25 August 2019
President Xi Jinping wants to expand China's sphere of influence beyond economics to politics and culture. Photo: Xinhua
President Xi Jinping wants to expand China's sphere of influence beyond economics to politics and culture. Photo: Xinhua

Fears over China’s growing power hinder Xi’s Silk Road dreams

Concerns over China’s growing power appear to be slowing efforts by President Xi Jinping to revive the ancient Silk Road trading route, part of his grand plan to regain the country’s past glory as the center of the world.

In Kazakhstan, China has been unable to realize a free trade agreement proposed 22 years ago, Bloomberg News reported. And in 2009, the Kazakh president canceled a plan to lease farmland to China amid widespread protests.

The Chinese leader’s vision of revitalizing an economic belt that stretches halfway around the world has encountered much cynicism from the 60 or so countries that will be involved in turning it into a reality.

Kazakhstan’s leaders have voiced support, enticed by billions of dollars in infrastructure funding, but analysts say the plan involves greater Chinese influence that may be a hard to sell to the people.

“Xi’s proposed idea is to form the foundation of a new geopolitical concept of China,” Konstantin Syroezhkin, an adviser to the Kazakh president, was quoted as saying. “All discussions before were mainly around the economic component of China’s relations with this region, but Xi has put forth a vision that is much broader.”

Reviving the Silk Road, which represented the golden years of Chinese civilization, is part of Xi’s “Chinese dream” to expand China’s sphere of influence beyond economics to politics and culture at a time when the United States is seeking to reassert itself in the region, Bloomberg said.

Xi has also unveiled a second, maritime, Silk Road that traverses the Horn of Africa en route to Europe. 

Earlier this month, Xi pledged US$40 billion to set up a Silk Road Fund that will finance the construction of infrastructure along the route.

While Kazakhstan, a former Soviet state, is happy to do business with its neighbor, it doesn’t seem too keen to build a close friendship.

“China is too powerful, too strong, and we’re afraid of being overwhelmed,” said Nargis Kassenova, director of the Central Asian Studies Center at KIMEP University in Almaty. “It’s hard to turn down on what China can offer, but we resist the full embrace of Chinese power. We’re just trying to benefit economically.”

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