Five Issues Worth Noticing on the ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative

1.The Origin of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative Rooted in the Response to the US Obama Administration’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ Strategy

The hot debated ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative, raised in 2013, was at first a response to Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy. A brief historical review would be needed to view this problem. Before the 9.11, China played the role of a major potential enemy of the United States’ hegemony. However coincidentally, 9.11 exposed the real enemy, who attacked the United States and made a war on its own territory. As a result, from 2001 to 2003, the US focused on the warfare in the Middle East. Nevertheless, from 2004 to 2006, a bunch of think tanks in the US believed that the country’s enemy is still China, instead of the Middle East countries. Since China had unexpected development after joining the WTO, especially in GDP, finance, employment. Thus, after George W. Bush stepped down in 2008, the Obama administration embarked on the general strategic planning to settle with the Middle East as soon as possible, and to prepare to get back to Asia-Pacific.

In the strategic transit of the US “Pivot to Asia”, China’s biggest concern is the energy issue. Energy issue is one of crucial pulse for China’s industrialization. China also started to consider this issue since the year of 2000 in the over-all planning. ‘One road’ is launched after ‘one belt’, but if the ‘one road’ was stuck, what could be done next? What to do on the energy issue? And if the Malacca Strait were blocked, there would then be two sea-lanes? With this as the starting point, China put forward the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, with immediate and positive response from the international society, partly due to China’s human resources. For example, Liqun Jin from Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has played an active role. Speaking of AIIB, there used to be 30 at most, but now it turned to be more than 70, with whose popularity far beyond our expectation.

2.The Core of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative is a Modification on the US and Europe Dominated and Defined International Relations. The Academics Community Should Have Various Interpretations on the Meaning It Has Been Given.

In the recent one or two years, the extra value added to ‘One Belt, One Road’ is getting increasingly profound, in aspects including the academic research, politics, and business. The earliest move of adding on is related to domestic industrial structure adjustment and energy security. Considering the fact that both the strength in building bridges, roads and tunnels and the whole capability in mechanical facilities had already ranked the first in the world, China has the confidence to face the whole world. It has also been a fact that the developing countries need infrastructure construction, so do some developed countries. So China faced the world with its productivity with good quality, which motivated its steel and car industries to export. Then, when it comes to the extra cultural meaning on the initiative, it could be added on massively. What China aimed to change is a US and Europe dominated international relations system in the past 500 years, especially in the past few decades the Westphalian System formulated. But it is not a change based on destroy, but based on correction, with principles such as ‘Mutual discussion, construction and sharing’, ‘Equality, Respect, Cooperation, Mutual Benefit’ and ‘unite but not ally, confrontation and balance’. China could bring a new global definition on international relations, so as for the whole human society.

This new definition aimed at getting rid of the discourse of the West since the World War II, with human rights, democracy as the criteria. It aimed at establishing a discourse system of ‘Mutual discussion, construction and sharing’. Therefore, the ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy would take the differences based on region diversity into account, resulting in China holding talks with the host separately. Thus, China mentioned more on individual country connection to avoid one-way output in the last year and a half. It is a great question for the academic community to initiate further study on, that among the meanings added on ‘One Belt, One Road’ which ones are reliable, which ones are conceptual, and which ones are original, which ones were gradually attached one.

3. It is Necessary to Carefully Analyze the Pros and Cons to Host Countries’ Industrialization During the Promotion of ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative.

For ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative, China has to consider its impact that might bring to the host countries’ industrialization. This could be a very complicated issue, since when there is no industrialization, there is no urbanization. China’s 30 years of development could be a golden chance by accident, as in 1978, Deng Xiaoping, Madame Thatcher in the UK, and Ronald Wilson Reagan in the US all took on actions on globalization, which docked with China’s reform and opening up inadvertently. After the World War II, the lower-end production capacity western developed countries was also as the point to be transferred oversea, while China took on the job. Development Zones had been constructed in China, which transferred hundreds of millions of labor storage in the rural areas to factories. After that, wage had become the core income. This fast, massive and complex transition ensured considerable stability and growth, which was unexpected. Later, in spite of the high domestic pressure, China joined WTO, which promoted the economic development greatly. From 2002 to 2008, the accumulated employment problems in China were resolved immediately, and the labor force was in short supply between 2003 and 2005.

