According to experts, the One One Belt One Road model of the New Silk Road is still making its first baby steps. And, in truth, the five years since the One Belt One Road initiative, offered to the world by the Chinese President Xi Jinping, is the age of infancy, especially if we compared this Chinese aspiration to the other historical action, which had a huge influence on the development of the Chinese empire – the construction of the Great Wall of China. However, this comparison would not really be appropriate, since it seems that time in the 21st century has been passing faster than in the third century before Common Era when the construction of the Great Wall of China had begun. Not to mention that the ambitions of the One Belt One Road are much greater – figuratively speaking, to encircle the world.
In almost five years the organisers of the Belt and Road (the shorter title for the initiative, where Belt stands for the land connection between East and West, the Pacific and Atlantic oceans through Central Asia and Europe, while Road stands for the marine routes, connecting different parts of the earth) initiative managed to catch the attention of 65 countries, which make up one third of the global GDP and 60 per cent of the world’s population, i.e. 4.6 billion people.
During his speech at the World Economic Forum of 2017 in Davos, the Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has started a new term of office after the recent elections, said that China is acting as the flagship in the global economic integration while the support of other wealthy countries, especially the USA, has significantly reduced.
The speech, presented by Xi Jinping, offering the idea of One Belt One Road as the aspiration and encouragement for the fracturing and alienating world to cooperate and create the future for the entire humanity, was the Chinese triumph in Davos and a substantial alternative for the separatist slogan “America First”, used by the recently elected American President Donald Trump. Perhaps it was this idea of unity, offered from the lips of the Chinese President, that resulted in a certain euphoria and long applause from the forum participants. Speaking at the Davos Forum for the first time, the Chinese leader showed that in the fragile modern world we should think not only about ourselves and our countries but the entire planet.
This year Xi Jinping did not come to Davos, but the echo of his last year’s speech reflected on the presentation of another Chinese strategist – Liu He, the Chinese President’s economic advisor – and other forum discussions, while the majority of the press rephrased such authoritative figures as Klaus Schwab, founder of the Davos Forum, or Tarzisius Caviezel, Mayor of Davos, stating that this year’s topic of “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” was inspired namely by the thoughts from the speech of the Chinese President.
“A shared future in creating a better world” and “America first” – the positions of the leaders of the two great powers, declared loud and clear to more than seven billion citizens of the Earth, have left an impression on the majority of people. This was the creation of two distinctly different attitudes to the essence of the world and its development, where, according to the press, one is ready to offer a bullet and the other – a compass to globalisation.
Which one is more attractive? What will be the humanity’s choice?
The role of a flagship in seeking to encircle the world with the belt of the New Silk Road has already costed China approximately 900 billion dollars. Its investments are building infrastructure, transport and energy in Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and Oceania: an airport in Nepal, marine ports in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Pakistan, Djibouti, railway lines in Indonesia, Kenya, Laos, Thailand, Hungary and Serbia, a highway in Hungary, an oil refinery in Iran, hydroelectric power plants in Cambodia, an industrial park in Indonesia, the development of Suez Channel in Egypt, gas pipelines in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, renewable energy resource projects in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, as well as many other projects. The initiators of the New Silk Road are already glancing at the Arctic, intending to connect China and Europe with a shipping route of the Polar Silk Road.
However, the idea of the Belt and Road, born of the memories and sayings about the famous ancient Great Silk Road, connecting Chinese and Roman empires, as well as Medieval Europe, is not always welcome with thunderous applause. There are other kinds of intense events as well. Although at the beginning back in 2013 China claimed that this initiative will be a symphony rather than a solo part of this country, some players at the orchestra occasionally stand out with troublesome notes.
Some states interpret the idea of cooperation and the common good as aspirations for Chinese hegemony and imperial ambitions. They are afraid that increasing Chinese investments, which involve higher interest rates for Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank than the International Monetary Fund or the World Banks while the loans are ensured by strategic long-term objects and resources, will drown weaker states in debts. This risk has recently become particularly notable in Pakistan, Djibouti, the Maldives, Laos, Mongolia, Montenegro, Tajikistan, Kirghizstan and other countries. The outcome of debts that raised local protests, was especially painful to Sri Lanka, which transferred the control of Hambantota Port, built on loans, to the Chinese operator China Merchants Port Holdings.
This and other nuances raise concern in India, which became the opponent of the Belt and Road, recently more inclined to engage in joint projects with the USA, Japan and Australia rather than China.
The Belt and Road Initiative forum, which took place in Beijing last May, attended by representatives from 130 countries and 29 state and governmental leaders, including all G7 states, as well as influential international organisations, emphasized the fact that the advance of the Belt and Road initiative is obvious, joined by already more than 100 countries and international organisations, more than 40 of which have signed cooperation agreements with China.
The forum, revolving around the topic of “Cooperation for joint prosperity” highlighted the fact that after the financial crisis, the basis of economic recovery is fragile and slow, while the basis of growth – not yet stable. Increasing protectionism and louder voices against globalisation, openness, change and economic integration, seeking to maintain the old thinking and isolation between countries, hinder the development of the initiative. The Belt and Road initiators invited to take a look back at the history of more than two thousand years when the Great Silk Road by land and sea encouraged people in various countries to open regional walls and develop trade and the exchange of culture, art and traditions. History has shown that the only way in favour of prosperity is cooperation with open doors and benefit to all. This activity has created a glorious chapter in the human history.
The content of our chapter as the residents of the 21st century Earth and how it will be read in the future depends on our wisdom, good faith and decency.