Building the New Silk Road. China's Belt and Road Initiative in Context
The International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) has recently started a new project of interdisciplinary research aimed at the study of the Belt and Road Initiative of the Chinese government, with special attention to the impact of the ‘New Silk Road’ on countries, regions and peoples outside of China.
The project will be in line with the IIAS inclusive, experimental approach to Asian Studies, seeking cooperation not only with international partners from the Social Sciences and Humanities but also with practitioners on the ground (municipalities, local stakeholders, NGO’s, artists and cultural actors, community organisations, businesses, trade unions, etc.). The programme moreover plans to establish formal links with research institutes in China to encourage the widest exchange of information and opinions.
It will also create a ‘news page’ for the notification of seminars, workshops and conferences. In addition, the project intends to launch a business/academic alliance for sharing up-to-date expertise and insights, and to enhance the effectiveness of policy advice.
To help promote advanced teaching on the subject IIAS will host an ‘electronic library’ of online resources that can be used as teaching materials and as starting points for student essays and theses.
The project will be directed by Professor Richard Griffiths, affiliated fellow at IIAS. To signal your interest in joining this project, please use our contact form.
Since President Xi Jinping’s speech in September 2013 announcing China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative (BRI), it has scarcely been out of the news. It has also attracted analysis and commentary from academics and think-tanks throughout the world. In China, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive, rarely straying far from official policy pronouncements. In the West, opinion has been mixed. Most security analysts frame the analysis in terms of ‘China’s rise’ and the threat that it poses to US military hegemony and to the established international order in general. Most economists have been cautionary, highlighting the perceived risks in some countries of over-borrowing.
In almost every case, September 2013 is the starting point for analysis, as though China’s BRI is the only event of any relevance. China’s BRI differs from its earlier ‘go global’ policy, whereby Chinese firms were encouraged to seek investment opportunities abroad, through its focus on connectivity and infrastructure, and through its restricted geographical definition. China has defined the Belt and Road as involving 64 countries with 40% of the world’s population and 20% of world trade. That area includes the entire land mass between China and Central-Eastern Europe and within it, China intends to build roads and railways, ports and power stations and to expedite the movement of goods across frontiers. Of course, much of that infrastructure and much of that trade serves China’s interest. As the world’s second largest economy and second largest trader, it would be surprising if it didn’t. And that is China’s ‘belt and road’.
Nobody ‘owned’ the ancient silk roads and nobody ‘owns’ the new silk road of the 21st century. The trucks journey on existing roads, the trains run along existing lines, the container ships that plough the oceans already exist, and businesses fill them and the transport industry makes it all work. Of course, it can all work better by building better highways, by electrifying railways and by improving the flow through borders controls.
Moreover, it is not as though these countries don’t need infrastructure. Recently the Asian Development Bank calculated that Asia requires $1.5 trillion a year in infrastructural investment if it is to sustain a viable development trajectory. At present, it is only capable of financing half of that sum itself. China’s help is needed, but it is not enough. Indeed President Xi has exhorted other countries to join in building the ‘belt and road’. He did not need to do this. They are already there. For example, international development banks are financing highway construction and railway electrification projects across Central Asia and the Caucasus. The European Union is pouring billions into improving the transport infrastructure of new member states and the western Balkans. Japanese firms hold contracts for the construction of High-Speed railways in India and Thailand as well as for the modernisation of the harbour in Jakarta. By leaving all of this out of the story and concentrating solely on China, we are creating our own nightmare. Add a twist of wicked intention to the mixture, and it is little wonder that we have trouble sleeping.
The IIAS is creating a new pillar devoted to interdisciplinary research on the topic of the new silk road, linking the perspective social scientists and historians to the political science and economist approaches that characterises much of the contemporary analysis. In line with IIAS’ inclusive, experimental approach, the IIAS New Silk Road initiative seeks to develop a de-centralised, trans-sectoral network of local partners, able not only to work within the Social Sciences and Humanities, but also with practitioners on the ground (municipalities, local stakeholders, NGOs, artists and cultural actors, community organisations, businesses, trade unions, etc.). Moreover, and whenever possible, the projects within this initiative will engage with existing IIAS programmes under the Institute’s three thematic clusters: urban, global and heritage studies. Partners involved in network platforms, such as the Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA), the European Alliance for Asian Studies, the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) and the ‘Africa-Asia, A New Axis of Knowledge’ and Cultural Heritage Studies platforms, will also be mobilised.
Richard Griffiths, Programme Coordinator.
Version 3.0 May 2019
This is the latest version of an electronic library of resources on the BRI. It is intended to offer support to teachers and students studying the BRI as part of their undergraduate education and to act as a springboard to individual projects. It defines the BRI countries as those listed in the original scheme by the National Development and Reform Commission (i.e. everything from mainland Asia to Central and Eastern Europe but, excepting Egypt, excluding Africa). Any suggestions will be welcome. Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The IIAS ‘New Silk Road’ project has over 700 researchers wanting to engage in collaborative teaching and research. The project help facilitate making new connections. To join, please sign up here: https://iias.asia/research/newsilkroad-contact
Key Steps in China’s Policy
09/2013 Xi Jinping Speech at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan launching Silk Road. Summary by MFA of PRC. Also whole speech in Video
10/2013 Xi Jinping Speech to Indonesian parliament launching maritime silk road. Summary by Asean-China Centre. Also whole speech in Video
05/2014 Xi Jinping in Shanghai launching the ‘Asian dream’. Summary by MFA of PRC
NEW 03/2017 Steadily Promote Cooperation among South China Sea Coastal States. Speech by Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin at the session on the South China Sea of the Bo’ao Forum for Asia Annual Meeting, 25.3.2017 Boao, Hainan
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NEW 4/2019 Full text of Report on progress, contributions and prospects of the Belt and Road Initiative, 22.4.2019.
NEW 4/2019 Xi Jinping’s Speech at Second Belt and Road Forum 26.4.2019
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Official Chinese government Belt and Road Portal with daily updates of ‘top news’
The China Chronicles. Weekly in-depth reviews of China’s policies are archived here.
Dezan Shira and Associates Silk Road Briefing produces a regular stream of interesting insights
ECNS (English China News Service) has archived its BRI stories since March 2018 at its portal Five Years On: Belt & Road Initiative
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