12th May Highlights

A Belt, a Road, Chinese cash, sunshine and global standards

Li Keqiang, Shinzo Abe and Moon Jae-in during the 7th Trilateral Summit
(Source: The Japan Times)

Academic Exposure: China’s Approach towards the Belt and Road Initiative

Following recent arguments about the future world order in publications such as The Washington Quarterly and International Affairs, there comes this timely article about China’s motives behind the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Published in the Journal of Contemporary China, Zhou and Esteban use the theories of neorealism, neoliberalism and constructivism to offer a fresh look at China’s economic, political and strategic interests along the new Silk Roads.

The authors argue:

China’s approach towards the BRI is strongly motivated by a multifaceted grand strategy: adopting a soft balancing strategy to frustrate the US containment of China and undermine its power and influence, promoting China’s soft power and building its role as a normative power through the promotion of alternative ideas and norms, and reshaping global governance in a way that reflects China’s values, interests and status.

In this perspective it becomes clear that the BRI (and China’s regional multilateralism) offers an institutional challenge to the US-led international order.

Weifeng Zhou is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science and International Relations at the Autonomous University of Madrid. This research article is a chapter of his doctoral dissertation titled ‘Beyond the Balance of Power: The Logic of China’s Engagement in Regional Multilateralism’.

Mario Esteban is Professor of East Asian Studies at the Autonomous University of Madrid and Senior Analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid.

Expert View: Malaysia is Fed Up with Chinese Cash

In Malaysia, polls show the support for the jobs and the other opportunities created by Chinese investments. Despite the emphasis on win-win, transparency is the real deal when it comes to massive amounts of cash flowing in. Chinese investments have in the past proved to be divisive in the domestic politics of the destination countries and this trend is not likely to stop soon, as this article also shows.

As Adam Minter argues:

For China, the Belt and Road investment will become a divisive political issue in other countries unless China ensures that it doesn’t become a burden for places that can ill afford it. That means lending on less onerous terms, hiring locally, and generally making sure that the benefits of its largesse are more widely shared.

It is against this backdrop that the opposition candidate Mahathir Mohamad on May 10 won the election against Najib Razak to become Malaysia’s Prime Minister.

Biggest News: China, Japan and South Korea Draw Closer on Trade

At the trilateral summit between China, Japan and South Korea, the first since 2015, the three countries seem to have put on hold the many contentious issues in their respective bilateral relations. The deployment of a THAAD missile defense system in South Korea for example, led to economic retaliation against Lotte Mart, the retail chain that provided the land. Territorial disputes as well have held the country’s respective bilateral relations in a chokehold.

Is President Trump’s trade pressure bringing the countries closer to improve trade and investment links? Following Japan voicing its interest in joint projects under the BRI and the Chinese proposal for the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to join, it certainly is an interesting development.

Full steam ahead as well on North Korea. As the saying goes: after the rain comes the sun. For Japan, North Korean ballistic missiles rather than rain drops were falling from the sky. President Moon Jae-in’s Sunshine Policy is best exemplified by this March 2018 photograph of Chairman Kim Jong-un and a South Korean delegation with in the background – yes, symbolically – the rising sun. From the Pyongchang Olympics to the meeting between Moon and Kim at the DMZ, the recent thaw in the relationship present a full break with the fiery rhetoric that characterised the Korean nuclear issue. Up next is the Singapore meeting between Trump and Kim.

To Read over Breakfast: China is Quietly Setting Global Standards

As a follow-up to the Academic Exposure segment, this article goes in depth on the question of China’s institutional challenge to the Pax Americana. As Andrew Polk argues:

Most analyses of the Belt and Road initiative focus on whether individual projects will become profitable or will leave China further mired in debt. Yet the return on investment for a port in Sri Lanka or a rail line in Thailand matters less to Chinese officials than the ability to push participating countries to adopt Chinese standards on everything from construction to finance to data management. For just one example, China is exporting key technical standards for the construction of high-speed rail through these projects — in large part to circumvent standards set by Western players.

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