Following five years of periodic controversies and criticism – some factual, others contrived – President Xi Jinping used the Belt and Road (BRI) Forum in April to set the agenda for the next five years of his hallmark project. At the forum’s second edition, meant to promote a “stronger partnership network,” the Chinese leader pledged to “clean up,” stressed “zero tolerance” to corruption, and emphasized readiness to adopt “internationally acceptable” standards in the bidding process of BRI projects in the future. This language indicates Beijing’s openness to constructive criticism and willingness to objectively tweak some inherent weaknesses in the strategy and implementation mechanisms for the BRI during the 2013-2018 period. It also sets the stage for the start of “BRI 2.0,” where the stress is likely to be on the qualitative, rather than just quantitative, attributes. The following are some analytical pointers on how BRI 2.0 is likely to be different from version 1.0, especially keeping in mind what Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi referred to as a “high-quality” shift from “big freehand” to “fine brushwork” in planning BRI’s future projects.
Image courtesy of Kurious/Pixabay.
Blending the policies of his predecessors, the Chinese president is trying to liberalize with an iron fist.
The world has changed since modern China was founded, and it seems that China, not for the first time, is changing with it. When Mao Zedong established the republic in 1949, having fought a civil war to claim it, China was poor and unstable. To reinstate stability he ruled absolutely, his government asserting itself into most other state institutions. Private property was outlawed, and industrialization was mandated, from the top down, in an otherwise agrarian society. The goal was to disrupt China’s feudal economic system that enriched landlords but left most of the rest of the country in poverty. Mao’s techniques ensured compliance with government policies, but they did little to improve the country’s underdeveloped economy. This is what we consider the first era of communist rule.
“The project of the century” is how Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi touted the Belt and Road Initiative to the world when addressing the UN General Assembly on 21 September. It was only the latest in a series of pronouncements and events, including a Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in May and the ninth BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Xiamen in early September, choreographed to position China at the vanguard of a new stage of globalisation. Step by step, China is demonstrating that the Belt and Road is now the guiding framework for its international economic statecraft.
This article was published by Political Violence @ a Glance in October 2016. The post draws on the author’s chapter in a recently released Peterson Institute for International Economics Briefing volume.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a plan to build a vast network of roads, rail lines, new ports, and other infrastructure improvements a in more than 60 countries, at a cost of $4 trillion – is an economic policy designed to radically expand trade and investment in Asia and around the Indian Ocean. Critically, however, it is also a security initiative with the aim of facilitating economic integration and promoting longer-run peace in the region.
The economic benefits are likely to be large, but there may be rough patches along the new Silk Road. While the proposed investments are precisely the types of trade-enhancing projects development economists have long called for, the geopolitical implications of BRI are complicated. From the restive western Chinese province of Xianjing to Jammu-Kashmir, the Myanmar-Chinese border, and the Indian Ocean, BRI-related initiatives target or traverse some of the world’s most contested territories. Major power development programs abroad – such as the US Marshall Plan and Alliance for Progress – have always been motivated by a mixture of economic and security concerns. Indeed, BRI is intended in part to address security fears emanating from these regions by improving economic prospects.