Photo: Participants of the Belt and Road Forum. Credit: The Russian Presidential Press and Information Office. - Photo: 2017

China’s Mega-Project Seeks Linking Asia and Europe

By Somar Wijayadasa*

NEW YORK (IDN) – China hosted a high-level forum on international cooperation within the “One Belt, One Road” strategy on May 14-15.

The forum held in Beijing was attended by leaders of 29 countries, over 1,500 delegates from 130 nations, and representatives from over 70 international organizations including the heads of the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Opening the forum, China’s President Xi Jinping highlighted that peace and cooperation, openness and mutual benefit must be the basis of the New Silk Road initiative.

Saying that “China is willing to share its development experience with all countries”, he pledged $124 billion for the Silk Road project. He said: “We will not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. We will not export our system of society and development model, and even more will not impose our views on others.”

He further affirmed that “In advancing the Belt and Road, we will not re-tread the old path of games between foes. Instead we will create a new model of cooperation and mutual benefit.”

This may be the world’s largest and ambitious infrastructure project from Asia to Europe in the 21st century and would be a driving force for regional and global economic development.

The strategy behind the initiative

In 2013, Xi Jinping announced a new strategy of economic development, that is aimed at developing infrastructure and strengthening ties between the Eurasian countries.

The initiative consists of two major components, the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt from Asia via the Middle East to Europe, and Maritime Silk Road connecting China’s port facilities with the east African coast, leading to Europe via the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.

Its goal is to establish a trade corridor across Eurasia to ensure swift and efficient transportation of goods from the east to the west on favourable terms.

This is a feasible project as China has considerable economic power, and enormous experience in infrastructure development. Furthermore, it is attractive to its Eurasian partners, as it would facilitate mutual development of their economies.

If it succeeds, 65 countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe will be linked by land and by sea for trade and investment, and produce tangible results for millions of people.

According to China’s Minister of Commerce, over the next five years, China plans to import $2 trillion of products from countries participating in this initiative.

Russia to benefit from the Silk Road initiative

As a key partner of China, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin addressed the forum after his Chinese counterpart. Putin underscored the need to establish a greater Eurasian partnership to build a bridge between Asia and Europe.

Putin said that “the creation of the economic development belt and (the) organization of mutually beneficial trade between Asia and Europe seem to be an important initiative that takes into account the current trends in the world economy and also reflects the overall need for coordination of diverse integration processes on the Eurasian continent and in other regions of the world.”

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia and China have boosted their security cooperation, economic relations and military capabilities, and have re-established themselves as great powers.

Russia and China have developed the $100 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the $40 billion Silk Road infrastructure Fund, the BRICS New Development Bank, and the China-Russia Expo which no doubt would displace the monopoly of the U.S. dollar and erode the primacy of the Bretton Woods system.

A major project that became operational in January 2017 is the 7,500 mile long rail freight service between China and the United Kingdom. Undoubtedly, cheaper than air and faster than sea, the train passes through the Channel Tunnel into France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan to China.

Among others are a high-speed rail link from Moscow to Beijing that will reduce the current journey time from seven days to just 24 hours; and a $20 billion Moscow-Kazan high-speed railway that will have trains running at speeds up to 400 kilometres an hour.

Though indirectly linked to the Silk Route, Russia, in 2014, signed a $400 billion deal to supply China with 38 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas annually from 2018 for 30 years. The 3,968 km pipeline linking gas fields in eastern Siberia to China will be the world’s largest fuel network in the world.

As for the implementation of this great project, Chinese officials say that a network of new logistics routes and facilities will be constructed, including new highways, railways, ports, pipelines and power plants, along the routes to connect China with the Asia-Pacific Region, the Gulf region, Central Asia, Africa and Europe.

But not all aboard

Among the Forum attendees in Beijing were the prime ministers of Spain, Italy, Greece and Hungary. However, conspicuously absent were the leaders of the U.S. and most European economies.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif praised China’s “vision and ingenuity”, and said: ”Such a broad sweep and scale of interlocking economic partnerships and investments is unprecedented in history.”

The White House adviser, Matt Pottinger, represented the United States. A statement issued by the U.S. Embassy stated: “The United States recognizes the importance of improving economic connectivity through high-quality infrastructure development, and hence, welcomes efforts from all countries, including China, in achieving this.”

According to Reuters, India refused to send an official delegation to Beijing, reflecting displeasure with China for developing a $57 billion trade corridor through Pakistan that also crosses the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Also, India expressed its trepidation when China constructed a Sea Port and an Airport in the southern tip of Sri Lanka – also known as “String of Pearls” in the Maritime Silk Road. The main worry for India is that this grand initiative will cement China’s dominance over Asia, including in India’s neighbourhood.

Some Western diplomats have voiced their “typical grouse” about human rights and environmental impact on Eurasian countries, and above all their concern that it is an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally.

Western countries are naturally lukewarm to development projects that attempt to uplift other nations – either due to their past colonial mentality or their selfish intent to maintain their economic superiority.

Let us hope that those countries that strive to maintain their global and economic leadership would not attempt to jeopardize this most ambitious economic and development strategy to promote economic integration, particularly in Eurasia.

*Somar Wijayadasa was a UNESCO delegate to the UN General Assembly for ten consecutive years from 1985-1995, and was Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 May 2017]

Photo: Participants of the Belt and Road Forum. Credit: The Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate –

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top