Highlights 17th February

Trouble in paradise, higher education with Chinese characteristics, and new hurdles for the Belt and Road

Police in the Maldives detain a protester during the crisis that erupted this month
(Mohamed Sharuhaan/Associated Press)

Academic exposure: A Chinese Century in Higher Education?

Just like the old Silk Roads , the modern version will act as a conduit for cultural diffussion. Going beyond the infrastructure side of the Belt and Road, Marijk van der Wende recently argued that we ought to consider the impact on higher education.  The main question is how China will contribute to higher education as a global good.

Van der Wende said now is the time to look at China’s rise in global higher education and research and development, how China’s values impact on higher education, whether we even understand those values and how this will affect both the dominant role of the US in the global higher education sector and increasing cooperation in higher education and research with Europe.

Interestingly, the Utrecht Centre for Global Challenges (uGlobe) at Utrecht University has created a research project focused on “China’s rise in global higher education and research and development.” In March 2018, uGlobe will hold a start seminar to launch the platform.

Marijk van der Wende is professor of higher education at Utrecht University’s faculty of law, economics and governance in the Netherlands.

Expert view: The Backlash to Belt and Road

This article discusses the growing backlash against the Chinese global project. Hailed as a ground-breaking project some five years ago, the Belt and Road (BRI) aims at building new markets, integrating regions and stabilizing the Chinese periphery. No other region than South Asia, having “all the right ingredients for the Chinese economic power,” would make a better target.

Instead, as the author argues, the region has become the “main battleground” for the project. Here, the relationship between China and India stands in stark contrast to the one with Russia. Having made no similar concessions to India, the relationship has even worsened. Most importantly, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, with its “corridor terminology and ambitious claims about future railways and pipelines,” has fueled Indian anxieties over Sino-Pakistan relations.

China’s ambitions in other countries are bound to encounter deeper scrutiny as well. As the author states, “countries from Nepal to the Maldives face economic choices that have become highly politicized.”

As a result, Chinese investment has “fused and reinforced existing divisions.” The author proposes three potential scenarios going from more transparency in the implementation of the BRI and a Sino-Indian informal agreement, to growing zero-sum competition. As such, South Asia showcases the barriers that Beijing will increasingly face in the future.

Andrew Small is a Senior Transatlantic Fellow with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the author of The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics.

Biggest news: Maldives Crisis Could Stir Trouble between China and India

As mentioned above, the fault lines of the Belt and Road are becoming increasingly clear in South Asia. This argument was demonstrated when crisis broke out in the Maldives in early February. After the Maldivian Supreme Court ordered the release of several high-profile prisoners, protests prompted the declaration of the state of emergence by president Abdulla Yameen. As the articles argues:

Mr. Yameen, who this month declared a state of emergency and rounded up Supreme Court judges and opposition leaders, has cozied up to China. He has invited heavy investment into the Maldives as part of Beijing’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” initiative, the infrastructure program reviving land and sea trading routes that China is using to spread its influence around the globe.

The crisis showcases the risk for a stand-off between China and India, especially after reports of several Chinese navy ships now operating in the eastern Indian Ocean. Such a presence might act as a deterrent after former president Mohamed Nasheed had called on India to establish a physical presence in the country. Mr Nasheed, the country’s opposition leader in exile, had earlier also argued that the Maldives risks a debt trap.

To read over breakfast: China’s New Silk Road Conundrum

In this article, Jonathan Hillman argues that China’s Belt and Road is suffering from the self-made challenge of emphasizing connectivity, while also clamping down on security in the project’s borderlands. The author describes a trip in Xinjiang, where the town of Tashkurgan “feels like a remote outpost preparing for a siege that will never come.”

As such, there is a “fundamental tension between maintaing control and promoting connectivity.” This description of China’s insecurity in giving up control demonstrates one of the many contradictions at the heart of the BRI. Or as the author argues: “what China’s vision ultimately looks like on the ground will depend on its willigness to trade control for connectivity.”

Jonathan E. Hillman is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he directs the Reconnecting Asia Project.

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