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Thoughts on the One Belt, One Road Initiative - Part I

Popularity 3Viewed 1679 times 2017-5-12 17:50 |Personal category:Thought|System category:Economy| OBOR, Chinese economy, culture, silk road, GDP

- Anming - On weekends, there is a book fair in front of Berlin’s Humboldt University, where used books are sold for a fair price. Whenever I pass by, I get at least one book and most likely it happens to be a book about China. Since my last visit, I am the proud owner of Europe and the Chinese emperors, an essay collection on Sino-European relations from 1240 until 1816. The book under my arm, I continued walking to the Lustgarten, it was most pleasant Sunday-weather, where I sat down on a bench and took a closer look at my new treasure. It contained an essay on Sino-European trade relations between 1500 and 1800, giving detailed information on fluctuating prices, advantages through advanced technology, and cultural misunderstandings. It was a story of competition rather than cooperation. A story of greed for silver and gold. A story of merchants.

    Since the announcement of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road in 2013, the concept of One Belt, One Road (OBOR) has gained increasing attention by politicians, the academia and the media, both in China and abroad. The OBOR, which has even been referred to as the “Chinese Marshall Plan”, is an initiative to establish comprehensive economic corridors and aims to provide a platform for regional cooperation between China, Central Asia and Europe. Its focus is on development of infrastructure, especially pipelines, railroads and transportation networks. Furthermore, it includes the expansion of deep-sea harbors. The OBOR initiative is also connected to the founding of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which opened its doors in January 2016 and is a multilateral development bank with the goal to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region.

    Being the most frequently mentioned concept on People’s Daily in the year of 2016, it did not take a long time until observers split into two camps, with one enthusiastically hailing the coming of a multilateral world order and the other warning of an increasingly strong China, which will make use of its political and economic power to challenge the universal claim of Western values. The world has seen how One World, One Dream became the Chinese Dream within four years’ time. Isn’t it justified to worry that the One Belt, One Road will end up to be the Chinese Road? 

    While most observers analyse the issue from economic, political and security aspects, my reflections on the OBOR initiative are of a different nature. I would like to examine this question from three aspects: first, the inseparability of the material and the spiritual spheres; second, the implications of increasing interdependence; and last, the nature of China’s 21st century Silk Road.

The inseparability of the material and the spiritual spheres

    What comes as a surprise to me is the historic connotation of the concept. Let us travel for a moment into the period, when the middle kingdom was at its economic and cultural peak. During the Tang dynasty (618–907), the Tang capital of Chang’an was the most populous city in the world. The dynasty dominated the lucrative trade routes along the Silk Road and exerted powerful influence over neighboring states. The period is particularly famous for its poetry and innovations, such as printing techniques. Closely related to this, the most significant aspect of the Tang dynasty was its comparative openness towards cultural exchange.

    The journey of the Chinese monk Xuanzang, who traveled to India and devoted his later life to the translation of Buddhist texts, is perhaps the most famous example for cultural exchange during the Tang dynasty. Just like Buddhism, many other religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Manicheism travelled along the Silk Road and spread among the peoples of Europe and Asia. Bringing cultures and peoples in contact with each other might be the most lasting legacy of the Silk Road, as merchants had to learn foreign languages and customs in order to be able to conduct trade. Without the ancient Silk Road and its implications, many of the Chinese cultural achievements we regard as self-evident today, e.g. novels like The Journey to the West or even parts of Chinese language, which has also been deeply influenced by Buddhism, would not exist today. Cultural interaction was the foundation on which material exchange was made possible.

    Regarding cultural exchange, as any kind of development and change, one sentence proofed to be valid throughout history: where there is light, there is shadow. In this respect, the comparison to the Marshall Plan might not be so misleading, as long time before its implementation, many Europeans perceived the influx of American popular culture as a negative phenomenon. One example is the Austrian author Stefan Zweig, who wrote in his essay The Monotonization of the World in 1925:

“The historians of the future will one day mark the page following the great European war as the beginning of the conquest of Europe by America. Or, more accurately, the conquest is already rippingly underway, and we simply fail to notice it (conquered peoples are always too-slow thinkers). The European countries still find the receipt of a credit in dollars a cause for celebration. We continue to flatter ourselves with illusions of America’s philanthropic and economic goals. In reality we are becoming colonies of its life, its way of life, slaves to an idea profoundly foreign to Europe: the mechanical idea.

