After announcing the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” in September and October 2013 respectively, Chinese leader Xi Jinping began promoting the concepts actively last year.
The Silk Road Economic Belt starts from Xian, passing through major cities like Almaty, Samarkand, Tehran and Moscow, before ending at Venice.
The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road begins in Fuzhou, linking numerous coastal cities in the world including Hanoi, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Calcutta and Nairobi before joining the “Silk Road Economic Belt at Venice.
This road map indicates a shift in the economic emphasis to Western China from the eastern parts of the country.
Last year, Xi announced the US$40 billion Silk Road Foundation in order to expand offshore investment, involving initiatives such as construction of facilities, exploitation of resources and the cooperation in the industrial and financial arena.
In addition, local governments also released their plans of local Silk Road Foundation. For example, Fuzhou, the origin of the ancient maritime silk road, is working with the Fujian branch of the China Development Bank and China-Africa Development Fund. Meanwhile, Guangdong is looking to cooperate with Pan Pearl River Delta and the ASEAN for the establishment of a similar foundation.
As a result, “One Belt, One Road” has become a popular subject among local enterprises.
Through the two silk roads, China is trying to build a “Community of Common Destiny”.
For example, Premier Li Keqiang signed a 15 billion yuan agreement with Kazakhstan in December 2014 to facilitate links between the New Silk Road and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
In the words of researcher Li Xiangyang, the “One Belt, One Road” strategy is all about the dumping of Chinese goods to countries along the routes. At the same time, some of those countries are also hoping to access the China market through the plan.
To become a big player in the infrastructure of “One Belt, One Road”, high-speed rail is China’s trump card.
A high-speed rail in Turkey built by China was inaugurated in 2014. China’s next targets include Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries.
Silk Road Economic Belt passes oil producing countries in Central Asia and Middle East. The plan is therefore an important part of China’s energy diplomacy as well.
In the Sixth Ministerial Meeting of China-Arab States Cooperation in June last year, the new silk road was one of the major topics of discussion. Soon after, China announced the construction of the fourth Central Asia-China gas pipeline in Tajikistan, which allows China’s pipelines to cover five Central Asian countries.
The goal of “One Belt, One Road” is very clear: to readjust China’s geopolitical sphere of influence.
Since a pivot to the Asia-Pacific region in 2010, the United States has been working closely with South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia and India. The change is making it hard for China to expand its influence over regions to its east and push it to rethink the strategy of concentrating its investments in ports along its coasts.
Xi has to find a way out by targeting at the western and southern regions of China. On one hand, China can adjust its economic focus; on the other, the country can build itself into an “Asia power”, rather than just an “Asia-Pacific power”.
To many people in Hong Kong, a city that largely depends on trade with Western nations, the promise of “One Belt, One Road” may seem somewhat remote and irrelevant. But they should realize that the initiative marks a major geopolitical move of China, and that it is something that cannot be ignored.
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