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Narrowing US-China Perception Gap on “Silk Road” Proposals

Nov 12 , 2014

The “One Belt, One Road” strategy can be considered an upgraded version of China’s “going out” strategy in the Xi Jinping-Li Keqiang era, and may also be a new topic for Xi and U.S. President Barack Obama at their APEC meeting.

“One Belt” refers to the “Silk Road Economic Belt” Xi proposed during his September 2013 Central Asia visits in Kazakhstan. “One Road” stands for the “Maritime Silk Road” Xi proposed in the Southeast Asian country of Indonesia last October. With one route extending from China to the central and western parts of Eurasia, the other from China to the Pacific and Indian oceans, the proposed “belt” and “road” are like two wings of a flying eagle.

Since the end of last year, the proposed “belt” and “road” have been an important component of Chinese diplomacy, comprehensive reforms, and economic work at the central level, and will inevitably be a new factor affecting China-US relations. Since they are new, a perception gap is inescapable between China and the US. The two sides need to enhance communication, narrow differences, and prevent strategic misunderstandings and their potential negative consequences. By now, two differences have already emerged regarding the proposals:

One is about the significance of the proposed “belt” and “road”. China takes the “belt” and “road” as embodiments as its ideas of “community of common destiny” and “amity, sincerity, mutual benefits and inclusiveness”, and concrete measures for the “going out” strategy in the Xi-Li era. The “Silk Road” is becoming a major hot topic of all walks of life in China. Party and government authorities at all levels have placed considerable emphasis on it in their work. Taking advantage of the new concepts, industrial and financial sectors are creating a huge cake of opportunities and interests. New and traditional media outlets are running special columns on it. Civil institutions and non-governmental organizations are working on various exchange programs. A fresh round of “Dunhuang craze” and “Maritime Silk Road craze” is on the rise in literary and art circles. Think tanks, colleges, and consulting companies are convening all kinds of forums and symposiums to contribute wisdom. In contrast, US leaders, government, media and scholars have shown little interest. Some American scholars liken it to a mirage, tantalizing yet difficult to materialize, because their goals are too ambitious, their contents numerous and jumbled.

The other has to do with their nature. The proposed “belt” and “road” are pure propositions for economic cooperation, which are open and meant to provide public goods for the region’s common development. However, some American strategists take the proposals as Chinese macro strategies in the deceptive disguise of the “Silk Road,” which could be a strategic tool for challenging, even transforming, regional or international order. They see the proposed “belt” and “road,” BRICS Bank, Shanghai Cooperation Organization Bank, and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as attempts to create a new regime and challenge U.S. hegemony.

Therefore, China and the U.S. should take measures as soon as possible to strengthen communication over the proposals, narrow differences, build consensus, and make the proposed “belt” and “road” positive factors that facilitate the new-type major-country relationship between the two countries, rather than the opposite. This first calls for the two sides to conduct communication via a shared concept. Though the proposed “belt” and “road” are all-inclusive and multifarious in contents, the concept of “global interconnectivity” can to some extent apply to past and present, east and west, south and north, as well as all stake holders.

Interconnectivity is a widely accepted international concept. Global interconnectivity is a fundamental trait of the era of globalization. The Silk Road itself was a history of global interconnectivity that lasted 25 centuries. The Silk Road was a major artery of economic, political, cultural and ideological exchanges between East and West, which involved Eurasia, North Africa, and the Middle East. If we take into consideration of the export of Chinese china and tea, as well as the inflow of Mexican Silver into China, it had even reached the American continents. This means all countries related to the Silk Road are stake-holders. Therefore, even former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had also raised the idea of a “New Silk Road,” which reflected the global and open nature of the Silk Road.

At the same time, any country’s strategy of open development can be perceived as an organic part of global interconnectivity. Over the past thousands of years, there in deed have been traceable rules and laws in the development of global interconnectivity: First, major countries should have shared aspirations, and not pull the rug from each other’s feet. Second, peace boosts prosperity; war and turmoil result in a fiasco. Third, fulfilling others is fulfilling oneself; a mutually beneficial relationship. Fourth, eradicating barricades to global transport and communication delivers universal benefits.

For the last 30 years, China’s rise and global interconnectivity have been synchronous, mutually facilitating, and mutually complementary. In that very process, the US, as the most important pusher for global interconnectivity and creator of global public goods, has to a great degree helped China’s rise. Today, with the tremendous energy for development it has accumulated, China is capable of providing regional, even global, public goods through interconnectivity construction, which is naturally conducive to the US’ own development. The proposed “belt” and “road” constitute a Chinese version of global interconnectivity strategy, which is universally beneficial and inclusive. The benefits will be both logical and obvious. It is thus crucial to make it very clear to the US.

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