One Belt One Road

Find the mistake !

The entire world was in Beijing on May 14-15, to attend the « Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation » held there.

29 foreign heads of state and government and their respective delegations, representatives from more than 130 countries, 70 international organizations …

For EU27, the Prime Ministers from Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, the President of the Czech Republic. Germany was represented by its Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, Finland by its Minister of Transport and Communications. For the rest of Europe, the President of Russian Federation, of Switzerland, the Prime Minister of Serbia, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer  …

You found the mistake ? You are right : France was not there …

Another mistake ? Yes you got it : European Commission was not officially invited !

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise dating from the 5th century BC. It was attributed to a Chinese military strategist (and philosopher by the way) : Sun Tzu. The black and white stones of the Go, a game aiming at surrounding more territories than the opponent, obviously inspired him.

The only thing that separates us from Master Sun’s legacy is a gap of a bit more than two millenniums ; otherwise,  his strategic thought transcends time, as it appears clearly in the way China deals on a systematically bilateral basis with this so called “One Belt One Road initiative” (OBOR).

The project is just amazing and underlines China’s push to have a leading role in the world.

Inspired by the medieval Silk Road between Europe and Asia, the idea of the Chinese is to build six major lands and sea routes including railways, roads, ports and other infrastructures. Through two main components, the land-based « Silk Road Economic Belt » (SREB) and the « Maritime Silk Road » (MSR), the project represents 1 trillion USD of investments to connect China and the rest of Eurasia.

Credit : Chatham House

On the website dedicated to the project, and in all its communications, China depicts it in relatively altruistic terms, emphasising the principles of mutual benefits and win-win arrangements.

What is true is that the participating countries will benefit from the project in terms of infrastructures and trade. According to a 2016 paper published by the Brussels based think tank Bruegel, 63 countries (even if vaguely defined) are in the scope of the project, representing 60% of the world’s population, and 30% of global GDP.

The deliberate underinvestment in infrastructures in the developed world since the 80s has allowed China to develop a strong preeminence in civil works and transportation.

And here is the hidden cost : first, China will sell its expertise and lend its money, ultimately acquiring equity and controlling stakes in these projects. The trade routes will give them access to new markets in small countries. At the end of the day, China could, thanks to this initiative, create a vast economic empire in Asia and Africa, meaning eventually a strong Chinese military presence there.

And Europe identified dangerous early indicators : the preference of China to negotiate bilateral arrangements instead of having multilateral discussions, the lack of transparency in decision-making, the preference of Chinese to negotiate directly with national elites in the countries concerned just to mention a few.

On May 5th, a conference titled « European and OBOR » was hosted by the Brussels-based South Asia Democracy Forum. Some Members of European Parliament expressed interesting concern there, over real motives of China.

The Forum of Beijing, last week-end intended to be a high-level platform for implementation of the initiative in the areas of infrastructure, energy and resources, production capacity, trade and investment and identification of major projects. It was also intended to be an opportunity for the signing of cooperation agreements with countries and international organizations to cooperate in the areas of finance, science, technology and environmental protection.

And Europe spoiled the party …

EU state members decided not to support China’s trade statement because a series of concerns they had raised with the Chinese government were not incorporated into the draft text.

The rejected statement related to a trade panel held during the Beijing summit that was attended by representatives of countries including Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Spain. China had hoped that all EU member states, as well as other nations attending the conference, would support the text, one of three prepared to mark the end of the convention on Monday.

A public summary of the EU’s position on the Belt and Road initiative, published in the run-up to the forum, suggested members wanted guarantees that projects would be economically and environmentally sustainable and subject to fair tendering processes.

Sun Tzu, come back ! European are able to have one voice …


Iconography : Detail of a Catalan nautical map representing the Asia of the 13th century with a caravan on the way to Cathay on the silk road crossed by Marco Polo.


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