By Denis Bright
China’s Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI) are an unqualified plus for the global economy and improved living standards for more than half of humankind between the Far East, Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Australia signed up to support the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) despite pressure from the Obama Administration. Hugh White of the Sydney Morning Herald correctly noted that participation in AIIB projects was a very crucial test of Australia’s capacity of independence within the US Global Alliance.
Three years later the momentum of China’s BRIs is being translated into new road and rail corridors, fuel pipelines and electronic communications.
Charlie Campbell’s feature article talked up the positives in BRI initiatives for Time Magazine:
Formerly known as One Belt One Road, it’s a rekindling of the ancient Silk Road through a staggeringly ambitious plan to build a network of highways, railways and pipelines linking Asia via the Middle East to Europe and south through Africa.
The economic land “belt” takes cargo, in large part via Khorgos, through Eurasia. A maritime “road” links coastal Chinese cities via a series of ports to Africa and the Mediterranean. A total of 900 separate projects have been earmarked at a cost of $900 billion, according to the China Development Bank.
There’s the $480 million Lamu deep-sea port in Kenya, which will eventually be connected via road, railway and pipeline to landlocked South Sudan and Ethiopia and right across Africa to Cameroon’s port of Douala.
A new $7.3 billion pipeline from Turkmenistan will bring China an extra 15 billion cubic meters of gas annually. Not since the hordes of Genghis Khan galloped west in the 13th century have such sweeping transnational ambitions emanated from China, though instead of ashes and sun-bleached bones, this time the invaders plan to leave harbors, pipelines and high-speed rail in its wake.
In a break from the succession of bad news from across the Middle East, there is interest from Iraq, Israel, Egypt and Syria in new associations with SCO.
Recent reporting in the Jerusalem Post is favourable to China’s BRI initiatives:
Israel could play a pivotal role in China’s BRI as a connector between Asia, Africa and Europe both as a land bridge via Jordan and a sea-land bridge from the Red Sea. The BRI presents a unique opportunity for Israel to broaden and diversify its economy. As a critical transit point on China’s New Silk Road, Israel would become an essential part of the global trading ecosystem.
BRI is one initiative which is supported by both Israel and Moslem countries of different persuasions. Progressive economic diplomacy has an instant appeal. SCO strategies are different. They reject the excessively strategic focus of NATO expansion from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. SCO has taken on Turkey, Egypt and Afghanistan as new associate states.
The predominantly strategic focus of NATO’s outreach has failed to win hearts and minds in Kyrgyzstan.
Once a NATO transit node for the supply of NATO troops and material for the Afghan War, Kyrgyzstan is now a full member of SCO. The Diplomat recorded the largely un-noticed departure of US military installations:
The United States closed its only Central Asian airbase in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, formally handing back control to the government of Kyrgyzstan, which has been increasingly aligning itself with Russia.
The Transit Centre at Manas was especially important for U.S. and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) efforts in Afghanistan, as it was the first and last stop for soldiers entering Central Asia en route to fight in Afghanistan. Additionally, it was home to a logistics and refuelling operation run by the United States Air Force for the war in Afghanistan. The base at Manas was set up in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks with Russia’s consent and has transported 5.3 million military servicemen from 26 countries in and out the Afghanistan conflict theatre. It became especially important as a transportation hub after 2005, when the United States was evicted from its other base in the region, in Uzbekistan.
The quest for alternatives to the shackles imposed by the IMF has extended to Jordan where Prime Minister Omar Razzaz has just been installed to defer austerity measures and tax increases to reduce the national debt (The Jordan Times, 7 June 2018).
While Israel’s centre-right government supports current BRI initiatives, Israel is still unable to distance itself from a more emergent Iran in Middle Eastern politics. This is a difficult obstacle as Iran is the crucial transport hub on planned transport routes from the Far East through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkistan to the Mediterranean Coast, North Africa and Eastern Europe.
Even Japan has a place in supportive BRI maritime investment initiatives which will feed containerised freight into continental land bridges. The centre-right Abe Government supports the major bridge links to connect Northern Hokkaido, Japan with Russia through the island of Sakhalin:
Russia and Japan are in “serious discussions” to link the two countries with a bridge that could allow rail travel all the way from London to Tokyo. The proposed 28-mile (45 kilometre) bridge would join Cape Crillon on the Russian island of Sakhalin to Cape Soya at the northern tip of Hokkaido island, Japan.
A shorter bridge or tunnel that has been mooted from the Khabarovsk region on the Russian mainland to Sakhalin would eventually allow an uninterrupted rail journey of about 6,000 miles from western Europe to Hokkaido via the Baikal-Amur mainline and the Trans-Siberian railway.
Representatives from the SCO countries are currently assembling in the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao for this year’s 18th annual Summit. The SCO Summit has an expanding network of observer states and dialogue partners including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia and Nepal. The guest attendee representatives also include representatives from ASEAN, the UN Organizations and Turkmenistan (Xinhuanet, 8 June 2017). Expect future participation from Japan and the Korean Peninsula in SCO economic initiatives.
Australia’s representatives on the Board of Governors of the AIIB gave supported the Bank’s infrastructure investments (Board of Governor’s Annual Meeting 2016). Statistics are now dated but Australia’s initial subscription to the AIIB approached $4 billion in 2015 which gave Australia a 3.5 per cent stake in voting rights at meetings of the board of governors. New Zealand made a significantly higher contribution to the AIIB.
Given the unpopularity of President Trump at home and abroad, here’s hoping that Labor’s National Conference in December 2018 might swap commitment to progressive economic diplomacy to out-dated approaches to re-militarization of foreign policies and costly sabre rattling in the South China Sea.
Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in advancing pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.