China formally showcased its Belt and Road Initiative at a Summit meeting held on May 14-15 in Beijing.
Presidents and Prime Ministers from 28 countries including Russian President Vladimir Putin, and ministers from another 30 countries including from Britain and Germany attended the summit. Ambassadors from at least 40 other countries also participated.
The US, France, Japan and South Korea —which had earlier expressed reservations about the geopolitical aims of China behind the project — sent high level delegations to the Summit.
Apart from India and Bhutan, all the countries of South Asia — Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives — participated in the summit.
The Summit was attended amongst others by the UN Secretary General, UN General Assembly president, World Bank president, International Monetary Fund managing director, World Trade Organisation director-general and World Economic Forum executive chairman.
Land and Sea routes proposed under
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a gigantic plan to integrate the economies of China and the wider Eurasian region. It envisages close integration of the economies of South East Asian countries, Pakistan, the countries of Central Asia, as well as various countries of Africa and Europe with that of China. It includes a network of railroads, highways, ports and oil and gas pipelines. It will establish a direct land route between China and Europe. It will connect China by sea with Africa and Europe through a network of ports.
Trying to address the concerns of various countries, Chinese President Xi Jinping said during his inaugural address to the Conference "The Belt and Road should be built into a road for peace". "We should forge partnerships of dialogue with no confrontation. All countries should respect each other's sovereignty, dignity and territorial integrity, each other's development paths and social systems, and each other's core interests and major concerns." He declared it as a “collaborative” project of China with other countries. At a Press Conference after the Summit, President Xi Jinping declared that “The initiative would work to ensure an open world economy, rebalance globalization and work toward trade liberalization”.
The BRI Summit was an open assertion by China that it aspires to play a leading role in the globalization of capital and production. China is offering to invest its massive surplus capital, utilize its enormous iron, steel and cement surplus capacity and its technology far and wide, to build strategic infrastructure in various countries of Asia, Africa and Europe. At the same time, it is offering global finance capital and an opportunity to various gigantic global monopolies to make maximum profits by investing as “partners” in the BRI.
It has been estimated that over 1 trillion dollars would be invested in the BRI. Chinese commerce minister Zhong Shan promised that his country would import $2 trillion in goods over the next five years from countries along the BRI. Over 60 countries are expected to be connected by the BRI initiative.
In the conditions of the prolonged global crisis which began since 2008, international finance capital and global monopolies are seeing great prospects in the BRI. This was reflected in the response of representatives of the global financial institutions, as well as the major imperialist powers at the Summit.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Presidents and Prime Ministers of other countries hailed China for the initiative. Britain, France, Germany and the US too expressed their support.
"This initiative is truly ground-breaking in its scale of ambition," Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, said. "Britain will be a natural partner of this initiative."
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, former French Prime Minister who is leading his country's delegation, said his country "is willing to work with China and other partners to bring about the success of the initiative".
Matt Pottinger, adviser to US President Donald Trump and the leader of the American delegation, said Washington "welcomes" the Chinese connectivity initiative and that American companies could offer services for the project.
The UN Chief, World Bank President, IMF Managing Director, WTO Director General and World Economic Forum Executive Chairman all praised the BRI project. Each of these international organisations has concerns over protectionist trends, as have many of the countries participating in the summit. Representatives of many global monopolies were present at the Summit. Projecting itself as the leader of trade liberalization, the Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that the BRI would bolster the forces of globalization. "We should uphold the multilateral trading regime, advance free trade areas and promote liberalisation and facilitation of trade and investment," Xi said.
Behind the pronunciation of support for the BRI initiative from Germany and France, there are concerns amongst these imperialists about how BRI would impact the European Union and their domination over it. They are wary that the BRI would benefit Chinese monopolies at the cost of European monopolies. German economic minister Brigitte Zypries said at a trade panel “It is very important for us and our companies that the calls for our projects under the Belt and Road initiative are transparent, that they are non-discriminatory, and that they comply with international standards. I think there is still room for improvement in this area.”
China’s aims behind the BRI
In the conditions of the global economic crisis that began in 2008, and the slowing down of the Chinese economy, China is positioning itself as the driver of a second wave of globalization.
