amend the rules of the game called “global development” by China's creation of an international financial institution, the 57-member Asian infrastructure investment Bank (AIIB). With variations used by China or the media to describe activities under the OBOR Initiative, the continued references to OBOR will certainly strengthen the brand.

Summing up, it should be noted that the presented study gives a complete picture of China's regional priorities and the directions of its policy. Beijing has consistently expanded its influence in various regions, taking full advantage of the initiative.

The opinions of experts commenting on the role of the Chinese initiative presented in the book leave no doubt that China sets itself the ambitious task of reformatting the balance of forces in world politics. At the same time, Beijing will establish itself as a key player, which in the middle of the 21st century should determine the direction of world politics.


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