The new Marshall Plan or a sneaky way China wants to conquer the world? The opinions on China’s massive One Belt, One Road program go into both directions. RSM professor Zhang Ying summarizes both views on China’s investment program that is changing the world, for Friends of Europe.
The Eurasian Silk Road was developed over a thousand years ago, and then revived by China’s President Xi Jinping in 2013 as a part of the country’s economic transition. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also called the New Silk Road and the One-Belt-One-Road, seems to have been widely accepted as an initiative to facilitate trade across the Eurasian continent, as well as geo-economic integration and global prosperity.
However, it has been interpreted in various other ways. Two points of view stand out: There are those who view it as China’s latest strategy for boosting its slowing domestic economic growth. The others see it as a means to project China’s growing influence and an alternative to existing international geo-economic relationships. As such, the initiative has elicited respect, awe and enthusiasm among those who believe that it illustrates China’s visionary view of the future. But it has also raised questions over whether it is an altruistic contribution to the world, or just another plot by an egotistical “great power” to further its own self-interest.
There are reasons for the concerns, just as there have been over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) promoted by the other “great power”, the United States. Some thought of the TPP as a beacon for global free trade, giving the economies of the Pacific Rim their own, well-deserved trading club. Others saw it as just another instrument for the US to align its Pacific Rim allies in an exclusive economic club. With the Trump administration’s unexpected withdrawal of the US from TPP, attention has shifted to the other forward-looking initiative Asian initiative, namely the BRI. As a result, China has been catapulted into the position of “thought leader” for a new world order.
Those who criticise the BRI are opposed to change or motivated by populism rather than a vision of collective prosperity. However, over three years’ of BRI-related framework projects across the Eurasian continent, reality is beginning to sink in. Many countries have started to support BRI, because they see its tangible advantages, both in the short term and in the long run. Others continue to beat the drum against change. Another group is torn between believing in the benefits of the new vision but still fearing ramifications that they cannot fully grasp.
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