Event: Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order. Chatham House
Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the authors and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.
Dr. Yu Jie: Research Fellow Chatham House, LSE Head of China Foresights
Dr. Bruno Marçães: Minister for Europe (Portugal), Author: Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order
Dr. Farzana Shaikh: Associate Fellow, Asia- Pacific Programme, Chatham House
James Kygne: Emerging Markets Editor, The Financial Times – Panel Chair
‘Run your family in good order, then run the country in good order and then run the world’ – Chinese proverb, translated by Dr. Yu Jie
Potentially a new Chinese world order is on the rise, connecting China globally through the Belt and Road initiative. This question was deliberated upon in a panel discussion at Chatham House.
Dr. Bruno Maçães, author of the book ‘Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order’ draws a vivid picture of a world order under Chinese patronage: formally not too different from the way we know it under the United States, it differs significantly in values. He sees a Chinese dominated world order as a more opaque system with an active and more dominant military, but also as a country ‘in love with technology’. This could lead to a clash with the West due to its increasing suspicion regarding technological advances. In contrast, progress in artificial intelligence or genetic engineering, for example, are developed and embraced with less concern in China. The last big difference Dr. Maçães expects is a step towards a ‘moralized world’, or as James Kygne, who chaired the discussion, termed it a ‘virtue-based order’. A reference perhaps to Confucian ethics that has historically greatly influenced South-East Asian philosophy. A virtue-based Chinese foreign policy might be expected with China using its economic and political pressure against those countries, not in line with their policies or seen as ungrateful of the chance to participate in this initiative. This can already be observed in China’s relation to Pakistan, beneficiary, and flagship country of the Belt and Road initiative.
Is the initiative thus the beginning of a Chinese world order?
The Belt and Road is certainly the biggest cohesive infrastructure project in the world, incorporating over eighty countries and connecting them to China, but there seems to be quite some anxiety, fear of failure, and public criticism surrounding the project. For China, the project is not merely about infrastructure, although Western media often presents it as such. Rather, it is about technologically upgrading the Chinese economy; about creating a bigger market with the potential for more innovation and about controlling and setting standards for technological development. The Belt and Road is about power and control through new technology and industry. Dr. Shaik, associate fellow at Chatham House, gave the following example that may serve as a predictor for future incidents concerning the power that China is able to exert through the Belt and Road project. When Imran Khan, the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, tried to tighten its relationship with Saudi-Arabia by including it in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) without consulting China, the Chinese government was quick to condemn the action. Mr. Kahn faced severe diplomatic backlashes from its closest ally China. It seems as if the Chinese government tried to set an example: It is the Chinese -Pakistan, not the Pakistan-Chinese Economic Corridor. One may wonder, will this be the future of global diplomacy?
It is, nevertheless, important to remain cautious about the prediction of a global Chinese takeover. The project, which is still in its infancy, can potentially buckle under stress from struggles within the Chinese society, as Dr. Yu Jie, research fellow at Chatham House, pointed out. She too gave insight into a possible structure of a Chinese dominated world order. Money, Might and Mind, the three M’s. Money, most obviously, seeks to increase Chinese influence worldwide. The Belt and Road and the dependence it creates surely are conducive to this aim. For Mind, Dr. Yu Jie expects China to forcefully promote its ideology. Within its borders, the country already makes use of nationalism to unite the country and to increase the ties between the population and the party. A pluralistic society, however, could be better prepared to face upcoming challenges. Regarding Might, Xi Jinping’s plan of reforms presented five years ago might have been elaborate and ambitious, but he has not been able to deliver them and has instead turned to an anti-corruption campaign that destabilizes the economy and damages the Party. Global developed China stands in strong contrast to rural China; it remains a society marked by inequalities and poverty.
This ambiguity shows the internal struggles the country still faces and begs the question, is China ready to take over the United States’ current role? Dr. Shaikh names these structural inefficiencies and cautions the audience to read too much into this spectacular but still very new project. Economic uncertainty or a potential economic crash in China (the panelists were certain that it will someday come to this) will most likely lead to social discontent and disruption – a situation China may not be prepared to handle yet. Dr. Marçães worries lie with the failure of the country’s disastrous foreign policies and the ineffectiveness of domestic policies within. He sees the economy embedded in strong structures and expects a quick recovery from the expected economic clash. Nevertheless, he too remains calm in the prospect of Chinese world dominance. Dr. Shaikh recalls Francis Fukuyama’s claim of the ‘End of History’, a declaration that liberal democracies posed the final form of ideological evolution and would prevail over any other system. The claim was made with immense certainty; today, however, merely twenty-five years later, it is evident that it has failed to come true. We might look upon our current fear of a Chinese take over in twenty years in the same way we now look upon Fukuyama’s claim: As an anecdote reminding us that not all predictions come true.
In China first the family must be run in good order, then the country, then the world and while the country might take its first big step towards running the world with the Belt and Road initiative, it cannot do so without order and stability in its domestic policies. And in this regard, China might not quite be done ordering yet.
The talk ‘Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order’ was held at Chatham House. The International Public Policy Review has Chatham House membership. If you are interested in attending such an event, please let us know by contacting us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. The ticket will be free of charge, but we do require a blog submission related to the topic of the event.