What Chinese ‘belt and road’ Foreign policy implies
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced the “one belt, one road” initiative, which is known as China’s foreign policy and economic strategy.
The term derives from the overland silk road economic belt and the 21st century maritime silk road concepts, introduced by Xi in 2013.
Researchers, writers and analysts have viewed this concept as a Chinese Marshall Plan – it is therefore known as a statebacked campaign for global dominance.
Lily Kuo and Niko Kommenda, from The Guardian, define this concept as a stimulus package for a slowing economy and a massive marketing campaign for something that was already happening – Chinese investment around the globe.
Since the initiative was introduced by Xi, it has morphed into a broad catchphrase to describe almost all aspects of Chinese engagement abroad.
The initiative includes 71 countries that account for half of the world’s population and a quarter of global GDP.
Countries from Panama, Madagascar and SA to New Zealand have all officially pledged support.
The question, therefore, that we should ask is: how much money is being spent?
The initiative is “expected” to cost more than US$1-trillion (R14.4-trillion), although there are differing estimates as to how much money has been spent to date.
One analysis estimates that China has invested more than US$210bn (R3-trillion), the majority spent in Asian countries.
China’s involvement doesn’t only end there.
The initiative means that Chinese firms are engaging in construction work across the globe on an unparalleled scale.
It is estimated that in 2017 close to US$400bn (R5.8-trillion) was awarded to Chinese companies.
Chinese companies have already secured a whopping US$340bn (R4.9-trillion) in construction contracts.
However, the country’s dominance in the construction sector comes at the expense of local contractors in partner countries.
Governments from Malaysia to Pakistan have started to rethink the costs of these projects.
The Sri Lankan government is struggling to make repayments.
The Centre for Global Development found eight more belt and road countries at serious risk of not being able to repay their loans.
In these eight countries – Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan and Tajikstan – the initiative loans could increase the risk of debt distress.
These are among the poorest nations in their respective regions and they will owe more than half all their foreign debt to China.
Critics around the initiative worry that China could use “debt-trap diplomacy” to extract strategic concessions – the territorial disputes in the South China sea or silence on human rights violations.
In 2011, China wrote off an undisclosed debt owed by Tajikistan in exchange for 1,158km² of disputed territory.
Scott Morris (one of the authors of the Washington Centre for Global Development report) said, “There are some extreme cases where China lends into very high risk environments, and it would seem that the motivation is something different. In these situations the leverage China has as lender is used for purposes unrelated to the original load.”
The initiative is seen by many as a form of economic imperialism that gives China too much leverage over other countries, often smaller and poorer countries.
Professor Jane Golley, from Australian National University, describes the initiative as an attempt by the Chinese government to win friends and influence people.
“They’ve presented this very grand initiative which has frightened people.”
She also highlighted that ‘‘rather than using their economic power to make friends, they’ve drummed up more fear that it will be about influence”.
According to Shan Wenhua, from Jiaotong University, Xi’s signature foreign policy is “the first major attempt by the Chinese government toward international cooperation… to take responsibility”.
Other worry is that China will “export” its political model.
Herbert Wiesner, general secretary of Germany’s PEN Centre, says, “Human rights are being left in the ditches by the sides of the new silk road.”
Under the initiative, Beijing takes the leading role in the cooperative promotion of local and trans-continental infrastructure development, policy coordination, trade facilitation and cultural exchange.
The initiative sets out an ambitious vision with profound economic, political and social potential impact.
Critics have argued that the one belt one road initiative has started to sell Chinese products to the developing countries.
If the initiative is successful, China may emerge as a superpower and can control developing countries.
China may also monopolise the valuable mineral reserves in all the connected countries.
Many of the countries included the initiative have political instability and corruption.
With these loopholes, there are chances that the projects may fail.
The concept is good.
As long as the sovereignty of countries involved is protected, healthy cooperation will yield positive results.