Book that details China’s Belt and Road Initiative
Saleh Shahriar, PhD Researcher in Economics, Chinese Govt. Scholarship Program: This article aims to review an important research book entitled The Belt and Road Initiative: What will China Offer the World in its Rise, written by Professor Wang Yiwei, a leading Chinese expert on the topic.
The book was published by the New World Press in 2016 in China. Evidence shows that Belt and Road-related research and publications are on the rise.
For example, only the Chinese scholars and academics published more than 8,400 articles in 2015, as compared to 492 in 2014. In mid-2017, the BRI was declared as the ‘project of the Century’ (Xinhua May 14, 2017). According to an estimate of the ADB, infrastructure financing demand in Asia will be around $ 8 trillion between 2010 and 2020. China has a plan to invest $ 1 trillion in infrastructure development along the countries of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The book under review is divided into IV main parts. There are several chapters under each part. Part I has six chapters. Before part I there is a preface (PP.1-8) and an introduction (PP.9-20). The BRI is ‘aimed at establishing a community of common interest, common responsibility, and common destiny with the 4.4 billion people in 65 countries’ (P.5). A list of the 65 countries is provided in a subsequent table (p.76). The author makes it clear that the BRI is not confined or limited only to those 56 countries, rather an open platform for mutual cooperation. The introductory chapter raises a plethora of interrelated questions. In the subsequent chapters, the book offers ‘systematic answers’ to the questions raised. The BRI is related to the idea of the Chinese Dream.
As Yiwei explains, ‘the Chinese dream is interlinked with the world’s people’s dream for better lives’ (P.19). The BRI is such an initiative for ‘cooperation and development’ that relies on the ‘existing bilateral and multilateral mechanism’. It also represents the historical symbols of ancient silk road (p.19). Part I under six chapters provides introduction, background, the Chinese historical context and the Marshall Plan.
The author makes a comparative analysis of the intent, content, and structure of the BRI and the Marshal Plan. It is to be noted that the Marshal Plan was undertaken to reconstruct the world economies after the Second World War. In fact, the BRI is in line with the Chinese ‘opining up’ strategy, ‘going out’ policy and ‘new normal’ economic growth dynamics.
The book largely paints the changing roles of China in the context of globalization, economic integration and trade liberalization. ‘China is seeking not only to integrate itself into the globalization, but also to create new standards for globalization’ (P.19). Part II consists of three chapters elucidating the opportunities for regional cooperation and global development. The chapters explore the key areas of cooperation between European countries and China.
Professor Yiwei identifies some risks and problems of the BRI in five chapters under part III (PP.83-121). The first problem is political risks which can be divided into two types: domestic political risks of various countries along the line of the OBOR, and geopolitical risks. The second problem is security risks, that is, traditional and non-traditional security. It includes: natural risks, environmental hazards, the threat of extremist forces, threat of non-government organizations, and maritime security risks. The economic risks are demonstrated in the following ways: a) macro risk of probable fund crisis of the Silk Road Fund and the AIIB. b) industrial risks of development of both China and other countries along the route, c) Lack of risk response mechanism. d) lack of supporting facilities for the modern service industry.
Part IV maps out probable ways on how to advance the Belt and Road construction. This part is composed of three chapters. It is often said that China wants to establish a hegemonic rule through the project. But, Yiwei boldly observes that ‘in the process of regional cooperation, China will never seek hegemony nor will allow others to dominate’ (p.160).
There are five ‘pillars’ of the BRI: policy communication, facility connectivity, unimpeded trade, monetary circulation and people-to-people understandings. As the author observed, the five factors of connectivity are a guideline for China to promote regional cooperation and seek common development with countries along the Belt and Road (p.168). Also, the BRI proposes the building and construction of six economic corridors, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Silk Road Fund. The connectivity goals could be achieved on the basis of the principle of peaceful coexistence.
And rejuvenation, innovation and inclusiveness are crucial to the success of the BRI (pp.187-188). As the appendix of the book, the author has inserted an official document titled Vision and Proposed Actions Outlined on the Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. (pp.189-207). The document is a must-read for those who are willing to understand the pros and cons of the BRI.
However, Yiwei’s book would have been more interesting to me if he had engaged more deeply with the local country level literature on the BRI. There are insufficient discussions on the South-East and South Asian regional geopolitical dynamics; whereas the bulk attention is given to the European countries.
The discussions in some cases are vague and abstract. According to him, globalization (p.161) is based on inclusiveness, harmony and balance. But these terms are vague, and therefore require rigorous conceptual clarification. Moreover, the references he cited are insufficient to provide more authentic answers to the questions he raised at the outset of the book.
The author could have utilized Chinese media resources to make his arguments more convincing. Despite these limitations, the book fills a gap in the emerging literature, as the work presents the Chinese perspectives and discourses of the BRI Much such studies are needed; scholars from other disciplines like economics, political science, anthropology, sociology, public policy studies, history, and development studies could undertake innovative and empirical research projects using different theoretical approaches and multidisciplinary perspectives.