Is China’s Belt and Road ready to be the new face of globalisation?

Andreea Brinza | 16 May 2017

If Thomas Friedman had written his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree today, maybe the Lexus would have been replaced with a Chinese vehicle, like a Geely, for example, because globalisation has a new pole: China.

In the past, the US led the wave of globalisation through its economic might, soft power and hyper-connectivity. But with the Trump administration now promoting protectionism, China has replaced the US as a standard-bearer for globalisation. This new face of globalisation has Asian features, too, thanks to Beijing’s new soft power strategy: the Belt and Road Initiative.

Formerly known as the “One Belt, One Road” strategy, it was interpreted by Western observers as an ellipse of roads, railways and pipelines which link China to Europe. The new name emphasises that the idea is much more than a single belt and a single maritime corridor; it’s more of a network of corridors and roads which connect all parts of Eurasia.

Still, a quick look at the map will make us understand that the Belt and Road Initiative is not only a connection by land and water, but specifically one that encapsulates all Chinese investments along the way. If it were only a road, railway or corridor, it would pass through conflict zones like Afghanistan. Therefore, we should see the belt and road more as a zone of investment, rather than a de facto road.

Moreover, the recent Chinese investments in Africa and Latin America, placed under the umbrella of the belt and road, support the idea of a worldwide strategy. Thus, the belt and road should be perceived as a Chinese strategy for the 21st century and as a new type of Chinese external policy. The Belt and Road may well be Xi Jinping’s landmark strategy, similar to Hu Jintao’s “peaceful rise”.

Some people no doubt hold the view that the belt and road is just an iron silk road, defined by infrastructure projects like the railways which connect China with Europe. But those railways aren’t new. Moreover, the first route of the iron Silk Road, from Chongqing to Duisburg, Germany, was revived by Hewlett-Packard in 2011 to transport its products to Europe, and not by the Chinese government or Chinese companies. HP’s example was followed by other companies, giving an example of the potential of the Belt and Road Initiative.

We can also see the belt and road as a new face of globalisation. Even before the belt and road forum held on Sunday and Monday in Beijing, Chinese state media were already referring to it as “Globalisation 2.0”. On a theoretical basis, it fits perfectly with the idea of globalisation, because the initiative sets out to enhance the interconnectivity between countries and people, it promotes free trade, aims to become an avatar for China’s soft power strategy, and wants to help the countries along the road to develop.

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This article has been published by Andreea Brinza in the South China Morning Post. You can read the full article on the South China Morning Post website.

Photo Credits:  A mall in China’s capital, Beijing (Flickr/Trey Ratcliff)

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Andreea Brinza

Andreea Brinza is a researcher and the Vice President of RISAP. Her interests are related to the geopolitics, geostrategy and geoeconomics of the Asia-Pacific region and especially China. Her research focuses on the Belt and Road Initiative.

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