China's Maritime Silk Road and EU-China Relations

By Jing Men
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, February 9, 2015
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China's grand development strategy – the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road – released by Chinese President Xi Jinping in late 2013, is creative and forward thinking. It will have a great impact on the future development of Chinese economy and its relations with a large number of countries from Asia to Africa and Europe. The New Silk Road Initiatives demonstrate that after decades of adaptation and integration to the international system since the reform policy was taken at the end of 1970s, the Chinese government has become proactive to the changing situation in the world and has developed a comprehensive strategy to deal with the changes, internally and externally, and to strive for a win-win situation in cooperation with the countries involved in this initiative.

In the author's point of view, this strategy is the most ambitious one in China's era of reform. The successful implementation of this grand strategy needs financial, institutional, and policy support not only from China, but also from all the countries along the New Silk Roads. In the coming years, tremendously huge investment, enormous large number of bilateral and multilateral cooperation agreements, and countless number of policies, on top of hundreds of thousands of meetings and exchanges across borders, will be made to facilitate the undertaking of this strategy. The gigantic amount of work involved in this strategy makes it a historical mission for China to take the lead and to closely coordinate and cooperate with the other countries in order to fulfill it.

This paper will, first of all, have a look at the strategy itself, analysing the challenges it needs to face; and then explore its potential impact on EU-China relations. While the strategy is aimed at mutual benefits between China and the other countries, its implementation should take seriously the interests and concerns of the other countries involved.

The analysis of the initiative includes the following points: first, while inspired by the ancient silk roads, this idea of this New Silk Roads is courageous and daring. Originated from as early as Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-220 AD) dynasties in Chinese history, the ancient Silk Roads were mainly economic in nature. In comparison, the New Silk Roads, with governmental financial support from the newly established fund and banks, including the Silk Road Infrastructure Fund, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the New Development Bank (NDB), and The Development Bank of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), will not only stimulate economic cooperation and trade deals, but more importantly, will promote people-to-people contacts, cultural exchanges and ideally mutual understanding. China will need to take into consideration geographical, political, security, economic, social and cultural conditions of each country along the road in pushing connectivity with these countries. This will demand gigantic efforts. Secondly, while the New Silk Roads will help strengthen connectivity between China and the other countries by infrastructure development, institutional building will have a far reaching impact not only in promoting regional and international trade and economic cooperation, but also facilitate rule-building in the international system. It is a learning procedure between all the countries involved, and will no doubt take time for countries involved to understand, accept and digest those new rules. The challenge behind this procedure cannot be underestimated. Thirdly, China is, no doubt, the leader behind this grand initiative. China's influence in those countries along the New Silk Road will further increase along with the growing number of bilateral and multilateral cooperation projects, which will help increase China's influence in regional and international affairs. However, different countries may have different interests. A considerable number of countries are suspicious of China's intention in promoting the New Silk Roads and therefore, how to remove those countries' concerns and convince them of China's open and inclusive cooperation offer is a question which needs to be addressed.

As China is situated in East Asia, its neighbouring countries are the first group which are under the impact of the New Silk Road Initiative, and it seems that the Asian countries are also those which react most actively. The EU has not yet officially reacted to China's new strategy, this may due to the fact that the EU is on the other side of the Eurasia continent, and it takes time for the initiative to be implemented and for European countries to feel the strong impact of the initiative. However, the lack of reaction from the EU side may also indicate the following points: first, the EU has not realised the importance of China's newly developed grand initiative. The EU officials still need to study the initiative and the policy of the New Silk Roads and to understand the impact that it will bring to the EU and EU-China relations. Second, the official dialogues between the EU and China in 2014 did not address the New Silk Roads issue specifically. This may be because China focused more on its neighbouring countries as a starting point in launching some cooperation projects in the past year. Third, although within China there have been quite some seminars and workshops, exploring the New Silk Road Strategy, there have been few such events in the EU and its member states. In other words, there is a low public awareness of China's initiative in the EU.

Nevertheless, as this initiative is being implemented with full strength by Chinese government, its impact will soon be felt near and far, not only in Asia, but also in Europe as well. In view of the author, the following questions need to be studied: first, what is the nature of this initiative? Whether it is beneficial to the European countries or not? Second, how many European countries will be affected by China's new initiative? To which degree? In which way will these countries be affected? Third, what is the role of the EU in dealing with China's new initiative? How close will the EU and China coordinate in implementing economic cooperation and trade deals when EU member states are affected by China's initiative? Fourth, in terms of rule setting, how influential will this China initiative be? To which degree will it help China to set rules in the international economic cooperation?

Author A Professor at College of Europe, Belgium (CEB), Jing Men is the first Chairperson specialized in the study and teaching of the relationship between Europe and China since the founding of CEB in 1949. In 2004, Prof. Men obtained her Ph.D. of politics at Free University of Brussels, Belgium. In 2008, she began to focus on the study of the EU-Chinese relations, a pioneer in this area at the school, by opening courses and establishing EU-China Observer, the first English E-journal. As a renowned scholar, Men has been invited to lecture in several academic organizations and think tanks. Over the last few years, Prof. Men has published many articles and books, including The European Union, the United States and China: Towards a New International Order? and EU-China Green Cooperation.

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