By A. Vinod Kumar
Beijing hosted officials from over 60 nations, including 28 heads of state, for a gala summit to showcase its grand-strategic initiative—the One Belt, One Road (OBOR). In the wake of this event, there is widespread speculation that this marks China’s increasing global economic and political dominance. In many ways, the beginning of a process to supplant the United States as the global hegemon.
Chinese investments, estimated at more than $100 million, have attained a global financial footprint with most major economies well within its sphere of influence—either through market domination or fiscal assistance or an assortment of many such tools. China’s political power profile has never been in question–as a UN Security Council member and nuclear weapon state from the outset–and the stupendous economic leap since the 1980s driving massive growth in its military capability and strategic profile.
Is China attaining the prowess to compete with the US?
Discourses of the last two decades about global politics centred around China attaining the prowess to compete with the US, and whether the world is heading towards bipolarity or polycentrism—wherein a handful of great powers will form the periphery to a hegemonic core dominated by the US and China. The last few years, however, have seen these debates gravitating towards the imperativeness of China’s global primacy—in absolute terms in some sectors and decisively shaping many others. The calibrated emergence of OBOR symbolises this transformation, fuelling widespread apprehensions and speculation on how the international system is destined to evolve with the rise of an authoritarian Communist nation—one thriving on structures of capitalism and yet unwilling to play the rules of the game that are not of its liking.
OBOR as Chinese imperialism?
Various arguments have been propounded in favour of and against China’s great connectivity initiative that seeks to link its industrial bases with prominent markets in Eurasia through roadways passing through interior Asia and a maritime route that will create a trans-oceanic trading network. Though the ‘Silk Route’ tag has been invoked to portray OBOR as a revival of historic trading routes, the fact is that Beijing not just seeks to harness benefits of global trading networks, but is also using epical memory to showcase its lording over trans-continental hinterlands and their littorals.
It will be Chinese capital predominantly–including its currency, labour, technology and trade practices–determining the character of OBOR, through investments in colossal infrastructure projects that will dot these highways and buttress trade at the numerous maritime hubs. It is surprising that over 60 countries have shown interest to bandwagon or initiate a dialogue on this initiative despite being aware of the coming Chinese overhang over their economies. The OBOR is, thus, an inevitable next step in signalling Chinese omnipresence over two continents that account for nearly 70 % of the global human population, and in the process laying the ground for what will be a modern version of imperialism–a new Eurasian hemisphere dominated by a ‘market-hungry’ Communist nation that could determine its strategic and economic framework.
A haughty dragon on the rise
The key question that emerges at this point is — Can China be trusted to rule the world? Notwithstanding President Xi Jinping’s spirited defense of globalisation, amid a backlash from its erstwhile votaries, China’s international behaviour, however, evokes dismay due to its duplicity, belligerence, and insensitivity. China’s approach to Indian concerns is itself a case in example. Despite its global posturing on terrorism, China had instead shown connivance by repeatedly blocking efforts to blacklist terrorists like Masood Azhar.
In spite of this, China expects India to show diplomatic propriety by joining the OBOR summit despite its own intransigence against India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and rough-shodding the China-Pakistan Economic Partnership (CPEC) corridor through disputed territory with scant respect for India’s concerns. Its constant vitriolic attacks against India apart, the imperious attitudes of the Chinese official media is best reflected when it publicises the launching of China’s first aircraft carrier by ridiculing India’s age-old vessels.
Leave alone its disdain towards inimical neighbours, the comity of nations are at wits end in figuring what it means for the global order when an authoritarian Communist nation helms or dominates its norms and structures. For, a huge contradiction exists in the way China functions – a state that clamps down on human rights and espouses aversion towards the Western liberal democracies and yet seeks gain from laissez-faire and the free world. Further, Beijing refusal to accept international rules and norms, be it on laws of the sea (South China Sea), political dissidents or resolving territorial disputes, to name a few, illustrates the challenges that beckon the comity of nations when China begins to shape and influence global norms and politics.
While flocking to the OBOR initiative, therefore, the great powers have to ensure that Chinese instruments for grand-strategic expansions are not at the expense of global stability.
A. Vinod Kumar is a Delhi-based policy analyst and a first-generation online journalist. He specialises in international politics, while also closely following national political trends.
Featured Image Source: Passels