BRI: Reshaping Geo-Economic Order

The “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) in limelight- global economic order took another stride amid of Chinese rise through its soft power expansionist drive and envisioned geo-economics prowess worldwide. In retrospect, the grand BRI initiative was two-pronged: the overland Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road. Beginning in the year 2013, the two were collectively referred to first as the One Belt, One Road initiative but eventually became the Belt and Road Initiative. The BRI led infrastructure development plan aims to create a vast network of railways, energy pipelines, highways, and some 50 special economic zones—all of which would expand the international use of Chinese currency, the Renminbi and, thus declared Xi, “break the bottleneck in Asian connectivity.” viewed from the geopolitical lens, Beijing’s aim, through the BRI, is to strengthen its economic leadership while gaining political leverage over its neighbor’s and asserting its presence on the global stage. In other words, China’s BRI stands on the pillars of both geopolitical and economic motivations.

Under this wide-ranging economic-driven initiative, China is pro-active in constructing a new type of global order pursuing mutual benefits, equal rights, openness, and inclusiveness. Emboldened by the aspiration of reviving the ancient Silk Route, in the span of less than a decade, China has gained resounding success by transcending the preponderant BRI rhetoric to realities.

From Asia to Europe, and the Middle East to Africa, different corridors and infrastructural projects predominantly revamping global geo-economic architecture whilst offering opportunities to two-third of the world population to attain considerable gains through engagement and cooperation. Furthermore, to accommodate maritime trading traffic, it vowed to invest in the development of ports alongside the Indian Ocean, from Southeast Asia and to East Africa and different parts of Europe. The significant development expanded the horizons of geo-economics by accumulating a “blue economy” and intensifying maritime affairs competition among the global contending powers and their alliances, most significantly expanding China’s economic and political influence.

As far as its execution is concerned, China’s larger goal for the BRI is astounding for the entire world. For instance, more than sixty states accounting for two-thirds of the world’s population has signed various mega projects or intended of joining those projects. China has already spent an estimated $200 billion on various economic corridors almost all around the world. It is estimated that China’s expenses of the BRI could reach $ 1.3 trillion by the year 2027, though estimates on total investments may vary depending on the execution and planning of the project. Experts see the BRI as vertex point of Chinese statecraft under president Xi and benchmark for the “Made in China 2025 Economic development strategy.” China is stirred to increase global economic nexus to its western regions, which were neglected in past. Promoting economic development in the western province of Xinjiang is a major priority, as is safeguarding long-term energy supplies from Central Asia and the Middle East, especially through key strategic routes From Pakistan context, Apart from CPEC, it expands its horizons of assistance to the BRI vision. It has initiated the “Look Africa Policy” multilateral engagement campaign towards the African states to empower the national foreign policy clout. However, China already making inroads towards Africa under the BRI umbrella, the Sino-Pak alliance with converging interests in Africa would offer abundant opportunities for trade and economic cooperation. Thus, naval engagement would assist the consolidation of BRI prospects and the future in Africa. Iran substituted India with China in the mega-development project Chabahr port, thus in foreseeable future, Beijing can initiate a naval bloc to ensure the safety and security of trading routes from Gwadar to Chabar port.

Through CPEC Defense Corporation, it continues to prosper the indigenous capabilities through importing advanced technological advancement. Having a strong naval force as a strategic partner would assist China to undermine conceivable impediments regarding the BRI project worldwide in foreseeable future.

Although both countries hold a strong partnership that needs to consolidate to further uplift the trajectory of the complete success of Beijing’s BRI project. Furthermore, Pakistan pledges to seek a vibrant role in undermining the intervening imperatives of CPEC and the BRI project. For instance, extending non-traditional securities challenges- floods and pandemics is also a contribution of keeping the BRI ambitions on a smooth track. As officials from China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan revealed an inclination to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project into Afghanistan, experts said that such projects could help boost Afghanistan’s exports, which is conducive to the country’s journey of peace, but the feasibility of the project depends on whether the Afghan government and Taliban forces can reach a consensus on protecting overseas investment.

From a geopolitical perspective, the BRI project led to competition among the US and China in pursuit of hegemony. The BRI underpins countering measures against the much-hyped US “pivot to Asia,” as well as a way for China to develop new investment opportunities, cultivate export markets, and boost Chinese incomes and domestic consumption alongside increasing in the sphere of soft power. As matter of fact, China now actively seeks to shape international norms and institutions and asserts its presence on the global stage through economic-oriented policies.

Given the geostrategic significance and geographic location, the Indian Ocean has become the hub of a clash of interests between two major contending actors. Delhi extends its sphere of influence through collaboration with the US to assert pressure, and outplay China. The nuclear powers would have to keep regulating and realigning their respective nuclear postures and strategies to deal with the challenges that would ascend due to the building of arsenal and consequences of nuclear strategies of the powers active in the Indian Ocean. The militarization of the Indian Ocean designs a vicarious drive towards hostile regional security architecture through intensified military-industrial complex and arms race. Fragile security development is one of the fundamental challenges of the BRI project. Beijing noticeably gained assistance from reliable allies to undermine coercion and deterrence designed by Washington and its allies. Such development in geopolitical and security architecture craft demands naval engagement in the realm of regional security affairs through incorporating with different regional allies to subvert the non-traditional security challenges. At the same time, more broadly, Chinese leaders are determined to restructure the economy to avoid the so-called middle-income trap. In this scenario, which has plagued close to 90 % of middle-income countries since 1960, wages go up and quality of life improves as low-skilled manufacturing rises, but countries struggle to then shift to producing higher-value goods and services.

