Critical geopolitics and the New Silk Road

  • Created by: sikemi__
  • Created on: 31-05-21 19:56

The One Belt, One Road Initiative

  • Ambitious policy initiative launched by Xi Jinping in 2013 in Kazakhstan and Indonesia
  • Laid out a vision of mass infrastructure investments between China and partners to create a more integrated global economy
  • Over 71 countries, $1 trillion in investments from China and loans, mostly for construction
  • Used for 'connectivity' and 'development' and to kick start the economies of these countries - they had lower barriers to trade
  • Attractive as it was 5 years after the financial crisis
  • They were key economic corridors for ports, railways, roads or pipelines
  • Geopolitically, it led to competing narratives between China, the USA and even Africa
    • Also meant that there were sceptics and believers
  • Initiative was first and foremost about energy and oil in the Middle East, Russia and Africa (South Sudan and Angola)
    • Two major funding bodies set up by China that were linked to the initiative - The Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Pact
1 of 6

Chinese Narratives of the 'New Silk Roads'

  • Presented it as a daring project for win-win cooperation that will return countries that are now in poverty to peace and prosperity as was supposedly the case during the times of the Ancient Silk Road
  • Positive and daring vision, wanted to bring back peace and development opportunities to countries that had civil strife
  • Not just for Chinese profit but about a 'cooperative and win-win ethos' (Xi, 2017) and developing a community of common destiny and shared interests
    • Emphasised that countries that wanted the opportunity had 'no conditions attached' (Gao, 2015), unlike loans from IMF and Western donors - no requirement for economic repayment or human rights clauses
  • About creating an Asia that is solely for Asians and led by Asians - 'Asian affairs to be led by Asians' (Xi, 2014) - with no interference from other major powers, especially the USA
  • Public intellectuals in China described the NSR initiative in book 'Chaos and Confucianism' (Tingyang and Xuetong)
    • Painted China as an ethical empire that existed in the past when there was a Silk Road, and that its return to prosperity is also a return to the ancient form of empire which was supposed to be harmonious and promoted peace and prosperity rather than violence and conquest.
    • Also the idea that an ethical empire is important in times of chaos - people were uncertain and confused and afraid, so the ethical empire of China can bring order, prosperity and peace to the world (sense of orientalism)
  • Confronting the US (Mingfu and Rong) discusses how China won't be allowed to grow economically but will be challenged by the USA who pose a permanent threat - way to respond is an 'offensive for defensive' - China needs to assert itself and create allies and strategic capabilities so it can protect itself
2 of 6

History of Chinese geopolitical culture

  • Silk Road is presented as a world dream for developmental activity and cooperation where China would lead the way
  • This wasn't always the case - for most of 20th century history, Chinese geopolitical culture didn't emphasise global leadership in terms of bringing development and friendship where there was chaos and war
  • In the aftermath of WW2, China had just come out of a violent civil war and faced Japanese invasion - newly formed PRC felt threatened by US and USSR
    • So emphasis before was on being besieged and preparing to survive invasion rather than leading the world - policy called the Third Front Movement (Mao), pushed Chinese industrial development to the forefront of Chinese policy so key industries wouldn't be affected if there was an invasion
  • Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence spoke about
    • Supporting national self determination
    • Supporting non interference in other countries' affairs
    • Advocating for trade that would be of mutual benefit
  • This history and experience builds into today's geopolitical imaginations in China
  • After Mao died in the 1980s, Xiaoping decided to reform China's economy and experiment with socialism e.g. market liberalisation in special economic zones in places such as Shenzhen and Guangzhou where there was cheap manufacturing and labour
    • Start of globalisation in our world where exporting manufacturing to countries such as China leads to a drastic drop in labour and consumption costs in rich, industrialised countries - accelerated China's growth
  • Social tension and inequality in China occurred - rich entrepreneurs rose up whilst others were in poverty and regions such as Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang were left out of growth
  • Under Zeming in the late 1990's, a new policy was created surrounding developing the West and attracting FDI into regions that hadn't developed as quickly
  • Also new strategy of using surplus capital to finance projects in the rest of the dev eloping world - sending out FDI by looking for contracts and development opportunities where they could foster other countries to give business to Chinese companies
  • Emphasis on China aligning itself with other emerging economies such as Brazil, SA, India and Russia to try and challenge key terms of world governance e.g. WTO and IMF
3 of 6

Counter narratives - world hegemony

  • Different narrative created of Chinese trying to challenge US power and debt trap diplomacy
  • US presented China as new great rival that has to be contained and contested with and that has been getting the best a naively trusting West and must be less aggressive
  • Cold War narratives of containment and blocs and communism played into this
  • BRI map seemed to be following Mackinder's suggestions about integrating and uniting the world islands and especially the Heartland as a path to challenge an Atlantic, sea borne empire
    • 'China is ... the land power in the 21st century...following in the footsteps of Germany, as outlined by Mackinder...the primary threat to American maritime hegemony will come from a Sino-Russian union or a Chinese led Eurasia' (Harper at al, 2017)
    • 'He who controls the Indo-Pacific controls the future' (Munson, 2013)
  • Fear that threat could happen in China aligns with Russia or gets EU/rest of Asia to align with itself - focus on securing sea space
4 of 6

Counter narratives - Neo-colonialism

  • Idea of colonial threat from China is widespread in the West - newspapers suggest sweatshop work and displacement of local livelihoods such as fishing e.g. article in the FT titled 'China's BRI - a new colonialism?'
  • Whereas, newspapers from China show the opposite e.g. 'Africa will be the new China'
  • However, Western media does take into account China's role in Africa
  • Basis to both arguments - true that there is a lot of public debt distress and high risk developments and high probability that many countries will have to default on loans e.g. Mozambique after 2017 cyclones (China pardoned part of the debt but how many times can this occur?). However, Africa is having some of its highest GDP growth in the past 30 years
  • 'Debt trap diplomacy' or 'growth engine investment'
  • Both arguments often forget that there is the African Agency
    • African Union's 2063 Vision for geopolitical reconfiguration of Africa in the next 30 years, including railway projects to facilitate internal trade and projects to make an internal free trade area in Africa and facilitate development and prosperity of different countries
    • Africa's interest in BRI isn';t just about getting infrastructure of investment/loans but also about multiplying relationships and getting hedging and bargaining power with donors through multiple sources of investment to get the best deal
5 of 6

New Silk Road and the Anthropocene

  • Some say the BRI is completely incompatible with climate change mitigation objectives
  • China has tried to reassure partners that they are considering environmental questions in all of their initiatives - capacity for adaptation
  • The COVID curveball - some think that coranvirus will end China's honeymoon in Africa whilst China say that they plan to restore their image in Africa through the coronavirus
6 of 6


No comments have yet been made

Similar Geography resources:

See all Geography resources »See all Geopolitics resources »