Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Joining the Silk Road

Al-Ahram Weekly

When the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 4 August, one of the main topics on the agenda was China’s “Silk Road” strategy.

The strategy, first envisioned two years ago, is now picking up pace, with India, Pakistan, Hungary and other nations signing memoranda of understanding aimed at creating a modern-day Silk Road  one that involves not only trade, but infrastructure, industrial cooperation and maritime development.

During the ASEAN talks, the Chinese backed down on some controversial land reclamation projects in the South China Sea, thus taking the wind from the sails of John Kerry, the US secretary of state, who had criticised these projects on the grounds that they are a threat to regional stability.

The Chinese foreign minister went a step further, saying that his country is willing to sign nonaggression and noninterference treaties with its neighbours.

China’s Silk Road policy is still young, but the Chinese have formed a Silk Road Fund with $40 billion in capital. It also founded the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with capital of $50 billion.

Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, is personally promoting the Silk Road scheme through shuttle visits to Asian and European countries.

When Xi Jinping visited Pakistan in April, officials of the two countries signed nearly 30 agreements promoting the scheme.

India, which initially had some reservations about the idea, is warming up to it. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently visited China and gave his blessing to joint projects that fit with the Silk Road vision.

Indonesia, which also took some time to mull over the idea, is now one of its enthusiasts.

Eastern Europe, which is in great need of infrastructure, is likely to start talking in earnest to the Chinese, and Hungary has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Beijing that may turn out to be a blueprint for further Chinese-European cooperation.

In the Arab world, the reaction is so far cautious, except for Egypt, which envisions its overhaul of the Suez Canal as part of the new Silk Road.

Last week, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi received an envoy of the Chinese president to discuss further cooperation. The Egyptian president is expected to visit Beijing for talks in the near future, during which several cooperation agreements may be signed.

The Chinese approach to international development, ambitious and yet pragmatic, has great potential for our conflict-torn region. The focus on infrastructure and industrial zones can create the kind of jobs that banish the spectre of terror from the region, by giving hope to the young and restless in our midst.

If the Silk Road initiative succeeds, it may change the structure of international alliances, bringing China into a closer and constructive relation with Africa, the Arab world and Europe.

So far, Chinese foreign policy is geared toward the promotion of trust and mutual respect in international relations, which is a welcome change from the tensions of the post-Cold War era.

For further on Egyptian-Chinese cooperation, see: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/12351/31/Egypt-and-the-new-Silk-Road.aspx.

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