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Professor Shi Ze : A look at a new concept and the remarkable practice of China’s development through the “One Belt, One Road”

Prof. Shi Ze

Senior Research Fellow and Director of International Strategic Studies on Energy at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), a think tank of the Foreign Ministry, Beijing


First, I would like to congratulate the organizers of this conference. I would also like to thank the Schiller Institute for inviting Chinese representatives. The development of the BRICS is attracting more and more attention, and that especially since the economic crisis hit. I think that can be seen in two ways.

First, the role of the BRICS on the economic, social and political levels is growing. On the other hand, the development relations between the BRICS countries and developed countries is decreasing. And we see that with Brazil, India, Russia and even China. That means that the relation between the BRICS and developed countries is getting weaker. That is an issue to reflect upon.

We now have a big chance, especially economically, and that is financial support. The conditions are increasingly favorable. Compared to a few years ago, we have a growing capacity for investment.

China, as a developing country, and as a member of the BRICS, can play a very important role in fostering the development of other countries. So can India and Russia. Their role in the development of the BRICS continues to grow.

The upcoming summit of the BRICS in Ufa, Russia, will be a crucial moment for their development. We are expecting new measures, in particular, on the economic front, and in investments, culture and cooperation among youth. Personally, I am very much looking forward to the next BRICS summit.

My speech today is concerned mainly with China, and with the “One Road, One Belt” plan. This is a new idea. It’s a new thought. That is the contents of my presentation.

I have presented it in three points. First, why we launched this project of “One Road, One Belt”. After launching this project on March 26 of this year, on the Island of Hainan, our leaders published a dossier titled Perspective and Action on One Road, One Belt.

This is not only a new thought, it is also a real, palpable program. And it corresponds to the current situation. It is beneficial for the countries that participate in the project and for the countries bordering them.

Internationally, the project has attracted a lot of attention. Certain media and personalities believe that is only important for the development of China both socially and economically. That is true, but they fail to notice that it is extremely important for the world as well, and in particular for the Eurasian continent.

First part

When introducing the magnificent concept of the “One Belt One Road”‘, Chinese leaders already drew the attention of the international community.

The majority of the international community reacted very positively. But certain observers saw in this concept of One Belt, One Road the strategic importance of China’s economic and social development, and its diplomacy.

It appeared that China was only proposing this idea of “One Belt, One Road” in the perspective of its own development, and not as an important occasion and potential to bring growth and development to all the regions of the zone, and even worldwide.

Whoever thinks that the project of “One Belt, One Road” is only meant for the development of China, is misinterpreting the deep meaning of its strategic objective.

Many foreign media interpreted this concept as a “Marshall plan’’ in a Chinese version and a challenge to the international order of the US”. This is an even more biased interpretation.

So why did China propose this ambitious concept of “One Belt, One Road”?

First of all, I would like to analyze, starting from the standpoint of a balanced development, why China’s promotion of the “One Belt, One Road” is able to promote joint development of the countries along the road?

Concerning how to define a balanced development of the countries along the route, three different levels can be distinguished:

First, in light of the level of development of inland China, the project contributes to a balanced development between western and eastern China, because there is now an imbalance in the development of the east and the west.

As for China’s topography, everyone knows that the west is high and the east is low, the west is a plateau and the east is a plain.

However, in terms of economic development, it’s just the opposite. The east is on top and the west on the bottom. That is to say that in the east, including in the coastal region, economic development is stronger, while in the west, it is weaker. Economic development in the mountains and in the countryside is relatively backward.

You might say that it is the opposite of the topography.

According to the data recently published by the National Statistics Office, the GDP of China is 6,800 US dollars per inhabitant. While the GDP per inhabitant of the Xinjiang autonomous region on the western border is 6,200 US dollars, the GDP in the Delta of the Pearl River has been greater than 10.000 US dollars for several years now and in certain zones, it is close to 20.000 dollars. That is an enormous difference.

The second level concerns the unbalanced development between China and the countries to the east and to the west of its periphery.

In 2014, the volume of our trade with Japan reached 310 billion US dollars ; with the ASEAN countries, the volume was 480 billions US dollars ; and with South Korea, it reached 290 billion.

If you add up all three, Japan, South Korea and the ASEAN countries, the total trade volume was 1 trillion US dollars. On the other hand, what is the situation of imports and exports with the West?

In 2014, the trade volume between China and the five Central Asian countries was about 40 billion US dollars; with India, about 70 billion US dollars, and trade with Russia was not greater than 100 billion dollars.

The Russian Federation and India are among the biggest countries in the world. Together with Central Asia, the total trade between China and these countries was not even greater than the amount of trade between China and South Korea, which amounted to 240 billion US dollars. That is why we launched the concept of “One Belt, One Road”, a strategic vision oriented toward the west of China and toward the great Eurasian region, so that the development of these regions to the west could become as dynamic as in the eastern regions.

