This article was originally published in German on Nachdenkseiten.de

China is massively expanding its trade routes around the world. China wants to invest a thousand billion euros, perhaps more, in the New Silk Road. The project encompasses a large number of infrastructure measures around the world. On one hand the routes for goods to and from China are to be shortened, but the new Silk Road will also create alternative options if one of the routes fails completely or becomes too unsafe for unpredictable geopolitical reasons. By Marco Wenzel.

The new Silk Road is not a single large road, but a structure made up of many different routes, both by land and by sea. The project can be roughly divided into land and sea routes, or a combination of both. In addition, the New Silk Road project is not a standardized plan prepared on the drawing board, but is subject to constant change, depending on how the global political situation changes during its implementation. It is a living project for the next decades, the end of which is not in sight and always open. In 2049, on the centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the New Silk Road is slated to be officially completed, but that is just a symbolic timeline. The New Silk Road is a project that reacts to a constantly changing global political situation, interacts and constantly adapts and develops itself according to the requirements and needs both in the contracting countries as well as in China, but also in the course of its realization this global political reality itself Shaped, redesigned.

China has accomplished great things in the past forty years. It has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of hunger and poverty and developed enormous economic power. China has become a nuclear power and has enabled the People’s Liberation Army to respond confidently to threats. Many third world countries prefer to approach China as an alternative to the West, both economically and militarily. Western development aid has too often turned out to be poisoned.

The US declared China its main enemy in 2012. When the US announced its “pivot to Asia”, they are not concerned with a new world order, but with the preservation of the existing world order in which, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact thirty years ago, the US is the only major imperialist power to determine the course of world affairs while all other nations should submit to their directives.

But China has grown too big and too self-confident for American tastes over the past thirty years. In the past, even American companies relocated their production to China in order to save money. Today, China competes with them in many areas of the economy on the world markets, including in the explosive area of technology. China’s military is now a match for the US armed forces and is no longer afraid of US threats and the loud clamor of their generals.

At a time when the US has chosen China as its main enemy and western governments have largely joined the US, it is up to third countries to make a choice: either with the US or with China. A new Cold War has broken out between China and Russia on the one hand and the US and the West on the other. Anyone who gets involved with China risks being threatened with sanctions by the USA, whoever sides with China is not seen well by the USA. Any trade treaty between a country and China threatens to arouse the wrath of the United States, which has put “containment” of China’s influence at the top of their foreign policy agenda, and inevitably shifts the balance of power between the two sides. Every trade agreement, every cooperation agreement with China is at the same time a defeat for the USA in the emerging new dual world.

The New Silk Road project

After the US decided to change its foreign policy and military priorities in 2012 under the slogan “pivot to Asia”, the Chinese government announced its New Silk Road (Belt and Road Initiative, BRI) project in 2013. The name is supposed to be reminiscent of the ancient Silk Road, a network of caravan routes, on which not only silk, but all kinds of goods, but above all porcelain and spices from China and other countries in the Far East were transported to Europe.

One of the land routes of the New Silk Road leads from China via Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia to Germany. The port of Duisburg is the terminus of a railway connection between Chongqing and Duisburg. When Xian was the symbolic starting point of the Silk Road, it is now Chongqing. There stands the “Km 0” monument, which symbolically marks the beginning of the New Silk Road. Around 60 trains up to 800 meters long from China currently arrive in Duisburg every week. Other trains go to Hamburg. The trains from China only need 14 days for the 11,000 km journey to Duisburg, about half the time it takes for cargo ships, and they transport goods by air for a fifth of the transport costs.

But not only Germany is the destination of the Silk Road, other land routes lead to Turkey, India and the Southeast Asian countries Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

The sea connections lead to Greece (Piraeus), Italy, France and Spain as well as to Africa and the Middle East, with the port of Djibouti playing a particularly important strategic role (more on this in Part II).

China is building roads, ports, railway lines and bridges in all parts of the world for the project. We cannot individually list all the projects that belong to the New Silk Road project, there are many hundreds in over 70 countries around the world. According to a study by Refinitiv, there are now more than 3,000 projects in 120 countries.

From Researchgate.net

According to the Chinese representation, the project is intended to connect the participating countries with one another both economically and culturally, expand tourism and link research. These are certainly welcome side effects, but the real reasons are more likely to be of an economic and strategic nature.

After increasingly sharp threats from the West, after an ever increasing military presence, accompanied by provocative military maneuvers on China’s doorstep, and with ever new economic sanctions against China, the New Silk Road is China’s answer to these threats. Obama’s turn to Asia was not a diplomatic initiative, but from the start a military one. If the US is now desperately looking for allies in its fight against China, China has been doing so for a long time.

China is not forging military alliances, but relies on soft power, on its population of 1.4 billion people with countless ethnicities and on trade relations with its partners. In contrast to the aggressive, loudmouthed military alliances of the USA, which was recently expanded to include the AUKUS alliance (see: QUAD and AUKUS, two parallel blocs against China), the New Silk Road is a defensive project by China to secure its international trade and its own growing prosperity. And at the same time, China is securing sales markets for its overproduction, especially in the steel sector and in the manufacture of construction machinery.

On January 1, 2022, the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) free trade agreement will come into force, whose members are Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and China as well as the ten ASEAN countries. It is expected that the agreement will expand regional trade within Asia and make it harder for the US and EU to sell their goods there. Their exports to the RCEP countries could become more expensive than goods from the RCEP region itself and be replaced by trade within the RCEP region. China and Japan, the largest economies in Asia, will definitely benefit from this. RCEP will also further strengthen the importance of Asia in the world economy. A total of 2.2 billion people live in the 15 member states of the RCEP and represent around 30% of world trade, and the trend is rising.

The West, and above all the USA, accuse China of seeking political and economic hegemony in the world. A study by USAID was recently presented smugly, accusing China of burdening its contractual partners with hidden debts and leading them into a debt trap. The New Silk Road project also promotes corruption in the countries that cooperate with China and leads to far-reaching environmental damage, leading to the conclusion that resistance to the programs is increasing in the individual countries.
It is true that individual projects have been delayed or abandoned entirely, but this is inevitable given the large number of projects. And there is also criticism of China from the individual countries because of the conditions attached to the projects. The abandoned projects only make up a negligibly small proportion of the total number of projects. The USAID study and its conclusions are based more on wishful thinking than on reality. Anyone who has chosen China as their main enemy will do everything to portray the country in a bad light. But some allegations are still not entirely out of thin air and we will go into more detail in our next article using a few examples.

Those who, like many leftists, omit any criticism of the Chinese Community Party dismiss it as “China bashing” for lack of orientation, is doing neither China nor their own party a favor by doing so. Of course, China always pays attention to its own advantages in all contracts. China is part of the capitalist world economy and part of globalization. The times in which China primarily wanted to export the revolution are long gone, today China, embedded in the capitalist economic order and the constraints associated with it, exports its goods all over the world.

For decades, the western media have been reporting mainly negative about China and parroting the US point of view. The fact that the USA is not about human rights and democracy is likely to get around given the fact that the USA supports every “bastard” in the world as long as they are only pro-Western and anti-communist and their country is open to big business for exploitation. This also applies to the ongoing campaign on alleged serious violations of human rights, especially of the Uyghurs in China.

The goal is not the defense of human rights, but the attempt to destabilize China, the current main enemy, and, albeit currently still illusory, to bring about a change of regime. China does not have to hide behind the West when it comes to both human rights and democracy. Because behind the factory gate, all democracy in the West ends, there what the boss says is done, with the penalty of losing one’s job and thus de facto livelihoods.
The values of the West and its democracy are becoming more and more meaningless. Or has the highest form of democracy been achieved when people remain subject to the unavoidable constraints of a fictitious market in everyday life, but instead go to the ballot box every 4 years and throw a piece of paper in it to be able to vote for a government, which later all throws election promises back on the heap, is allowed to do what they want for four years, and represents the interests of the ruling oligarchy for another four years, regardless of the will of the people, which will decide again in another four years and elect new representatives from pre-selected candidates allowed by the of the bourgeoisie?

In China, too, there are democratic processes and decision-making processes with popular participation, they just work differently. Considering that it has only been downhill for workers in the West since the late 1970s, while developments in the same period in China were and are still going in the opposite direction, one should not be so arrogant when criticizing the social conditions in China or to present the western model as the only salvific and to want to impose it on the People’s Republic of China. If China were to function the way the United States said it would, many Chinese would soon be worse off again.

But this discussion is another matter. And it is about tangible economic interests, not about human rights and also not about the Uighurs. Nor is it about democracy and what it means and how best to implement it. It is about whether the US continues to rule the world or not. And how long the neoliberal, finance capitalist, US-led economic system will survive.