April Highlights Special: The Belt and Road

In penance for having publish no highlights on the 7th and 14th April, here are a few Belt and Road literature highlights for April thus far. You can expect weekly highlights on the 21st, as usual.


Belt and Road

CSIS: China’s Maritime Silk Road

This is CSIS’s latest Belt and Road report. It’s a succinct and nicely packaged look at the Maritime Silk Road (MSR), focusing upon the Beijing built ports of Kyaukpyu, Hambantota, and Gwadar. Starting with an analysis of these important assets gives the paper a nice focus, allowing it to weigh up the old strategic vs. economic question in more concrete terms.

There is also a nice bit of nuance here – Hambantota was obviously a pretty dumb plan in economic terms, but responsibility for the boondoggle rests squarely on the shoulders of Rajapaksa’s government. Hillman makes the valid point that, whilst “the West” (my phrasing and quotation marks, not his) should be making BRI-alternative financing available, sometimes stupid stuff just gets built, and “the West” shouldn’t offer to pick up the tab just for the sake of competing with China.

The report also analyses India’s Chabahar investment in Iran and takes a brief look at Quad 2.0.

It’s 30 something pages long, but it’s easy reading and there are lots of pictures and executive summaries.

You can also watch a video of the launch event here.

Views on Afghanistan from Beijing

This is great – lots of insight into Sino-Afghan relations, or at least into how China views the opportunities and risks presented by its troubled neighbour. Turns out, Beijing foreign policy people have a hierarchy of priorities – stability in Xinjiang first, Pakistan next, and Afghanistan itself last. Few surprises there, but it’s interesting to see these attitudes spelled out. Not to say that China in Afghanistan isn’t also about China’s new role as a more active global heavyweight – I think that looking at how China proves itself in managing Afghanistan is going to become increasingly interesting.

CPEC is also going to be a bell weather and a testing ground. Whilst you’re thinking about that part of the world, you should also check out this recently published paper on CPEC. Now is also probably a good time to revisit Andrew smalls excellent book on Pakistan China relations.

China and the EU in the Horn of Africa

Another good regional BRI related paper. A really nicely manageable overview of China’s activities in East Africa, focusing on Ethiopia. It spells out the western vs Chinese way of doing things pretty concretely, in terms that might resist accusations of following easy narratives.

As ever, the recommendations on how the EU should cooperate with BRI seem hopelessly optimistic and bland, but they’re probably the right ones to make to be honest. No easy answers etc, etc.

Redefining the Belt and Road Initiative

This is good. What is BRI? Not two routes connecting Europe and Asia, nor a series of pipelines, roads, and power stations, but a branding strategy, a manifestation of what Andreea Brînză calls ‘smart power’ (her application rather than coining I believe).

This is a very thoughtful piece. Obviously so much content is churned out about BRI, but it surprises me how little work asks what BRI is or means – beyond the textbook, ‘it’s vague and amorphous.’ Of course BRI is pretty much just synonymous with Chinese foreign policy, but you can still use the term as a means by which to explore that foreign policy. The fact that the words ‘一带一路’ are written into the constitution must mean something, and I suspect that that something isn’t as straightforward as people sometimes assume.

Europe and BRI

Finally, Europe and BRI. All the EU ambassadors have banded together to write a report criticizing BRI. All except, the ambassador of the fanatically pro-Beijing government in Hungary of course. Handelsblatt has seen the report, which is part of preparations for the upcoming EU-China summit. We also apparently have a new EU strategy paper on the Belt and Road to look forward to. In prep, why not check out the 2016 EU Commission paper on China?

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