A feature of C.21st international development has been Chinese financed or built infrastructure around the world. These are in countries considered by China as strategic trading partners for its exports or to secure its raw materials such as iron ore or oil supplies.
This has been both impressive and concerning especially to governments and institutions in the developed world with their own trade and aid agendas. It can be viewed as impressive as it improves the recipient’s economy and physical communications (although the financial and political costs are debatable). Concerning as long term Chinese political motivations remain unclear or contrary to the established post-1945 world order with the US in the prime role and the EU thereafter.
With reference to political scientist Edward Luttwak’s, (1990),” Logic of Conflict, Grammar of Commerce,” essay or even a Thucydides’ trap on the notion of rising powers against ruling powers give concerns to governments, like the US or UK. Also the phrase that business is war comes to mind with tit-for-tat sanctions or intellectual property right violations.
In the C.17th-19th arose the British, French or Dutch colonial expansions followed by C.20th rise of the still mighty USA who all built up global trading networks. These were founded, used or backed with military assets and hardware forming territories like Hong Kong and colonial Vietnam or the US base in Guam.
Now the C.21st the Chinese are seemingly producing a Qing dynasty reversal of fortune with their communist inspired managed capitalism. They are developing their trading links and building assets, commercial or military, in politically sensitive areas such as Baluchistan in Pakistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or in the reclaimed reefs and islets in the South China Sea.
The Belt and Road Initiative is backed by President Xi Jinpang. He has just had the political obstacles removed requiring him to step down as President of Peoples’ Republic of China after his term was set to expire. His plan is to create a new Silk Road with a bold and pervasive initiative to spend a fortune building the developing world’s infrastructure- of ports, roads, railways, and pipelines with all the accompanying bridges and tunnels. In effect these deals are multi-faceted trade negotiations and financial contracts combined with regional or local politically awkward construction projects.
Critics worry about overbearing political influence or expensive financial arrangements causing repayment problems with participating countries. Non- payment of loans in the past were reason enough for invasion as Egypt found out in the late C.19th.
So is the fear of a New World Order justified by the West or S.E Asian countries allied with the US?
In a post-Brexit world with an unpredictable US President for the next few years the UK may well need to alleviate those dissipating certainties and co-operate diplomatically with a Chinese inspired new Silk Road. Aren’t new trade initiatives something the UK wants for its post-Brexit global stature?
Diplomatic stances over human rights and trade negotiations should be bread and butter for the Foreign Office. Thus defending and engaging the Chinese with our values and methods to reach political and trade agreement will help to rectify the effects of lost economic growth and prosperity expected from Brexit.
China wishes to link itself up to central Asia, Europe and Africa by land and sea. Overland “belt” spurs and maritime “roads” will also connect in to S.E Asia and the Indian Ocean. Already in Europe 16 EU and non-EU countries are involved in infrastructure projects using Chinese finance. This boosts Chinese regional influence although with trade-offs in economic benefits European and Asian countries should be vigilant with the details of their investments.
The financial exposure of the Chinese institutions along with repayment terms is perhaps where most of the long term commercial risks lie. Whether they become militarised is a C.21st political debate with recent post-World War Two history suggesting military solutions are less favourable to economic ones.
This initiative will have long term ramifications for many countries and will cause China as many headaches and difficulties that the US faced from 1945 with its Marshall Plan. China is already stepping in to any void left by a nationalist isolationist US which is lamentable. Global growth through trade deals and infrastructure investment is an opportunity for US participation and should not be viewed as a Thucydides’ trap an old view from a past world.
The US will hopefully reconsider its TPP involvement and remain fully engaged in the Pacific region. China with an aging population and huge debt issues needs a stable economic environment and that requires a working relationship with the US.
The UK especially needs to sharpen it negotiating skills and engage in trade initiatives as if its future as a free trading nation is to span both West and most certainly East without fearing the rising of the Sun. A global infrastructure initiative even a Chinese influenced one is something to work on and not against in an ever interdependent world.
Luttwak, E.N (1990), From Geopolitics to Geo-Economics: Logic of Conflict, Grammar of Commerce, The National Interest No. 20 (Summer 1990), pp. 17-23, Published by: Center for the National Interest website accessed: 6th March 2018:https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/42894676.pdf