‘Belt and Road Initiative’

Gone are the days of bamboo curtain. The west is now worried about capitalist China, rather China’s capitalist aggression that has no parallel in history. These days progressive around the world would like to dwell on the miracle of capitalist China, not socialist China. Even the Chinese themselves have stopped talking about socialism with Chinese characteristics. It’s capitalism – plain and simple. And they boast of it. They have shown the world that they are better capitalist entrepreneurs than the orthodox capitalists of the West. For the mandarins of Beijing domestic market looks too small, they need markets beyond their borders. The much publicised ‘Belt and Road Initative’, a great leap forward in true sense – is basically aimed at expanding their reach to overseas markets. Conceived in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st century maritime Silk Road, and is specifically designed to build a high-value business and infrastructure network connecting  Asia  with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes. The Chinese claim that the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ is not a solo performance. They say the stage is big enough to be shared by all. But ultimately it all depends on creditors, not debtors. After all the debtors have no choice. There is no question of equality. It’s an unequal world of ‘donors’ and their clients as it is the case with IMF and World Bank. True, the canvas is really gigantic in size. Chinese companies have already invested more than 50 billion US dollars and built 56 Special Economic Zones, as part of the ‘Initiative’ along the routes generating nearly 1.1 billion us dollars in tax revenue, creating 180,000 local jobs and spurring the ‘economic development’ of these countries.

China’s ‘big leap forward’ since 2013 has already proved beyond doubt that Chinese hegemony over the world economy, looks unstoppable. Over 100 Countries and international organisations have supported the Chinese global action programme, with signing of nearly 50 inter-governmental agreements of co-operation.

No doubt the global economy has remained sluggish for quite some time and the Chinese through their push will fill up the void created by the decline of what is known as ‘American world order’. China has come a long way since 1978 when they adopted the policy of ‘reform’ and opening up, to attain the status of the world’s second largest economy. They cannot stop the Chinese ‘bullet train’ now as dynamics of capitalism has its own momentum to search for new markets. This ‘Initiative’ is going to create a huge market for Chinese manufacturing companies, mainly engaged in infrastructure. In 2017 Chinese companies, better to say Chinese multinationals, are more aggressive than ever before in acquisitions that are directly related to their core business. Not for nothing China’s supply-side structural reform is the buzz word in business circles around the world.

Whether they admit it or not, the ‘End of American World Order’ means the rise of ‘Chinese World Order’. While America under Trump is reverting back to protectionism to save its economy and American pride. China is now promoting   ‘‘globalisation 2.0’’. And this Chinese powered globalisation is more about investment, infrastructure and development rather than just trade in old times. The large presence of Chinese companies specialised in high-speed railway construction and nuclear power and communication engineering is not for charity. Already Sri Lanka and Myanmar, having failed to repay Chinese debt are surrendering their economic sovereignty. If everything goes according to Xi Jinping’s plan, an imperial China will be born out of ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, not in the distant future.

Tragically, India’s banias are odd men out in the grand Chinese opera. Reason: ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ (CPEC) which is a very important part of the ‘Initiative’. New Delhi has opposed this project because it passes through PoK — Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Many see in CPEC a Marshall equivalent. Originally valued at $46 billion, the CPEC is now valued at $54 billion. The rulers and business circles in Islamabad are overzealous with the project as it is expected to generate up to 2.3 million jobs by 2030 and add 2.0 to 2.5 percent value to Pakistan’s GDP. It is the most ambitious all weather China-Pakistan strategic partnership plan and India is certainly losing diplomatically.

But all are not euphoric about the dream project – CPEC. Many liberals and democrats in Pakistan think the days are not far when Pakistan may be called 24th province of China.

The Chinese say the CPEC will not affect Beijing’s stand on Kashmir. But the ground reality is completely otherwise. In Chinese perception Kashmir is a disputed territory – a hangover left by colonial legacy — to be resolved bilaterally through dialogue between India and Pakistan. But by accepting Pakistan’s virtual sovereignty over PoK and Gilgit- Baltistan, they have in reality done a favour to their ‘all-weather strategic partner’ Pakistan.

The world witnessed the Western-American model of integration and imperial ‘loot’ and now there is a new model from China. But massive ‘development’ means massive displacement and further marginalisation of the marginalised. And nobody is talking about it.

Vol. 49, No.47, May 28 - Jun 3, 2017