We know that the west of China is rich in resources. The region concentrates a wealth of resources. And the neighbors of the western region of China just as the Central Asian countries, Russia and those of western Asia are rich in resources, for example, in oil, natural gas and non ferrous metals. These are the countries in the world with many reserves.

Currently, China’s sustainable development is faced with a bottleneck, which is the lack of resources. Oil imports last year were 310 millions tonnes. 310 millions tons is a very large figure. It represents 58% to 59% of the total consumption of our country, nearly 60%. So it is obvious that China is dependent on foreign countries for its energy.

Therefore, China needs to cooperate for energy and resources with the countries along the road, not only to improve and develop their economies but also for the sustainable development needs of China itself.

Cooperation in energy and resources is not only in the interest of the development of the countries along the road, but is also advantageous for the development of China. The purpose is to serve the interests of the two parties.

The third level is to contribute to the development of all of the Eurasian continent. This will allow creation of a new locomotive of world-wide economic growth.

The Eurasian continent is a vast territory. The eastern part is the Asia-Pacific economic center, which has a flourishing economy. Western Europe,adjacent to Eurasia, is a prosperous economic space.

In contrast, the vast central zone is developing slowly, far behind the two extremities of the continent. The image of this situation is that of a barbell. Big at two extremities, with a narrow strip for the part in between. But it is contains many seeds and offers an enormous potential.

In other words, the two extremities of Eurasia experience rapid development and the central regions have lagged behind for a long time now.

If development of “One Belt, One Road” makes headway, it can build an immense new economic zone, in terms of population, total economy and development potential. None of the current two economic zones can be compared to this zone, which can create a structure which favors the development of all of Eurasia, going through the east, the center and the west of the region.

Acceleration of the development of the Eurasian continent will be an important locomotive for growth of the world economy. It will play an important role in balancing development, to stimulate the world economy.

Second part

China proposed this idea in circumstances in which it faces a great challenge, which greatly stimulated its inspiration and its creativity. The starting point is the development of China and, at the same time, the promotion of development and progress in the world as a whole.

What does the “One Belt, One Road” project bring to the world? In my opinion, there are the following points:

First, it will continue to promote the process of globalization. Over the past decades, the impetus of globalization accelerated the rapid integration of politics, the economy and culture.

The rapid development of globalization changed the political structure of the world economy. The role of states and of emerging economies in particular must not be ignored in the world economy.

Nevertheless, the financial crisis which began in the United States raised doubts in many countries. They no longer see in globalization just a plus for their own development, but also a source of many problems.

Some countries have even begun reflecting on the advantages and disadvantages of globalization. Ideas and actions have even been raised against globalization. Problems are perceptible with regard to trade issues, where the developed countries toughened the trade standards for the emerging economies. Some even waved the banner of protectionism during the multilateral trade negotiations of the WTO.

Likewise, a new phenomenon in the world economy is the decoupling and the tendency to differentiate between emerging countries and developed countries. Economic growth in developed countries no longer reaches the level it used to have in the past, when it pulled along the growth of the emerging economies.

In that context, Président XI Jinping proposed the “One Belt, One Road” project to promote globalization. He stressed that China, under the impact of globalization, was not seeking self-preservation, but wanted ties to be forged among countries with their history and their culture.

“One Belt, One Road”, by bringing together over 60 countries and substantially strengthening the bases of communication as well as economic and trade cooperation among them, will give a powerful thrust to globalization.

Secondly, it concerns the creation of new locomotives for world economic growth. Europe is an example in this respect.

For hundreds of years, Europe was at war. Twice, Europe caused world wars which had a devastating effect on it. After the idea of the European Union, visionary European statesmen proposed a plan for creation of the euro and the Eurozone.

The birth of the euro in 1999 was a major event in the political and economic world.

Launching the euro allowed for stabilizing prices, accelerating the flow of capital and promoting economic development in the Eurozone.

Since the euro was adopted in international trade, companies no longer have to handle ten currencies, but only one, which makes it possible to greatly reduce fluctuations in the cost of transactions and exchange rates. The euro contributed greatly to the development of international trade.

It brought many advantages to the Eurozone countries. And a stable, prosperous Europe is vital for maintaining peace in the world.

At one of the extremities of the “One Belt, One Road” is the Asia-Pacific economic circle, at the other is the developed European economic space and in between, are countries with rich seeds, all of which has a tremendous potential.

If development of “One Belt, One Road” progresses, it can build an immense new economic zone, in terms of population, total economy and development potential. None of the current two economic zones can be compared to this economic zone. It will be an important locomotive of worldwide economic growth.

“One Belt, One Road” will contribute rapid growth to the construction of the world economy, as development is the solution of the problem of poverty. It is only sustainable development which will be the most efficient means to solve, finally, the problem of poverty and improve the living standards of the population.

