- How does the new Silk Road initiative fit into China’s overall foreign policy under the new leadership?
- Where does the idea of new Silk Roads come from? What are potentially competing concepts?
- What are the implications for Europe and the EU?
How does the new Silk Road initiative fit into China’s overall foreign policy under the new leadership?
Priorities in China’s foreign policy: Based on speeches of China’s new leaders there are four pillars in China’s (new) foreign policy:
- First pillar: (other) major powers – “new type (or model) of major power relations – mainly aiming at the relationship between China and the U.S. – goal is to avoid a conflict between the established (U.S.) and the emerging/rising power (China) – different interpretations of this concept: usually China’s relationship with Russia is declared to be the model for this “new type”; the EU is also listed as one of the major powers, but there has been no response to the concept yet on the European side
- Second pillar: neighbouring countries – “greater neighbourhood” – work conference in October 2013 – active neighbourhood policy: economic cooperation plus insistence on core national interests (including territorial caims)
- Third pillar: emerging and developing countries (e.g. African countries, Latin America, some Asian countries, BRICS)
- Fourth pillar: multilateral arena – focus on “host diplomacy” – 2014: China hosted CICA summit in Shanghai, APEC summit in November will be held in Beijing etc. – maybe in the future China will host a G20 summit
Overall: more proactive foreign policy, more offers to make a contribution to global public good or to tackling regional crises (Mali, South Sudan), economic initiatives, BUT at the same time insistence on core national interests, including territorial claims.
New Silk Road initiatives have to be understood within this broader context – “one belt, one road” (Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road) fall under the second pillar (“extended neighbourhood”) – Silk Roads complemented by other transport corridors in Southeast Asia and South Asia.
Where does the idea of the new Silk Road(s) come from?
- Historical Silk Road between China and South Asia and China and Europe: positive connotations of peaceful trade, connecting different countries and cultures, spanning continents
BUT the historical overland Silk Road lost its importance when sea routes were discovered (what does this mean for “one belt, one road”?)
- Early 1990s: after the demise of the Soviet Union, China also propagated a new Silk Road connecting China’s Northwest (Xinjiang Autonomous Region) and the newly independent Central Asian republics – the visison at the time was also to build a network of roads, railroads, telecommunication links (fibre optic cables) and pipelines – at the time: “second land bridge” connecting China and Europe as alternative route to Trans-Siberian railroad (“from China’s East coast to Rotterdam”)
Question: What is different about the new Silk Road initiative?
At least two concepts that could potentially compete with “one belt, one road”:
- S. initiative of a New Silk Road launched in 2012 – goal: reconnecting Afghanistan to the rest of the region
- More importantly: Russia’s project to create an integrated Eurasian space – Eurasian Union – not only economically, but also in terms of security (Collective Treaty Organisation or CSTO) – existing in parallel to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
- First maps published in Chinese media on where the new Silk Roads would be located did exclude or at least sideline Russia – different ideas and interests of China and Russia manifest in their different vision of what the SCO should be or become (latent conflict between Russia and China)
What are the implications for Europe and the EU?
It is not really clear yet what “one belt, one road” will mean in concrete terms – for now, it is a broad vision to connect China/Asia with Europe – the goal is to bring stability to the countries connected by the Silk Road through development. (BUT: development also requires security!)
It is also not clear whether the new Silk Roads will address individual European countries (e.g. the 16 Central and Eastern European countries of the 16+1 process) or the EU and its institutions in Brussels – or, as Shada Islam has mentioned in an interview, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) could be a suitable framework.
It is important that “one belt, one road” will not only be understood as a trade route for goods connecting A to B, and that there will be an open and inclusive approach that brings in different actors (business, society) and not only governments.
Conclusion and recommendation: As a first step, there should be more European participation in the international forums in China in which the concept is discussed and more concrete cooperation projec