05/17/2017, 14.13
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'One belt one road': the problems in international relations of the New Silk Road

by Luca Galantini

The project’s pharaonic prospects reveal China’s desire to redefine the entire international geopolitical framework, to become the economic and political center of the Eurasian industry and trade sectors. Indian opposition;  Russian fears; European skepticism. And the problems of the Uighurs, Central Asia, Iran and the South China Sea. China caught between national interests and the desire to distribute wealth.

Milan (AsiaNews) - The "One belt one road (Obor)" diplomatic summit has just concluded in Beijing, attended by representatives of the world's countries involved in the ambitious, strategic, pharaonic plan for international cooperation launched by the Chinese government in 2015.

The project, which has been developed over the past three years under the leadership of the Government of Xi Jinping, aims to revive the ancient "Silk Road" of the Chinese Empire, to create a huge network of transport routes by 2050 that will be able to create a dense and articulated infrastructure of railways, roads and shipping routes - the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road – pipelines and oil-lines that will connect China and the Far East through Asia, with Europe and the Mediterranean.

The expected economic commitment is enormous, but Beijing believes it is capable of securing the financial viability of this cyclone geopolitical project through the leadership of the joint venture of credit instituted by the establishment of the Asian Investment Bank for Infrastructures (Aiib ).

The stakes are very high, because through this colossal financial economic effort, China is trying to redefine the entire international geopolitical framework, becoming the economic and political hub for trade and business in Eurasia capable of scrapping the current system of international agreements and treaties.

In terms of foreign security and defense policy, the growing Chinese influence in the international context concerns other important actors in the international political scene, particularly the doubts how China’s action raise regarding the creation of a hypothetical "New World Order".

It goes without saying that the foreign policy of any State, and in particular of any regional or international power, reflects the national interest of that country, and China is no exception to this golden rule.

The geopolitical strategy underpinned by the ambitious Obor program should allow the Beijing government to exhale its gargantuan capacity for surplus production in the domestic heavy industry sectors in exports, which, more than other sectors, is suffering from the country’s slowdown in economic development after the boom of the happy years of double-digit GDP growth; To be firmly involved in the political decision-making processes of economies in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe; To strengthen its dominant position over competing powers, such as India, Russia, the USA.

In this respect, there are many "hot" fronts opening up with the Obor program, which are of international importance.

India has many reasons to fear the expansive capabilities of the Chinese system: the economic corridor between China and Pakistan (CPEC) is one among the many projects already starting to take shape under the Silk Road, which will connect the two countries from Kashi to the port of Gwadar, ensuring the China has direct access to the Arabian Sea. Gwadar is at the same time an important Pakistani naval base and India is concerned that in accordance with Pakistan, China may install permanent control posts on Indian naval activity, strengthening its military role in South Asia, in the furrow of Beijing's primary objective of having a monopoly on the control of maritime communication routes and of containing Indian influence in the Pacific.

Delhi has already expressed its full opposition to the Sino-Pakistani transport corridor through Kashmiri territory, for decades the scene of heavy military contention between the Indian and Pakistani governments, whose relations are now further exacerbated.

Moreover the Gwadar port issue is part of the broader front of control over the Asian seas, which is another very important factor for potential destabilization of the whole area put forward by analysts, especially the US. The commercial maritime routes to and from China is a geopolitical cornerstone of China's so-called ‘String of Pearls’ strategy based on the creation of strategic bases in the Indian Ocean - from the Middle East to southern China - in order To protect their military and economic security interests. Last year China condemned – and refused to recognize - the judgment of the UN Tribunal on the Law of the Sea which denies Beijing any title of sovereignty over about 90% of the South China Sea disputed with the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. China is currently occupying some archipelagos of the area militarily, in order to fully control the area of ​​transit through millions of dollars of goods on behalf of the Chinese national interest, and this has led to the strengthened presence of the US military fleet wanted by President Obama.

The full implementation of the Obor project in terms of maritime control could thus enable Beijing to resolve the problem of the US-controlled Malacca Strait, which transports 75% of imported oil and over which it has no sovereign power.

Connected to the development of the economic corridor between China and Pakistan is the involvement of Iran, through the planned establishment of a high-tech rail system, including Tehran's guard, capable of uniting the Persian Gulf to Europe and China. Economic-military cooperation between the two countries, where it is further implemented through the Obor agreements, would inevitably bring the military confrontation to the Persian Gulf and Aden, facing Djibouti, where the US has one of its strategically important military bases, Camp Lemonnier, supporting the historical enemy of Tehran, Saudi Arabia.

The intensification of China's relations with Central Asian countries through the Obor program lifts the veil on another delicate one front, the one with Russia.

The Moscow government has always considered this its area of influence, and look very carefully at joint ventures developed with the governments of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyizstan, despite the formal excellent relations between Moscow and Beijing, for fear of losing their privileged partnership on Former Islamic Republics of the Soviet Union. A particular nerve of discovered is the question of Muslim Uighur minorities residing in Northwest China - Xinijiang - a Turkish ethnic group, who have long struggled to gain independence from Beijing.

The Uighur minority has enjoyed years of support from Turkish, Afghan and Pakistani governments, but China has already explicitly stated in the Obor project that it has ruled out any form of regional economic partnership in Silk Road with governments supporting Uighur instances, and this in the name of the primacy of national interest.

Regarding the relations with Central Asian countries  - from the papers of the programs that were presented – it is also appropriate to point out how the Beijing government demonstrates indifference to the specific local needs of the countries involved in the Obor plan, with which China wants to maintain a buyer-producer of raw materials relationship. In these relationships the latter is in a disadvantage in terms of benefits: the Chinese commitment to infrastructure construction in these countries is in fact exclusively entrusted to Beijing state enterprises and it appears reasonable to doubt the mid- to- long-term repercussions on the institutions and civil societies of these states.

This attitude of pragmatic Chinese politics in the development of the Obor geopolitical plan collides with the Western regulatory system, particularly in Europe, which is firmly anchored to the principles of the United Nations Charter, or a cooperation based on the respect of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, such as territorial integrity and non-interference in the country's political decision-making processes, the enhancement of the rule of law and human rights in corporate responsibility.

The reserves of the EU countries in relation to the Obor agreements are manifold - despite formal approval of the program - and revolve around the objective distance of the Chinese political legal system from the principles and norms of community values in relation to workers’ rights, contractual transparency, ban on unfair competition, counterfeiting, monopolies and state aid.

Considering that today, with pragmatism, China continues to impose a regime of prior authorization for all foreign investment in any economic sector that is to be carried out in Chinese territory: a clear form of discrimination in the free market resulting from a rigid concept of the national interest that the Chinese Communist Party is implementing politically, economically and in the area of security.

In light of the network of agreements on the New Silk Road, the extremely complex picture of the geopolitical scenario that emerges thus presents high points and low points in equal abundance: the commitment proclaimed by Beijing's political leaders to take the lead in a path of sustainable development, respectful of civil society conflicts with the necessity of knowing how to decline economic engagement in a variety of diverse regional contexts where cultural identities, the system of values, legal-legislative principles and institutional political deficits of good governance on Human rights can hardly be bypassed in the name of the pragmatism of the economic interest typical of Chinese strategy.

Certainly, this commitment can be an effective leverage for growth and distribution of wealth worldwide, but the Chinese Communist Party’s rigid conception of the national interest, which can be glimpsed between the lines of the infinite documents of the Obor project - often very vague and lacking actual updated feedback from on-site projects - mean that China is not really a philanthropic international benefactor, while international geopolitical scenarios appear far more complex and cannot be resolved by such a monolithic and unilateral approach.

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