Thirdly, it will release the positive energy of different civilizations and develop tolerance. All along the route of “One Belt, One Road”, given the complexity of the religions of each ethnic group, we have to maintain open-mindedness and tolerance conducive to resolving the above-mentioned problems.

Chinese culture is characterized by great tolerance. The influence of culture is fundamental. The tolerance of Chinese culture has been crucial in the logic of China’s action in the international community.

Chinese culture as inspired by « Confucius » requires “cultivating oneself and then helping others”. That means we should first do good for ourselves and then we are capable of interacting with others. The influence of Chinese political philosophy and culture is the principal and fundamental key of China: reflection inward and tolerance outwards.

This philosophy is very different from others in the world, in particular from western philosophy. Cultures on the world scale are different, but there is no difference in determining good from evil. The diversity in cultures only underlines the richness of humanity. The building of “One Belt, One Road” means learning from each other, practicing mutual tolerance and not pursuing a path toward conflict. These are the products and the capabilities which China hopes to contribute to the world.

Fourthly: help strengthen peace and security in the world. The experience of Europe and other countries shows that close cooperation of economic policies brings lasting peace and security.

The interests of the countries along the “One Belt, One Road” are intricate and complex. The terrain of traditional and non traditional security threats is very serious and it is a fundamental consideration for implementation of the “One Belt, One Road” project.

Setting up a sustainable regional security mechanism is indispensable for building “One Belt, One Road”. But the most urgent is the development of close economic cooperation among the countries along the Belt.

Economic integration in itself is an important basis for maintaining security.

President XI Jinping proposed a new security concept during the meeting of the CICA (Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building in Asia), underlining the need for common security, collaborative security, collective security and sustainable security. This concept could become an important consensus in the launching of the “One Belt, One Road”.

“One Belt and One Road” cannot be built without a common, collaborative, collective and sustainable security mechanism; it cannot be built without taking consideration to the security concerns of the major powers, and it must provide security along the sea and land corridors of the Belt and Road to protect the production, contributing by this to the future security of the entire world .

Third Part

What are the innovations in the “One Belt, One Road” proposed by China?

First, it differs, in terms of diplomatic philosophy, from the policy introduced at the beginning of the reform and opening, namely the notion of “borrowing external resources” in the service of economic reconstruction, but it also show that the vision of China’s strategy is not narrow nationalism, as some media claim, but has become a form of cosmopolitan thinking.

It is a combination of the development and the capabilities achieved with the reform and opening up to the international system for the past 30 years, and transmitting this back into the outside world, shaping thus a cycle of interactive two-directional development.

This shows that China has really begun to construct a kind of system of “justice and benefit’’ contributing to the common development of all the countries of the world, including neighbor countries, to share the dividends of China’s development.

This practice will become a plus in the interest of these countries. Because it means that China, which is continuing to develop, wants to actively build an international perspective on the basis of the rules in forces. It is also in this way that China and outside countries will end up in a kind of polymerization reaction, via the “economic zone of the silk road”.

Secondly, during the construction of the “One Belt, One Road”, China has made the political commitment to continue pursuing openness, equality and sharing. China’s main concern is to form a kind of cultural cooperation with the countries located along the region in spite of the large differences in terms of politics, ideologies and economic models.

One could say it is a distillation of the “Shanghai spirit”, which encompasses “mutual confidence, mutual advantage, equality, consultation, respect of cultural diversity and the search for joint development”.

It is the reflection of the new geopolitical and geo-economical reality of Eurasia in the post Cold War period. Its objective is to build and concretize lasting peace in the region, to provide a dynamic mechanism for harmonious development and common prosperity.

That means that all parties are called upon to participate in the cooperation among the stakeholders and to maintain partnership relations, and that any overly egoistical behavior, even if it is not aggressive, will affect the enthusiasm of the partners in cooperation.

In this framework, China’s orientation with other countries through a process of mutual cooperation in interests and policy, could stimulate the possibilities of cooperation.

Thirdly, when the obligations and responsibility of China in regional affairs is underscored, that does not mean that China would like to try and dominate them, or even monopolize them, and transforming it into some kind of geopolitical projects.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also underscored, in his last trip to Central Asia last year, that the essential rule is that China “does not seek hegemony in regional affairs, nor does it seek to manage a sphere of influence”.

Although this initiative is focused on ideas for building cooperation among certain countries in the region, China also wishes to maintain coordination mechanisms with other regions and on the international level.

China’s initiative to enhance the development of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Community, in particular the signing by Chinese and Russia leaders in May of this year of the Joint Declaration of the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “Eurasian Economic Union” is proof of the rapprochement underway.

The initiative of “The Silk Road Economic Belt” is certainly not an absolutely reciprocally beneficial exchange mechanism..

Rather it expresses China’s wish to provide the basis of its capabilities and other factors more public goods. It wants to share joint development opportunities with the countries located along the region, promoting mutual development and then to propose a community of interest along the Belt and to preserve and to promote the existence and continued development of that community of interest.