China’s Silk Road visions bring cooperation, not conflict, to region

By Feng Yujun Source:Global Times Published: 2014-2-17 18:58:02

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Central Asia in September 2013 and proposed the concept of the "Silk Road economic belt," political, business and academic circles both at home and abroad have paid particular attention to it. There have been various kinds of interpretations, with both expectations about China's promotion of regional economic cooperation and concerns about this concept.

In such circumstance, a proper understanding of this concept is the premise for its smooth implementation without causing misunderstanding between China and other countries.

First of all, the concept is not a geopolitical strategy, but more a grand economic vision that promotes the development of China's western areas and further opens Eurasian inland or even the European markets.

It is a vital move in China's deepening reforms and expanding development. It is also an important part of China opening itself up and achieving balanced development from its east to the west through enhancing the economic, technological and financial cooperation between China's west and Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia and even Europe.

Cities in mid and west China have shown great interest. Since September, cities such as Xi'an, Lianyungang and Urumqi have held a number of forums themed around the Silk Road economic belt and showed their willingness to develop by taking this opportunity.

The Silk Road economic belt is not like regional organizations like the EU or Russia's Customs Union. It is a proposal aimed at enhancing regional economic cooperation on the Eurasian continent as economic globalization and regional cooperation enter a new phase.

Its geographic scale includes East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia, the Caucasus, Russia and the entire Europe. The concept will be achieved through flexible means in which strategic coordination is the key rather than inflexible systematic arrangement.

The Silk Road economic belt is not a compulsory integration scheme, but a naturally formed concept. Through two decades of joint efforts, China has become the biggest trading partner of Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, the second biggest of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and the third largest of Tajikistan.

The oil pipeline between China and Kazakhstan, the natural gas pipeline between China and Central Asia, and the oil pipeline between China and Russia have begun operations.

These achievements have drawn China, Russia and Central Asian states into global economic integration, and provided great geographic room for the economic development of Central Asian countries.

The achievements during the past two decades have laid a solid foundation for the belt and demonstrated that it conforms with the interests of Eurasian countries to boost economic growth and expand cooperation. The Silk Road is featured by equal consultation, gradual efforts, mutual respect, diversification and accommodation.

The Silk Road economic belt is not a China-dominated geo-economic scheme. It brews no conflicts with the Eurasian integration promoted by Russia and the "New Silk Road" vision of the US. The belt requires joint participation from all Eurasian countries.

Currently, the situation in Afghanistan faces uncertainties. Central Asia and the Middle East are also going through transformations of their own. Promoting economic growth, deepening mutual cooperation and preventing the spread of extremism and terrorism are the common interests of regional countries.

In the greater Central Asia and Middle East areas, there are already a number of regional economic cooperation projects, such as the Russia-led Eurasian integration process, the US-initiated "New Silk Road,"  the EU-Central Asia Strategy for a New Partnership, Turkish efforts to promote ties between Turkic peoples, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. All these projects have their own background and have already made some development.

The Silk Road economic belt will not compete with or replace any of these projects.

As long as economic cooperation can be boosted and regional security maintained, it can find common ground with these projects and seek a win-win way of cooperation.

The author is director of the Institute of Russian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

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