In Beijing, the administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping has held its first-ever international cooperation conference under the theme of its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, by which it seeks to establish a huge economic bloc.
This scheme was proposed by Xi in the autumn of 2013. The initiative aims to link Asia to Europe by reviving the ancient trade routes of the overland Silk Road and maritime Silk Road as a central pillar of the plan, thereby improving infrastructure in countries along these routes and vitalizing regional trade.
The conference was attended by a total of 1,500 people from more than 130 nations. Twenty-nine countries, including Russia, Italy and the Philippines, sent top leaders to attend the meeting.
This autumn, Xi will hold a quinquennial congress of the Chinese Communist Party. He is believed to have a desire to help reinforce his own authority by successfully holding the “One Belt, One Road” conference, which he regards as his country’s greatest diplomatic event.
In an address at the forum’s opening ceremony, Xi said his nation would “foster a new type of international relations” based on mutual cooperation, coexistence and co-prosperity, thereby attempting to place a check on the existing order that is centered on the United States. He unveiled a plan to extend about 1.64 trillion yuan ($238 billion) in additional contributions to the Silk Road Fund, which would cover funding for such schemes as infrastructure investment.
Xi also said it will be necessary to “uphold the multilateral trading regime and advance the building of free trade areas.”
Does he want to describe himself as the “locomotive of the world economy,” bearing in mind the fact that the administration of US President Donald Trump has withdrawn his country from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact?
China restricts foreign corporations’ activities at home. It exports large amounts of low-priced steel products produced in excess. China’s assertion that it will lead free trade in place of the United States is not persuasive.
Regarding infrastructure-related undertakings, there have been delays in a conspicuous number of projects conducted by China due to its high-handed methods and overoptimistic prospects, despite calling for coexistence and co-prosperity. This can be symbolized by the current situation facing Indonesia’s high-speed railway construction plans.
The problem is that the maritime Silk Road scheme is inseparably linked to China’s efforts to secure footholds for its navy through harbor improvement projects.
Progress is being made in large-scale investments in harbors and other places in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, both situated in areas around the Indian Ocean. Although China emphasizes the economic benefits to be yielded there, there is no doubt that the harbor improvement projects are supporting China’s hegemonic maritime advances aimed at excluding the United States from the region.
In Djibouti in northeastern Africa, a naval supply base construction project is under way. This could arouse anxiety among such nearby nations as India, combined with China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, where its attempt to turn the islands into military bases is nearing completion. If the Xi administration continues with its forceful moves, the prospect of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative materializing will be uncertain.
Japan sent such figures as Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, to the latest conference. It is important to carefully determine whether his visit will contribute to the Asian region’s stability and development, not to mention the Japan-China relationship.