|Countries participating in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank|
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While several American ‘experts’ have started talking of the ‘cracking’ of the Middle Kingdom, Beijing does not seem much bothered: it continues with its initiative to build a ‘parallel’ new world order, centered on China and Asia.
WantChinaTimes, a Taiwanese publication mentions “new political, economic and security systems that China is setting up around the world in an attempt to realign the established international order dominated by the United States.”
Take the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), the Asian ‘Davos’. This year, President Xi Jinping was invited to participate in the deliberations. The Forum, held in Hainan province during the last week of March, lasted 4 days.
Xi Jinping spoke on his favorite topic, the ‘one belt, one road’ initiative. Xi asserted that the scheme would ultimately benefit 'all nations'. The Chinese President used the occasion to reassure the world that China's economy remained strong and Beijing was only interested to boost old links between Asia and Europe and provide trade and investment opportunities to ‘all’.
Xi said that Beijing was keen to improve regional connectivity ‘for all’: “The programs of development will be open and inclusive, not exclusive. They will be a real chorus comprising all countries along the routes, not a solo effort for China," Xi asserted.
Xi admitted that China would continue to be a major driving force for Asia, but he qualified the new growth: “We will focus on improving quality and efficiency, and give even greater priority to shifting the growth model and adjusting the structure of development.”
The ‘One Belt, One Road’ scheme has different facets, though the main objective is clearly for China to take the leadership of Asia. One element is the Silk Road Economic Belt which would link China, Central Asia, Russia and the Baltic states on one side and China with the Gulf and Mediterranean through Central Asia and West Asia on the other; it would also connect China with Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Another element is the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, stretching China’s influence to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean in the West and to the South Pacific in the East.
The South China Morning Post commented: “It is the most significant and far-reaching project the nation has ever put forward, having domestic and foreign policy implications that impact the economy and strategic and diplomatic relations. Importantly, it provides an opportunity for the nation to take a regional and global leadership role.”
The Silk Road projects would add more than 60,000 kilometres of road, including 4,070 km expressways, and improve the connectivity of the existing transportation network.
The Hong Kong newspaper added: “The initiative dove-tails neatly with its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Silk Road Fund, creating a structure for Chinese companies to help build the roads, railway lines, ports and power grids that are sorely needed in many parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.”
Both new ‘silk roads’ would involve 65 countries from three continents and 4.4 billion people; according to Beijing, it would ultimately lead to a greater economic cooperation between the concerned countries. Xi spoke of an annual trade volume exceeding US $ 2.5 trillion in a decade: “cooperation and coordination of policies will be win-win for all involved”, he affirmed.
The United States are clearly left out of the scheme of the century, it is what is deeply worrying Washington.
China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), a state-run think-tank published a blue book affirming that in the years to come, China will play a bigger role in international affairs, especially with the boosting of the Asian infrastructure.
The publication entitled ‘The International Situation and China's Foreign Affairs (2015)’ highlights two major summits that China hosted in 2014 as well as the two Silk Roads projects.
The two summits were the Shanghai-hosted Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia and the Beijing-hosted Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
Chen Xulong, the head of the CIIS’ Department for International and Strategic Studies wrote: “Last year, China played a significant role in multilateral diplomacy and contributed to solving international issues.”
Beijing’s declared objective is to build a new security system to allow ‘Asian countries to take the lead in resolving Asian affairs’.
Another much-talked about initiative is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Beijing does not want to be subjected to US controlling or monitoring anymore.
WantChinaTimes says: “They do not exclude existing international mechanisms or challenge existing international rules …Such ‘parallel structures’ inevitably carry political significance because they allow China to break through the United States' strategic containment.”
The Chinese initiative is already considered as a success if one looks at the number of countries and territories from five continents which have applied to join the Beijing-led Bank as founding members.
Hua Chunying, the Foreign ministry spokeswoman said that 30 countries had already been approved as Prospective Founding Members (PFMs), but the exact number of PFMs would not be confirmed until April 15. The fund’s capital target is US$100 billion, according to the Chinese Finance Ministry.
Even Taiwan's application is considered. Taipei said the island would like to apply as a founding member under the title of ‘Chinese-Taipei’, a name it uses in different international organisations. Beijing did not object, though said that Taipei should use an ‘appropriate name’.
Though Japan would not be immediately joining, many Western capitals, including London have declared the intention to jump into the boat. Washington, completely taken on the wrong foot, seemed to have lost a battle with the grand success of the Chinese initiative.
The South China Morning Post wrote: “The popularity of the AIIB was a diplomatic victory for China and a setback for the United States. Even in the US, some experts are now criticising Washington for mishandling the issue.”
The Hong Kong newspaper quotes Professor Yu Xiong of Northumbria University in Britain, saying: “This may mark another historic point of China's global influence surpassing the US."
In the US, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the United State has ‘screwed up’ the way it dealt with the AIIB.
Where is India in the scheme?
Xi seems to have scored a point on the Asian chess board, and though Delhi has agreed from the start to participate in the Bank, it is more reserved (with good reasons) about the 2 Silk Roads.
Another mark of China’s independence vis-à-vis the US–led world, is the launching of a new-generation satellite for Beijing’s indigenous global navigation and positioning network. This 17th satellite of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) is another sign of China’s ‘independence’.
The China Satellite Global Services Alliance (CSGSA) which sponsors the project even spoke of a ‘Space-based New Silk Road’, adding that it will enable the quick development of the ‘Belt and Road’ plan.
Though the start has been smooth for Xi Jinping, the difficulties of China’s initiatives may soon come to the fore, though it certainly augurs that the 21st century will be Asian. However, we will have to wait for a few years to know if India and China can cooperate, or bitterly compete. With Xi’s new gamble, China has undoubtedly taken a lead, but Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ scheme could also attract of lot of energies to India (and Asia).
This is what is at stake during his forthcoming European tour.