Other countries have sought to balance their concerns about China’s ambitions against the BRI’s potential benefits. As far as opposing blocs are concerned, India diplomatic approach to convince countries that the BRI is a plan to dominate Asia, warning of what some analysts have called a “String of Pearls” geo-economics strategy whereby China creates unsustainable debt burdens for its Indian Ocean neighbors in order to seize control of regional choke points. In particular, New Delhi has long been unsettled by China’s decades-long embrace of its traditional rival, Pakistan. Meanwhile, India has provided its own development assistance to neighbors, most notably Afghanistan, where it has spent $3 billion on infrastructure projects during the US-led government. For reason, the US views India as a counterweight to a China-dominated Asia and has sought to knit together its strategic relationships in the region through the 2017 Indo-Pacific Strategy. Yet, despite US misgivings, India was a founding member of China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and Indian and Chinese leaders have invested in developing closer diplomatic ties. “India China in the multilateral arena for its own reasons. Likewise, Japan also holds an identical strategy, balancing its interest in regional infrastructure development. In the year 2016, Japan committed to spending $110 billion on infrastructure projects throughout Asia. Japan has, with India, also agreed to develop the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), a plan to develop and connect ports from Myanmar to East Africa, thus the BRI also served as a precursor to creating an economic competitive environment, pushing the regional actors of Asia from a security-driven mindset to the era of geo-economics. The horizons of BRI are not confined to Asia as it has extended its roots to Europe. Several states in Central and Eastern Europe have accepted BRI financing, and Western European states such as Italy, Luxembourg, and Portugal have signed provisional agreements to cooperate on BRI projects. All those states agreed to frame cooperation as a way to invite Chinese investment and potentially improve the quality of competitive construction bids from European and US firms respectively.

One of the key configurations of BRI is an alignment of economic goals with Russia. As Russia’s relationship with the West has deteriorated, however, President Vladimir Putin has pledged to link his Eurasian vision with the BRI.

Some experts are skeptical of such an alliance, which they argue would be economically asymmetrical. Russia’s economy and its total trade volume are both roughly one-eighth the size of China’s—a gulf that the BRI could widen in the coming years. Evidently, Moscow has become one of the BRI’s most enthusiastic partners, though it responded to Xi’s announcement at first with reticence, worried that Beijing’s plans would outshine Moscow’s vision for a “Eurasian Economic Union” and impinge on its traditional sphere of influence. China has captured the world’s attention by demonstrating the urgency of boosting infrastructure development and transnational connectivity as the next stage of economic globalization. Other global powers have been forced to respond to China with their own infrastructure and connectivity plans; the demand is high, and China is the first power to try to fill it.

The BRI, however, is not only an initiative; it is a response: for one, to former US President Barack Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’; and to the growing salience of the Indo-Pacific maritime geography as well. In recent years, the Indo-Pacific has become central to the security and foreign policies of countries like the US, Japan, Australia, India, the UK, France, Germany, and the countries of ASEAN. China is working to strengthen global economic links to its western regions, which historically have been neglected. Promoting economic development in the western province of Xinjiang, where the Communist Party of China has waged a brutal campaign of intimidation and violence against the Uighur Muslims, is seen as a priority. So is securing long-term energy supplies from Central Asia and the Middle East. In this regard, nobody would contest the fact that China has risen. Its economic development during the last decades has resulted in a position of influence, not only in regional terms but in world ones. It has consolidated its regional position in Asia, making a space for itself. In this sense, the Belt and Road initiative was launched

Strengthening trade with other countries could prove to be a solution for the overcapacity issue in some economic sectors. Additionally, the BRI would help to transform China’s low-end economic model to a more innovative one in fact a benchmark for the competitive world market structure. Also, the internationalization of the Renminbi and improving energy security are major priorities for the Chinese Government and to an extent, it has managed to capsulate this notion. From the domestic point of view, the BRI seeks to improve the development of some provinces by reducing regional disparities and strengthen nationalism by using the BRI as a way of fighting terrorism. Another kind of motivation, which is the most controversial one, is the expansion of diplomatic and strategic influence. Although the starting point of the BRI is geo-economics, undoubtedly, the project has deep global geopolitical implications. It is not just a mere trade initiative. China is creating a new structure of international organizations, surrounding or with links to the BRI, with its own norms and rules. Some of them are similar to those established by the liberal international order, and others are inspired by the Chinese vision of international order.

China’s influence through the BRI (and through other channels) in neighboring States has increased considerably. For example, the massive purchase of public and private debt from different countries is providing China with a strong influence over their economy. Nevertheless, not only is the established order changing at a regional level, but also at a global one.

China is becoming a rulemaking country instead of a rule-following one, as we can observe from the creation of different international organizations. This is having deep implications for the world in areas as different as private international law, trade, and financial rules, etc.

Regarding the international system, China is following a joint strategy – creating a new international architecture, and reforming the existing one. Now, the debate is about whether China will follow the current liberal international system, despite reshaping some aspects of it, or it will challenge the current global order, creating a new one with Chinese ideas in the center. Nonetheless, the BRI still needs to face several economic and security issues and, of course, needs to face the opposition of other countries in order to succeed. All in all, it is clear that China will influence the world as we know reshaping the International Economic Order.

To conclude, with the revitalization of the ancient Silk Roads, the contours of new world order are unfolding. The BRI marks a turning point in China’s national policy to claim: promote the connectivity of Asian, European, and African continents and their adjacent seas, establish and strengthen partnerships among the countries along the Belt and Road, set up all-dimensional, multi-tiered, and composite connectivity networks, and realize diversified, independent, balanced and sustainable development in these countries.

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About Mushahid Hussain Naqvi 22 Articles
The author is the Digital Editor at The Asian Telegraph and sub-Editor at Melange International Magazine and Research Associate at COPAIR with academic expertise in International Relations.