The Belt And Road Initiative: Critical Analysis Of The New Silk Road

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With the new Silk Road, otherwise known as the Belt and Road Initiative, there raises the question is this truly good? China is for all intents and purposes an autocratic regime. Meaning that if the Chinese government wanted to introduce their form of government to a newer or struggling state it would not be hard for the massive power to sway that thought. This fear possibly comes from the growing sense of uncertainty China brings as it grows closer to being a world power that could possibly rival the United States, meaning it could especially rival the powers in Europe and Russia at this present moment. That being said, China does not seem to wish to bring any form of autocracy to the countries it would bring its silk road into. One article written by Octavia Bryant and Mark Chou states “nowhere in the Chinese president’s address to the Boao Forum or to the UN General Assembly is any explicit reference made to the promotion of political systems from one country to the next. If anything, Xi goes to some lengths to stress the opposite.” and “when taken at face value, Xi’s comments do not suggest a country intent on spreading its political norms and institutions abroad. They represent the mark of a country wishing to be left alone” which is rather telling in regard to this situation. If China, and the Chinese president Xi Jinping, was truly trying to push their own form of government to become worldwide this would probably come across rather early on. They also would not be pushing for largely western countries, such as Germany, to be join them. Not only that, but between the desired amount of people China foresees being involved in their trade route, Germany trades with China the most at 37% . Furthermore, much like Russia during the Berlin Crisis whilst Nikita Khrushchev was in power, it appears as though China wants to be seen as equal to the western countries. Only instead of trying to start world war three over Berlin, China is suggesting they use their mass wealth as well as their influence to push forward economic growth, trade, and bring cultural comradery.

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One of the more controversial things about the new Silk Road is the fact that the EEU, Eurasian Economic Union, is something that does exist and has been something the Kremlin has been especially passionate about because it would theoretically combine the states that made up the USSR and rival the European Union. Meaning originally, Russia was skeptical about the idea of the Belt and Road Initiative. This seemed as though it would directly rival the EEU which is something that the Kremlin did not want so early on in the birthing of this Union. However, when the Ukraine crisis happened the Russians decided to change their tune. An article posted by the Washington Post states “without the Ukraine, the second-largest post-Soviet economy…Moscow’s hopes to create an integrated bloc that would be on par with the European Union and other centers of global economic power were essentially dashed. Lacking a market of sufficient size to create its own viable geo-economic area, Russia was left with the only option of moving into another nation’s economic orbit.” This is a good indicator of how important the Belt and Road Initiative could be for the growth of other countries because despite the fact that Russia still does belong to the EEU, along with several other former members of the USSR, Russia is still willing to collaborate with China in this effort.

There is still some tension in this situation, as Russia does have plans for the EEU. The important thing is that the Kremlin acknowledges that this Silk Road may aid as well as “promotes its own vision of “a larger Eurasian partnership” or “Greater Eurasia,” a network of existing and emerging “integration formats.”” Since the countries are so close geographically having a close connection that could create looser boarders much like the boarders in the EU could benefit Asian people, Eurasians, and Russians. Similar to the EU, jobs could be given to those in different countries, without need for the plethora of papers that typically follows working in another country; this is especially true for the former soviet states since many can have strict boarders. That being said, issues are already being raised about this situation as “Chinese companies generally prefer using a Chinese workforce as opposed to local laborers, which may offset local job growth creation in host countries.” With this issue it would mean that any construction going on without another country would be giving jobs mainly to Chinese workers over the locals of the country in question. If this were the case it would be a large problem but as of right now it does not seem as though this will be an issue. The development of this new silk road is still very new with bare minimum infrastructure to be seen. This suggests that there will be time for countries to decide what they want for their people. The author also continues on to states “the New Silk Road initiative places emphasis on “hard” infrastructure projects (i.e., construction of roads, railways, and energy pipelines) as well as “soft” …projects such as e-commerce platforms. Trucks, trains, and pipelines carrying cargo and crude are thus to replace caravans of camels laden with silk and amber.” Meaning there is a large amount of job offerings that could and would be offered to various people; both skilled and potentially unskilled.

Lastly, in regard to the Eurasian states the One Belt One Road Initiative brings a lot to the table. Mainly considering the fact that most Eurasian states have an abundance of natural resources, meaning that the new silk road would only optimize their ability to make money. Especially considering many former USSR states may be wary of joining the Eurasian Economic Union after the fall of the Soviet Union affected them so much. They may want to retain as much freedom outside of the power of Russia as they possibly can, and the Chinese seem to be offering just that. An example of what China could offer Eurasian states is in Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan has a large amount of natural resources with the majority being gas. Thus far, Turkmenistan has been a large advocate for the new silk road and is willing to do almost anything to be part of this venture; so much so that they are considered to be “the heart of the Silk Road” where they are building the outlines for much of the infrastructure that will come into place in Eurasia. One article states rather clearly “the Silk Road signifies Turkmenistan’s approach to globalization and has the potential to reshape global trade. It is a growth oriented mega project. This is particularly important for less economically developed countries as well as double land lock countries like most of the CIS this new initiative allowed Turkmenistan to break its reliance on Russia and trade more freely.” This further concludes that this new trade route could allow countries to stand more on their own than they could have beforehand. These countries can earn money without truly relying on big countries that with take advantage of them.

That being said, of course that is only the case if China does what it says it will do. There is speculation that this may just be the direction in which China takes to further expand its territory and further dig itself into the position of new world superpower. If a Eurasian state was wary about their reliance on Russia, there is a chance that China would not be any different. For example, an article written by Simon Shen states, “in Central Asian countries although learning Chinese language has become a fashion, Central Asian countries are wary of China’s growing influence.” This influence would be very similar to the influence that Russia has on their republics and the countries that still heavily rely on Russia for sustenance. Moving from being under Russia’s thumb to being under China’s may not result in being the best situation either, and these states may be better off staying with Russia as they do offer some incentives as to why they would want to continue being a Russian republic or region. Furthermore, there is a rumor that China may just want to expand their own territory in a way that would be similar to the USSR in a way. The fast way to do this would be to offer a seemingly harmless silk road that is reminiscent of one that is historically significant to cultures spanning across Europe, Africa, and Asia. The historical silk route was a point in time where historians can pinpoint where certain countries merged culturally, and where the spread of knowledge was born. Having a positive connection to the connotation already may simply be a mirage in order for the Chinese to get weaker states in line and dependent enough that when China wants to take over, they simply can and there is very little that the smaller, now dependent states, can do.

16 August 2021

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