Silk Road Diplomacy

Silk Road refers to the ancient trade and cultural routes between China and Central and South Asia, Europe and the Middle East that were created during the Han Dynasty, which prevailed between circa 200 BC and 200 AD.

Ever since March 2013, when Xi Jinping became the Chinese president, he has made the construction of new silk roads a priority for China’s foreign policy. “One Belt and One Road” is the simple catchphrase about that policy.

  • Here, One belt refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt, a network of overland corridors being developed by China under its “Go West” Policy. In essence, the belt is all about economic connectivity, which proposes that China and its neighbors should build a transportation corridor from the Pacific to the Baltic Sea and gradually develop an overland network that connects East Asia, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. This is also called New Silk Road plan.
  • “One road” refers to the “21st century maritime silk road”. This connects China’s coastline with Southeast Asia, the subcontinent, the Gulf and the east coast of Africa. One Road proposal is intended to build hard and soft maritime infrastructure throughout the Indo-Pacific, including new ports and special economic zones around them. In doing so, China is willing to support littoral members to improve customs coordination, expand e-commerce and develop the necessary institutions. Recently, China also announced a fund of $500 million to promote the maritime Silk Road in Southeast Asia.

Go West / New Silk Road economic belt

The so called New Silk Road diplomacy refers to the efforts of China in recent times to enhance economic and strategic cooperation with the countries in Central, South-East and South Asia. Most of the compulsions behind these are China’s domestic as well as foreign policy rationales. These include:

  • Preserve stability on its borders, particularly western border
  • Secure overseas markets for its exports
  • Secure economic resources and energy supplies from abroad, particularly Central Asia.
  • Develop transport routes both inland. Also sea lines via the newfangled Maritime Silk Road
  • Bridge the development gap between east and west china
  • Counter US Pivot to Asia Pacific and Russia’s efforts to revive its influence in Post-Soviet era. China strives for greater position in the region as a counterbalance to US as well as Russia.
  • China’s acrimonious disputes in South East Asia particularly the South China Sea
  • China’s not so comfortable relations with India

The basic premise is that each of the above goals can be achieved through improved relations with China’s western and southern neighbors. Due to this, it is also called a part of China’s so called “Go West” policy. The Go West policy is a broader term which includes Silk Road economic belt, the Maritime Silk Road, and the China-India-Myanmar-Bangladesh economic corridor. Each of them is westward and southwestward and focuses on relations with the countries in these two sides.

The New Silk Road concept involves creation of 21st Century Silk Road Economic Belt to create stronger economic relations with Central Asian Countries.

Maritime Silk Road

The newfangled Maritime Silk Road is perceived to be an attempt to improve relations with South and Southeast Asia with emphasis on maritime trade security. The maritime activity of China is also based on two primary concerns viz. Economic Resources and Strategic Access.

  • In the past, China was largely capable of meeting its own needs and sustaining its economy domestically, or via land routes.
  • However, situation has changed now. The significant boom in the Chinese economy has made it much dependent on overseas than before. The large shift in Chinese manufacturing as well as consumption has created a heavy dependence on shipping. Like any country dependent on maritime supply lines, China seeks to secure those routes; from regional competitors, non-state actors or any major maritime power.

Further, the MSR emphasizes on improving connectivity but it is also a tool to realize the China Dream and improve China’s geo-strategic position in the world. China is already taking decisive steps to improve its overall geopolitical position by developing extensive transport networks, building roads, railways, ports, and energy corridors through such initiatives.

Land Based Silk Road

The land-based Silk Road is expected to start at Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, located in northwest China, eventually heading southwest across Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Maritime Silk Road

The Maritime Silk Road is planned to start near Guangdong on the South China Sea and move to the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean. From there it will traverse the Horn of Africa, heading into the Red Sea and Mediterranean.

 Strategic Objectives of MSR

The MSR is also expected to help China in attaining its strategic objectives such as

  • Showcasing maritime power as naval powers are resilient and have more visibility
  • Supporting friendly countries
  • Neutralizing similar activities by other / rival naval powers.

Thus, the proposed MSR has clear strategic objectives.

Silk Road Fund

On 8th November 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping committed $40 billion for 21st Century Silk Road Economic Belt. This Silk Road Fund is to be open for investors from Asia and beyond to actively take part in the project.

The idea of re-establishment of maritime Silk Road was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. The main aim is China is to gain easier access to global markets. The plan incorporates both a land route and a sea route.

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