China’s Arctic ambitions, settling disputes on the Silk Road, and the Singapore solution to Brexit woes.
In a clear sign of the Belt and Road’s expansion, China invited Latin America to take part in its project this January. Shortly thereafter, China’s State Council Information Office (国务院新闻办公室) also released a white paper displaying its ambitions in the Arctic region (link in English and Chinese).
Calling itself a ‘near-Arctic state’ (近北极国家), China called for international cooperation on developing the Arctic shipping routes. In the policy document, the country says it is to deepen the exploration and exploitation of the region, to commit itself to protecting the Arctic’s eco-system and to participate in governance and international cooperation.
During a meeting of the Leading Small Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms (中央全面深化改革领导小组), a series of suggestions were passed aimed at strengthening China’s global influence. Most importantly, the idea of setting up a dispute settlement mechanism was proposed for the Chinese initiative (一带一路争端解决机制和机构). The meeting emphasised (own translation):
In establishing a dispute settlement system for the Belt and Road, we ought to adhere to the joint principles of business, building and sharing. We also ought to rely on the country’s existing judicial, arbitration and mediation mechanisms and institutions. At the same time, we ought to integrate the domestic and international legal provisions and establish a pluralistic dispute settlement mechanism that effectively combines litigation, mediation and arbitration. We ought to resolve trade and investment disputes related to the Belt and Road within the legal framework, as to protect the legal rights of all parties involved and to create a business environment that is stable, fair, transparent and according to the law.
The above statement may remind us of an article published by Foreign Affairs. Here, the author criticises the Belt and Road’s governance deficit as the “lack of institutions that ensure transparency, accountability and meaningful public participation in both China and host countries.”
While the world was awaiting the American president’s speech at the World Economic Forum at Davos 2018, the Chinese president was notably absent at the Alpine resort. Previously, in 2017, a year fraught with uncertainty, Xi Jinping had been proclaimed a “true champion of economic globalization” and “a rock of stability”.
This year, it was Liu He (刘鹤) who took the stage. As the director of China’s Leading Small Group for Financial and Economic Affairs (中央财经领导小组), Mr Liu is described as the mastermind behind China’s economic and financial transformation. It thus came as no surprise that Mr Liu emphasized China’s commitment to reform during his address to the WEF.
In 2017, the Chinese president touted the idea of a ‘community of shared future’ (人类命运共同体), China’s vision of world order. Interestingly enough, this concept was very visible in the Chinese headlines this week. The People’s Daily on 27th January for example stated: “A Community of Shared Future – China’s Plan Surges Across The World (人类命运共同体 – 中国方案激荡世界).”
At the top of my reading list is Bruno Maçães’s new book The Dawn of Eurasia. In a conversation with Channel 4 News, Mr Maçães talked about the need for Europe, China and Russia “to negotiate a way of living” on the Eurasian continent. An interesting ‘after Brexit’ role is reserved for Britain in which the country could figure as a hinge between Europe and Asia: a Singapore of the West.
In an interview with the China Daily, Britain’s former prime minister Tony Blair praised China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Calling out the “hopelessly bureaucratic” institutions in the West, Mr Blair stated that China’s rise was the “single biggest geopolitical change of the 21st century” and that it is “vital for the West to engage with China.” At the same time, Mr Blair called on Britain to hold a second referendum as he doubts that the trade relationship between Britain and China would be better outside of the EU.
Meanwhile, Britain’s current prime minister Theresa May will visit China from 31st January to 2nd February hoping to strike a new deal for the country after Brexit. The visit, however, comes amid disagreements about Chinese investments abroad.