China has massive dollar reserves through the trade surplus it has established with various countries. It has built itself as the “factory” of the world. It has enormous excess capacity in steel, cement, and construction machinery which are forced to be idle as the Chinese economy has slowed down over the past few years. It is already deploying its dollar reserves, as well as the excess capacity in steel and cement to build massive infrastructure projects in many countries of Asia, Africa and Europe. Rail lines are being built in Laos that will eventually connect China with eight Asian countries. A rail line has been built in Kenya, and Ethiopia and it is laying rail lines in Europe between Budapest and Belgrade. It is building ports in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Kenya, Greece and other countries. It is building road, rail and oil and gas pipelines linking China with the countries of Central Asia. All these projects have now been included as part of BRI.
Through the BRI initiative, China is planning to scale up this kind of investment in infrastructure to include Europe. It is proposing to develop a new port in Piraeus, Greece, and in Rotterdam, Netherlands as the terminal for the road and rail route from China to Europe.
In recent years China has invested heavily in cutting edge technology, including robotics, solar energy, bio-pharma, electric cars etc. Through the BRI, China is hoping to capture new markets for its high end products in Europe.
BRI has major strategic implications. China aims to bring various countries of Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe into a close strategic relationship. The economies of such countries will become increasingly integrated with the Chinese economy.
Simultaneously, BRI has the strategic aim of countering the US Pivot to Asia Policy. This policy has as its aim the encircling of China through a military alliance of countries. This alliance includes Japan and Australia. The US has been trying to entice India into this alliance and enhancing its military and intelligence relationship with India.
The bulk of the US armed forces are now stationed in the Pacific, with the ability to attack China and its industrial infrastructure, most of which is near the coast. China is wary that the US navy could block the Malacca Straits linking the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean, cutting off its energy supplies from West Asia. A US blockade will also cut off its trade routes to West Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The building of a port on the Bay of Bengal in Myanmar and in Gwadar in Pakistan on the Arabian Sea and the connecting of these ports through the land route to China are part of the plan of China to counter any possible US blockade. In this regard, the port in Gwadar is most strategic, as it will bring oil from West Asia to China through pipelines in Pakistan. The building of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) connecting Xinjiang in China with Gwadar on the Arabian Sea is thus of great strategic interest to China.
India’s boycott of the BRI Summit
The government of India boycotted the BRI summit expressing its opposition to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). "Connectivity projects must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity" according to the Government of India foreign ministry. This refers to the fact that the corridor passes through what Pakistan calls Azad Kashmir which the Indian state claims is part of India. However, it is well known that more than 50 years ago, a road route in this region linking China to Pakistan was built and this has not prevented India from carrying on trade and other relations with China for the past several decades. Within the Indian ruling circles, a debate has erupted on whether boycotting the BRI summit was justified for this or any other reason.
In the conditions of the present crisis, the Indian big bourgeoisie believes that it can fulfil its ambitions to be a global imperialist power by allying closely with the US’ Asia Pivot Policy. US imperialism is seeking to conquer Asia in order to realise its dream of a unipolar world under its domination. To achieve this aim, it is trying to set countries of Asia against each other using historical animosities. Along with systematically stoking India’s imperialist ambitions, the US is enticing India step-by-step into a strategic military alliance aimed at encircling China. . The Indian ruling class, fueled by its own imperialist ambitions, is playing into the US strategy.
The Indian ruling class views all of South Asia as its sphere of influence. It does not respect the independence and sovereignty of our neighbouring countries, as shown by its repeated interference in their internal affairs. The ruling class of these countries are building their own strategic relations with other powers, particularly China, and this is not to the liking of the Indian ruling class. This is what is happening with respect to Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. In fact all these countries signed MOU’s with China on BRI-related projects during the recent summit.
The Indian state boycotted the BRI summit thinking that by this it could put a spoke in the Chinese strategy. But as it turned out, this did not happen. It did not expect that the US and Japan (with whom India is collaborating in the game-plan of encircling China) would send high level delegations to the BRI summit.
The boycott of the BRI summit by India has only served the US strategy of further deepening the divisions between India and China.