Tactical Talk (Update) China’s One belt, one road” is a transformational concept that deserves to be treated with the utmost seriousness. Much like Eisenhower’s interstate highway initiative and its echoes in Canada and Mexico integrated the North American continent, China’s belt and road initiative promises to integrate the economies of the vastly larger Eurasian landmass. And it will do so not just with highways, but with railways, waterways, pipelines, fiber optic cables, power transmission lines, ports, airports, and industrial estates. If any significant part of this comes off, it will position China as the preeminently accessible society on the supercontinent with by far the greatest weight in world affairs.
Unlike the interstate highway system, the rationale for China’s “belt and road” initiative is economic, not military.
It will establish an unprecedentedly wide platform for economic cooperation, including policy coordination, trade and financing collaboration, and social and cultural interchange. For millennia before the rise of Europe and the incorporation of the Americas into an Atlantic-wide civilization, China dwarfed other societies in wealth and power.
In terms of policy coordination, each of the G.C.C. states has announced ambitious development plans. Frequent high-level visits between Chinese and Gulf officials have presented opportunities to coordinate these plans with BRI projects, as illustrated with the case with two Saudi visits to China in the past year. During Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s visit to Beijing in August 2016, he indicated that the BRI is “one of the main pillars of the Saudi Vision 2030 which would seek to make China among the Kingdom’s biggest economic partners.” To this end, he traveled with a delegation including ministers of Commerce and Investment, Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, Culture and Information, and Information Technology, who participated in a panel discussion titled, “Saudi Vision 2030 and the Belt and Road Initiative: Together for a Promising Future.” During the visit, the two sides signed 15 MOUs for projects associated with the Vision 2030 plan to diversify the Saudi economy. There followed in March 2017 a state visit by King Salman that culminated in the signing of $65 billion worth of deals. In addition, Chinese and Saudi companies signed 22 agreements concerning joint investment opportunities, many of which also focused on Vision 2030 projects. Indeed, recent developments in China’s relations with all of the G.C.C. states have followed a similar pattern, whereby officials have used state visits or multilateral forums to express support for and highlight the complimentary nature of BRI and Gulf development plans. For example, Kuwaiti Ambassador to China, Sameeh Johar Hayat, stated that BRI cooperation with China helps Kuwait achieve its 2035 Vision for Development.