New Silk Road (LaPresse)

From China To The World: The Belt and Road Initiative

China’s international dominance is well-known, but does it have what it takes to become a global hegemon? Some might argue that it’s lacking an international approach while comparing the country to the United States whereas others suggest the Asian giant has better capability to navigate its way to the top. China has always made its way to the hearts and minds of people in remarkable ways. From producing everyday products to developing the latest technologies and assisting neighbors and far-flung allies through political and economic strategies, China has pretty much achieved it all. Its latest show of strength comes in the form of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

What is the Belt and Road Initiative in the first place? October 2019 marks the 6th year of the plan’s announcement by Chinese President Xi Jinping. A glorious idea aiming to revolutionize how the world views China and the benefits it can bring to their economies. The program consists of a series of global projects aimed to increase business opportunities, connect continents and most importantly export China’s influence abroad through cultural exchanges. The BRI comprises of nearly 140 countries where China seeks to enhance trade collaborations through cost-effective measures. Logistics and transportation networks are the key ideas here as China tries to revive the Silk Route.

China’s ability to oversee development projects; an art it has successfully mastered over the years, promises a host of opportunities and benefits for not only the southeast Asian region but also Africa, the Middle-East, Europe and parts of South America. A global resurgence may just be around the corner. Southeast Asia, in particular, has been swamped with growing debts, social injustices and environmental issues and it must consider this as the future towards progression since China has spent over $500 billion into the region. This investment targets transportation links to China from countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia to combine their diverse societies into one major regional player spearheaded by Chinese know-how and supremacy.

China has the finance and the authenticity of delivering demands when required. Majority of the countries today are facing problems that need external support and assistance. Pakistan, China’s neighbor across the Karakoram range has benefited from China’s power through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a set of projects again connecting both countries through a multitude of transport links, social and economic projects and the Gwadar port, the next hub of maritime trade.

The Middle-East is another region which although is self-sufficient when it comes to finance but lacks human resources. China was quick to make its impact regarding the market niche that exists in this region despite facing a challenging political and security environment by signing deals with almost every country in the region. Currently it has constructed a high-speed rail system in Saudi Arabia and plans on inaugurating another in the Kingdom’s regional foe Iran over the next years.

Linking China to Europe is a tactical strategy that China is willing to venture into considering the abundance of opportunities it may obtain in the continent. China has always considered Europe to be a dominant force with a mix of different ideologies but a progressive force. China’s economic and political integration with Europe at this point in time must be one where it can stand up against its main rival, the United States. The support of Europe for Chinese actions may give the country leverage while negotiating with the Americans be it politics, intellectual property protection or global trade and dependence. Hence, gaining access to Europe is a key idea that Beijing is more than willing to dwell into.

In March this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte inked a Memorandum of Understanding. It had previously taken Greece, Portugal, Bulgaria and Latvia on board. With Italy, China is working in the areas of culture, finance, and sports. Furthermore, key shipping ports have also been secured along with the modernization of depleted infrastructures. Scientific, financial and cultural exchanges would not only make Italy a reputed figure in the Chinese market but will also give the European country access to Asia, a key market where Italian goods are exported. Strategic influence and a geopolitical bonds look on course to be strengthened through this lucrative MoU.

Another similar step was taken in April with Switzerland where China signed an MoU locking Switzerland’s cooperation in BRI projects. This will specifically target social and environmental impacts and capital for private projects between the two countries.

China’s road to global hegemony can now clearly be highlighted considering the efforts it is ramping up to make itself the dominant powerhouse it has always aimed to become. The involvement of billions of dollars along with the necessary understanding of technicalities involved in dealing with social, political and economic shortcomings could well establish China’s role as the number one international player in the near future.