Petr Mozias e Bruno De Conti 

It has been more than five years since the leadership of the PRC put forward initiatives that received the generalized title “The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)”. The idea of the “Silk Road Economic Belt (hereafter – Economic Belt)” was first announced by Xi Jinping during his visit to Kazakhstan in September 2013. Chinese policy is always based on symbols and reminiscences. This time round parallels were drawn between the two different periods: the current state of affairs, when the European Union is the largest trading partner of China, on the one hand, and the situation that arose during the reign of the Western Han dynasty in China (3rd century B.C. – 1st century A.D.), on the other.

That time the Land Silk Road connected two major powers of the world – the Roman and Chinese empires. But by the early 2010s most of the trade between China and Europe was conducted by sea transport. Xi proposed to create a network of land transport corridors between them. Moreover, the countries on whose territories the relevant routes will be held, were also invited to participate in a giant project of joint development. 

In October 2013, during his visit to Indonesia, Xi offered cooperation to the countries along the sea routes that existed in the middle ages. This project was called “21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR)”. Traditions here are not so continuous, as in the case of the Economic Belt. The network of sea ports on the South-Eastern coast of China originated in the Tang dynasty (7th – 10th centuries). A movement of the Chinese to the islands of the Southern seas began during the Song era (10th – 13th centuries). It peaked at the early period of the Ming dynasty in the first half of the 15th century. At that time the ships of the famous admiral Zheng He not only explored the coast of Southeast Asia, but also reached the shores of India, the Persian Gulf and the East coast of Africa. By and large, the configuration of the MSR resembles the routes of Zheng He's voyages.

Precisely, the BRI can be interpreted as the realization of the accumulated potential, as the conversion of the results of rapid economic growth into strengthening China's position in the world. But this treatment may be obviously one-sided. In fact, the BRI project could be grasped as the embodiment of the contradictory trends inherent in the modern stage of China's development. On the one hand, it did appear due to the growth of the quantitative scale of the Chinese economy and the intensification of its interaction with the world, it fits into the overall context of China's transformation into a real global power.

However, on the other hand, these qualitative changes in China's position in the global economy and world politics have occurred in the 2010s in parallel with the aggravation of the country's internal socio-economic problems. And it is not only the obvious slowdown in economic growth (from 10.6% in 2010 to 6.6% in 2018) that matters, for one remains relatively fast. The thing is that the slowdown in the Chinese economy was largely the result of accumulated imbalances that had been generated by the very process of an evolutionary, gradual transition to market mechanisms. Therefore, the BRI project can also be interpreted as an attempt to facilitate further reform of economic institutions in China, and to smooth the acuteness of existing problems through the activation of external expansion. So it seems reasonable to judge the content of the project, using the Chinese economists and political scientists’ favorite formula about combination of opportunities and challenges.

Nevertheless, due to extent and the ambition of the initiative, the BRI may not be studied only from the point of view of China. It is very clear that it has direct impacts over many countries in the globe, but also potential indirect effects over many other countries. These indirect effects arise from the easily understandable economic consequences of the projects – e.g. a higher competition with China – but also from the more diffuse, but very concrete potential impacts over the geopolitical arena.

Hence, this paper aims to analyze BRI under this framework of the associated opportunities and challenges for China and for the rest of the world. Besides this Introduction, the paper has five more sessions and some Final Remarks. The first session presents the possibilities BRI creates for China; the second one deals with BRI as a response to the non-negligible challenges the China is currently facing; session 3 presents what has been done so far within the initiative. Subsequently, we move for the rest of the world, analyzing initially the sentiments prevalent in many countries and regions in the globe regarding BRI (session 4); finally, we debate the most crucial possibilities and threats for some chosen countries.

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