China Xi Jinping has grand dreams of new Asian trade routes but his ideas stand in stark contrast to his country’s political and military stance in the region and around the world.
Xi first proposed the concepts of the New Silk Road Economic Belt, which runs from China across Central Asia and Russia to Europe, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, through the Malacca Strait to India, the Middle East and East Africa during overseas visits in 2013. The idea is to invest in infrastructure, a favorite investment of the Chinese, to alleviate bottlenecks that currently hamper trade between the communist state and its regional trading partners.
Chinese academics, who are hardly impartial given they work for party sponsored think tanks, forecast a difficult path for the Silk Road initiatives but for the most politically correct of reasons. “The road ahead is paved with difficulties. The terrorist organisation Islamic State poses a great threat to the New Silk Road,” said Shi Ze, a senior fellow at the China Institute of International Studies.
But this is nothing more than talking the party line. China constantly seeks international support for its oppression of minorities, specifically Tibet and the Southwestern Uyghurs. To see these populations as a legitimate threat to these ambitious trade initiatives is clear evidence of the communist party echo chamber at work.
The real threat to these projects is the increasingly belligerent stance China is taking in the region. We covered earlier this week its building of airbases in the South China Sea. These actions hit on both a political and military level and make neighbors and trading partners unwilling to trust China despite the massive sums of money they bring to the table.
Their actions have already caused closer military ties between the United States and Vietnam (no easy feat) while Japan, The Philippines and South Korea are all engaged in disputes that are likely to render game changing trade agreements impossible.
Meanwhile India is not just developing cutting edge cruise missiles and purchasing advanced jet fighters because of Pakistan. Increasingly India is viewing China as its largest military rival and is taken decisive steps to ensure it keeps pace with the rapid militarization of its Asian rival.
For Jinping to realize his lofty trade goals it will take more than just money. China still lacks refinement and sensitivity when it comes to international relations and until this is corrected it will have a difficult time achieving its ambitious objectives in the region.