The Prospects of China’s Great Silk Road Revival

02.05.2017 Author: Vladimir Terehov

67345342342April 18 of this year, the Chinese Foreign Ministry published a list of 28 leaders of states, whom the head of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping has invited to participate in the forum on the implementation of his own initiative to revive the ‘Great Silk Road’ (GSR), which will be held May 14-15 in Beijing.

In addition to them, about 200 official representatives from more than 100 countries of the world, the UN Secretary General, the heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are invited to the event. In total, 1,200 people are included in the list of forum participants.

On the same day, at a briefing on this occasion, Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a speech. Both the list of invited state leaders and the related appearance of a high-ranking Chinese official allow us some preliminary thoughts on the forthcoming forum.

First, attention is drawn to its scale, as well as the caliber of the participants and guests. That once again and most clearly illustrates the key feature of the new geopolitical game, caused by the occupation of the PRC of one of the privileged places at the global gaming table.

Secondly, Beijing’s claims designated a few months ago in Davos to “pick up” the banner of economic globalization, which, it seems, is falling out of the hands of the former “standard-bearer”, that is, Washington, are confirmed.

But, thirdly, the scale and level of the forum’s representativeness is also testament that the very concept of the revival of the GSR has not gone very far on the route from the political dream-declaration (as it appeared in 2013, when the then new leader of the PRC needed to declare himself in the world political arena) to concrete economic projects.

Therefore, fourthly, the future event (in general and in separate parts) will be mainly political in character, which does not diminish its significance in the unfolding geopolitical game.

Fifthly, the prospect of a significant advancement of the concept of the GSR on the above-mentioned route depends crucially on how the PRC’s relations develop with those countries whose leaders are not identified among the 28 invited to the forum. And this last point deserves to be dwelled on in more detail.

Undoubtedly, the missing leaders will not appear in Beijing in mid-May, not because they aren’t welcome. Almost certainly, quite the contrary. But they were not officially invited, as, probably, the preliminary (unofficial) test did not show positive prospects in this respect.

It seems interesting to point out some of the missing state leaders (although it is possible that their official representatives of one rank or another will be present at the forum).

First of all, one’s attention is drawn to the absence in the list of heads of government of the leading countries of the EU, which are represented by the leaders of Italy, Spain, Poland, Greece, Hungary, as well as Serbia (currently in the process of acceptance into the EU). Recall that the final point of the ancient “Silk Road” was in fact Europe, which is still in first place among China’s trade partners.

However, as has been repeatedly noted in the NEO, in European-Chinese trade relations in recent years there have been serious problems that the parties are apparently only now going to discuss. What’s more, the very possibility of such a discussion at the highest level is being discussed only in China. In addition, there are no guarantees of the success of future negotiations, because the problems in bilateral economic relations are not at all superficial.

But then a natural question arises: why plan huge expenses for the purpose of expanding the trade route, if at its final point you are already being looked askance today?

Nevertheless, the debates on the topic of “actually” going through the main routes of the GSR are quite intense. And such debates do not seem pointless, if we bear in mind that, along with purely economic ones, the concept of the GSR is also aimed at solving the political as well as military-strategic goals of the PRC.

We cannot rule out that these secondary tasks in general may turn out to be prevalent. In any case, such assumptions are prompted by everything that accompanies the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, for the implementation of which the PRC is going to spend $ 46 billion.

The logical continuation of the CPEC could be infrastructure projects in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel, as the leaders of these countries recently held talks with Xi Jinping in Beijing. Further continuation of the GSR route through Pakistan and the countries of the Greater Middle East can be not only Europe but also Africa, to which China has been paying increasing attention in recent years.

However, the very fact that the work on the CPEC project has begun provokes a negative reaction in India, which, along with other problems in Sino-Indian relations, explains the absence of Prime Minister N. Mody in the list of invitees to the forum in Beijing (although the official representatives of this country will attend).

At the briefing mentioned earlier, Wang Yi, once again offering India to join the CPEC implementation, emphasized that it is “purely an economic project“. And the fact that the CPEC will pass through the territory of the former principality of Kashmir cannot in any way testify, as Wang Yi believes, to the intervention of the PRC in the Indian-Pakistani territorial disputes.

Here, however, it should be noted that in India, the specified part of the former principality is called simply “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” (PoK). It is natural to assume that in the protection (for example, from the notorious “terrorists”) of the future infrastructure of the CPEC at the PoK site, along with the Pakistani ones, there will be Chinese military units.

It was quite expected that the prime minister of Japan and the US president on the list of invitees. Along with the political aspects of the difficulties in relations with China, both these powers (which, incidentally, are among its main trading partners) are under the influence “post-trans-Pacific partnership” syndrome.

Only now is a new economic policy being formed both in the bilateral American-Japanese format and in each of these countries with respect to China. Here, noteworthy is the readiness of the PRC to see both the main political opponents among the participants in both the GSR and the Asian Bank for Infrastructure Investments controlled by Beijing.

Taking into account all of the above, it is already possible to predict now that the central part of the forthcoming event in Beijing will be the nature of Xi and Putin’s tandem participation in it, the strength of which the US’s recent actions have been working towards.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.