Belt and Road Forum 2018

The second international conference on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), i.e. the One Belt One Road Initiative was organized by Pallas Athene Innovation and Geopolitical Foundation at Café Gerbeaud on 15 May. Boasting plenty of visitors, this professional event has provided an opportunity for excellent international experts to present their recent research in this topic and exchange their views and opinions.

In the opening speech of the event, President of PAIGEO Norbert Csizmadia argued that we are living in the world of complexity and connectivities. In this world relations are highly important at the level of regions, countries, as well as institutions and people because they have or can have an influence on our multipolar world. The President briefly introduced the issue of the Hungarian Geopolitics (HUG), the journal of Pallas Athene Geopolitical Research Institute on the One Belt One Road Initiative, published in both Hungarian and English, and the Central and Eastern European Geopolitical study written by Ágnes Bernek and published by the Foundation.

The opening speech was followed by two introductory presentations. Ágnes Bernek geopolitical analyst and expert of the Hungarian National Trading House spoke about the position of Central and Eastern Europe in the world. Geographical location not necessarily equals geopolitical position, and our region can be considered a buffer zone between the West and the East, with dozens of current or future natural and artificial corridors connecting Central and Eastern Europe with the surrounding regions (Western Europe, the Mediterranean region, Asia): for instance, the pipelines from Russia, the elements of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) or the infrastructure elements to be established under the One Belt One Road Initiative. However, this buffer zone role is rather disadvantageous to the region, so a geopolitical strategy is needed for the exploitation of the opportunities offered to the region by the New Eurasia built along the One Belt One Road Initiative.

The Central and Eastern European Geopolitical study is available here:

In the second presentation Matt Ferchen, nonresident scholar at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and Associate Professor at Tsinghua University presented two rivalling theoretical frameworks that help us understand China and the One Belt One Road Initiative better. The first approach can be called the concept of peaceful development, which is China’s official narrative in relation to the One Belt One Road Initiative. In this political and economic framework, economic development and peace interact with each other: economic development means the basis for global peace and stability, and the peaceful circumstances allow economic growth, which is in the interest of everyone.

One of the key elements of the concept is infrastructure: China has the capacity to provide infrastructure development with plenty of economic opportunities for other countries. This may increase the living standards, bringing about political stability and further economic growth, too. This means that Chinese infrastructure investments are beneficial to both parties, so it is a win-win situation.

The other approach is the geo-economic or mercantilist narrative, which – although it already existed before Trump’s election in several countries – is basically the official American approach today regarding the One Belt One Road Initiative. This approach deems the BRI as China’s neo-mercantilist ambition. Accordingly, the Asian giant endeavors to gain a geopolitical influence with economic devices, so the agreements that seem to be solely economic cooperation facilitate the building of China’s power. The geo-economic narrative rejects the win-win approach because it in this view it is a zero-sum game with one winner and one loser.

Although the representatives of the two approaches will not give up their standpoints in the near future, the two narratives might help certain geopolitical actors comprehend the whole situation and judge whether they need what China offers. China has a vision and a strategy; however, the nation-states and regions often have no definite concepts about how to fit into these plans and exploit the benefits of the Chinese initiative.

The conference continued with three sessions. A the first one, the speakers examined the relationship of the European Union and China in the context of the One Belt One Road Initiative. The participants were Liu Chunrong, Co-director of Fudan-European Centre for China Studies at the University of Copenhagen, Marek Hrubec, Director of the Centre of Global Studies at the Czech Academy of Sciences, Li Zhen, President of the European Institute for One Belt One Road Economic and Cultural Cooperation and Development, and He Zhigao, Assistant Professor of the Institute of European Studies. The session was moderated by Anton Bendarzsevszkij, Director of PAIGEO. According to Liu Chunrong, a new narrative is needed in the China-EU relations due to the different views of the two parties. Marek Hrubec emphasized the importance of regional and macroregional institutions, while Li Zhen and He Zhigao suppose that diplomacy and cooperation should take an important role in the improvement of the Europe-China relations.

The second session focused on the infrastructure systems to be established under the One Belt One Road Initiative, including railway links as well as their economic, political and social influences. In this session, David Blundell, Professor of Asia-Pacific Studies at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan, Viktor Eszterhai, Senior China Scholar at PAIGEO, Jakub Jakobowski, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Eastern Studies and Péter Bucsky for Rail Cargo Hungaria Zrt. The moderator was Tamás Baranyi, Head of Research at Antall József Knowledge Centre. David Blundell highlighted the historical background of the Eurasian relations, while Viktor Eszterhai, Jakub Jakobowski and Péter Bucsky focused on the Eurasian railway links and their significance for the Central and Eastern European Region and Hungary

The final, third session of the conference was about the Eurasian economic corridor as well as the role and opportunities of Central Asia, including Kazakhstan. Speakers included Charles Sullivan, Assistant Professor at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, Pál Gyene, Assistant Professor at Budapest Business School and Anton Bendarzsevszkij. The debate was chaired by László Vasa, Deputy Director for Operations at the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Research professor at Széchenyi István university. Charles Sullivan and Pál Gyene highlighted Kazakhstan’s key role in the “One Belt One Road” Initiative, while Anton Bendarzsevszkij spoke about a new and ongoing project of PAIGEO Research Institute, aiming to map the Northern branch of the New Silk Road.

Presentations of the conference:

Bernek Ágnes:  Central and Eastern European Countries in the Multipolar World of the 21st Century

Matt Ferchen: Between GeoEconomic Strategy and Developmental Peace: Understanding Competing Perceptions of China’s Belt and Road

Liu Chunrong: The Politics of Framing Dissonance:Contesting China’s Regional Activism in Europe

Marek Hrubec: Macro-regional Approaches to the B&R Dialogue among the EU and China

Li Zhen: The Challenges of OBOR: Beyond the US Trade War and EU Policy

He Zhigao: Co-evolution of China and EU along Belt and Road Initiative – One Possibility

David Blundell: Historical Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Perspectives of the Conceptualization of Silk Roads and the Modern China Economic Initiative of Belt and Road

Eszterhai ViktorHungary and Eurasian Rail Transportation: Current Situation and Possible Trends

Jakub Jakóbowski: On the Silk Railroad: EU-China railway connections – infrastructural challenges

Bucsky Péter: Europe – China freight trains: traffic volumes and infrastructure development

Charles Sullivan: Kazakhstan at Crossroads

Gyene Pál: China’s Belt and Road initiative: Some Political and Security Implications for Kazakhstan and Central Asia

Bendarzsevszkij Anton: Mapping the Eurasian economic corridor of Belt and Road

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: