China takes a strategic move to step in Central Asia through Silk Road
BEIJINGThe world’s giant economic power, China is aiming at deepening its ties and increasing its influence in Central Asia through a new project called the “Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” an initiative stretching from Europe to Asia.
The promotion of the project was held in Beijing on July 2 and 3 by the People’s Daily with the participation of more than 50 journalists from 11 regional countries, including Hürriyet Daily News. The ambitious project was first announced by China’s new leader Xi Jinping during a tour to Central Asian countries in September 2013.
“When we mention the Silk Road, we can’t do it without looking at history. In history, the west for China was Central Asia. And now we have all the options to open new transportation channels between the West and East, from Europe to Asia,” Liu Yunshan, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China –one of seven top Politbureau members – told the visiting journalists on July 3. “The key words of this project are Silk Road and cooperation. With this spirit, we can achieve our goals,” he said through an interpreter.
“This idea is reflecting the Chinese concepts of peaceful and inclusive development. China has made much progress in development in the last decades. But we believe in development, not only for ourselves, but also for our neighbors, region and even for the whole world,” Junshan stressed, underlining “openness, innovation and reform” as the main principles of such a development boost.
No proposal for a new organization
One of the questions raised during the meetings was whether China was aiming at establishing a new international body consisting of countries along the Silk Road. The politburo member openly addressed this question, saying “We don’t want to have a new organization or an entity. But rather, we want to upgrade our existing relations with neighboring countries. We value active participation of all countries.
Open and positive contribution of countries will bring development. And this is not only good for China, but to our mutual benefit. It is a win-win situation.”
Through this project, China is aiming to inject new vitality into its less developed provinces in western China, such as Jiangsu, Shaanxi, Xinjiang and Gansu. But at the same time, it would also reach out to poorly developed Central Asian countries and break the heavy Russian influence to the advantage of China.
Improving connectivity in infrastructure, trade and financing, transferring experience in development strategies through the Silk Road countries are seen as important objectives of the Economic Belt, as well as intensifying regional interdependence through people to people exchange and cultural interaction.
China has recently signed and is negotiating to finalize important agreements with Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan for the delivery of these countries’ oil and natural gas reserves to China. This will not only serve for meeting growing energy needs of the Chinese economy, but will also expand the interdependence between Beijing and these regional countries.
Using national currencies for trade
Li Haifeng, Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee, Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, explained that constructing what they call an economic belt along the Silk Road countries would not only speed the delivery of goods and people, but would also reduce the costs and enhance competitiveness if this trade is done through national currencies.
“Constructing the Economic Belt has great importance for us, because we are close and at the same complimentary countries. We also share the same opportunities and challenges. China is hoping together with these countries to realize this new model of relationship. And we have open minds,” she said.
Liu Jianchao, assistant minister of foreign affairs, recalled that the Silk Road Economic Belt project was endorsed by all countries along the historic Silk Road and were eager to talk for more concrete transportation projects to further connect the region. The Chinese government is working on some proposals to finance projects that could be considered within the sphere of the project, he said, “The Silk Road is a practical heritage and positive power. It does not belong only to China, but to all other countries … It can’t be realized without the joint efforts of all of the countries.”
Turkey, for its part, is evaluating the project in a positive manner, but cautious at the same time.
Highlighting its Marmaray project linking Europe to Asia through an undersea highway and its other projects to establish more and intense rail and roadways with the Caucasus countries and Iran, Turkey believes it is a natural part of this initiative, but obviously needs to know more about Chinese intentions through concrete moves. Although we are heavily stuck to the Middle East, it is certain that there are developing opportunities and challenges at the same time elsewhere, particularly on our proximal abroad.