Now, China’s entire industry, are supposed to be in the transition from the lower-end to the higher-end, and the same time, to solve the employment problem of migrant workers, the present lower-end part should be maintained in a long period of time, which touched the cheese of the US and European countries. The western countries are development since they have taken up the upper position in the value chain. While if China could take over its place, it would be a great threat for them, considering China’s huge population, strong national identity and complete industrial system. Theoretically, if China could produce anything, it had blocked the possibility of India repeating the way of industrialization like China. If the lower-end industry flows to India as a substitution, though the settlement of India’s more than 200 million surplus labor could be done, the existence of commodity market stayed a question. Meanwhile, China has occupied the major international market. In this case, what does China need from India? There is indeed a sense of zero-sum game, while win-win situation and mutual benefit might be hard to achieve. One indisputable fact is that China’s biggest importing needs are energy and mineral resources.

So, how many actual benefits the‘One Belt, One Road’initiative could bring to the industrialization and urbanization of the countries along the route is an issue worth analyzing. Besides, the ecological system of these countries along the route could be fragile, which, would surely result in serious problems if enterprises with high pollution risks go there, with the ecological system in the Central Asian countries more fragile than China. So when talking about the industry development of ‘One Belt, One Road’, it is necessary to analyze its influence to the host countries thoroughly.

4. Attentions Should be Paid to the Religious and Cultural Issues of the Countries Along the ‘One Belt, One Road’. It is Essential to Have a Rational Understanding on the Difficulty of Communication.

Many countries along the ‘One Belt, One Road’ route are Islamic countries, these countries are withstanding a series issues of marketization, industrialization, urbanization, as well as the oppression from the West, which led to their greater difficulties in transition than China. One important factor which is a barrier to these countries is that the doctrines in Hadith of Islam have restricted a lot on daily life, which could be easily violated by behavioral changes. However, no restricted religious rules in China had granted freedom to Chinese people in the convenience of modernization, and religion is not a big issue in China’s development. When facing these countries, it might be hard for China to communicate with them though not impossible to communicate. When China needs to communicate with these Islamic countries, it needs to be cautious in knowing about Koran and Hadith of Islam and using them as a thread of communication. For doing this, China should make effort in cultivating talents to make significant contribution to the communication while with recognition on its difficulty.

It should be noted that Confucianism and Taoism have never been exported to other countries in China’s history; instead the outsiders came to China to learn Chinese culture. This implied China at that time had extreme self-confidence, and showed no interest to enlarge the influence of its culture. While the western cultural promotion is majorly religious related, which could also be called social organization promotion, which had been going on for centuries. Nowadays the US and the European countries established NGOs related to human rights and charity organizations, which also served the needs of the entire society and economy. Religious emotion and motivation are bounded with this type of promotion while which is the thing that China lacks. Chinese people need governments’ facility and financing supporting to promote its culture and social organizations, since missionary spirit is missing in Chinese culture. However, this is also China’s advantage in not selling its culture with force like the West, with religion in modern times and values in human rights, democracy in contemporary time.

5. It Is Necessary to Pay Enough Attention to ‘Sino-Indian Relation’ in ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative

The attitude of the Indian government and the mainstream society towards China is diversified, and tends to be conservative and negative, which is also a stable status. Because the relationship between China and India is very subtle, the reason lies in the following four aspects:

First, China has border dispute with India. The 2200km borderline of China only left one period without delineation, which is the territory connected to India.

Second, China’s victory in the Sino-Indian war in Tibet in 1962 buried the seed of India’s ill feeling.

Third, India-Pakistan relations made India worried. Kashmir issue is the core of the dispute between the two countries. China built roads in Pakistan and Kashmir, and also the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which touched nerve of India. India hoped that China could meet their demands in Kashmir, which would also be impossible. Meanwhile, the sovereignty and cultural issue in Kashmir is complicated, with the lower social group had Islam as the religion while the upper class believes in Hinduism. The contradiction is not reconcilable.

Fourth, India was somewhat indulging in Western media calling it the largest democratic country. While a question should be posed on why it could not surpass China as an authoritarian country (in the western discourse). This was the hardest question for India to answer. In the past two or three decades, the gap of overall competence between the two countries had been drastically widened. At the same time, the US initiated the “pearl chain” strategy towards China to place multiple issues to China. All of these has worsened the Sino-Indian relation, which must be taken into serious consideration when promoting the ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative.

Author: Jinqing Cao  Chief Expert of Social work and social policy institute of ECUST (East China University Of Science and Technology)

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