But our economic obedience seems to me minor compared to the spiritual danger. The colonization of Europe would not be so terrible politically; to servile souls all slavery is mild and the free always know how to preserve their freedom. The genuine danger to Europe seems to me to be a matter of the spirit, of the importation of American boredom, of that dreadful, quite specific boredom that rises over there from every stone and every house on all the numbered streets. The boredom that does not, like the earlier European variety, come from calmness, from sitting on the park bench playing dominoes and smoking a pipe—a lazy waste of time indeed, but not dangerous. American boredom is restless, nervous, and aggressive; it outruns itself in its frantic haste, seeks numbness in sports and sensations. It has lost its playfulness, scurries along instead in the rabid frenzy of an eternal flight from time. It is always inventing new artifices for itself, like cinema and radio, to feed its hungry senses with nourishment for the masses, and it transforms this common interest in enjoyment into concerns as massive as its banks and trusts.”

    It can be concluded that economic expansion and cultural interaction go hand in hand and that the participating regions are always exposed to a lively exchange of ideas and cultural change. With its ambitions in infrastructure development and economic expansion as brought forward in the OBOR initiative, China will not be an exception. In times of wall-building and rising inward- orientation, China ventures economic expansion. The success of this initiative will depend to a large extend on its preparedness to deal with the cultural implications of this expansion. This will proof particularly crucial with the various countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, equally rich in traditions, ethnicity and religion, as well as the conflicts resulting from this multifaceted nature. 

to be continued...

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Reply Report Chengking 2017-5-19 08:04
There are also hundreds of thousands Chinese students studying abroad. Many of them will return to China and bring back different cultural and, yes, political views. This will add more to the inevitable opening up of the Middle Kingdom.

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  • My 2014 2017-5-23 16:19

    You heard a tiger in Hong Kong?

  • Thoughts on the One Belt, One Road Initiative - Part I 2017-5-22 02:00

    God I love your blogs. They are always so great.

    Two of my favourite Anming blogs are the two blogs you wrote on being bored in China - 'Bored out in China' and 'Still bored in BJ'. I especially liked this -

    "- Anming - I might be suffering from some kind of postpartum depression after handing in my first thesis draft, but I feel so bored these days. After observing myself for two days, I can confirm, boredom is rather inefficient. The principle of accounting and profit seems so convincing, that it has been used on people’s lives for quite a while. Our lifetime is our capital, we should invest it well in order to get profit. Niklas Luhman once wrote, “if one admits that he has too much time, he is disqualifying and dismissing himself from the society of those, who achieve, request and maintain something.” I might counter with the words of Groucho Marx, that I would not wish to join any club that would accept people like me as a member… Today, I met a classmate, who got an awesome job. The thing is, he is working 18 hours a day. Marxism is experiencing quite a popularity crisis these years, but just as you should always have a good Kafka quotation at hand when encountering bureaucracy, you should be able to recite Marx’ restrictions on the working day, when you find yourself in such inhuman working conditions."

    You are so funny. I hope your classmates job does not involve a lot of manual labour.

    "machinery has greatly increased the number of well-to-do idlers." -  Marx, Capital, Volume I, Chapter 15 (1867)

    The 'educated' well-to-do are curiously nationalist in relation to culture arent they? The 'educated' well-to-do like to suggest that us servile souls of the working class share the same culture as them when nothing could be further from the truth. This 'educated' and well-to-do Stefan Zwieg is clearly aware that the European working classes and the European well-to-do have separate cultures yet he, like seemingly all well-to-do Europeans, speaks as if well-to-do European culture represents all European culture. It may be true that 'European boredom' may be slightly more Aristocratic than 'American boredom' but are the working classes of Europe any less interested in the seeking "numbness" of sports than the working classes of USA? Is the European working class any less interested in soccer than the American working classes are interested in gridiron? We may be able to blame America for American Idol but Europe is responsible for Eurovision. So.

    And this kind of delusion - "The colonization of Europe would not be so terrible politically; to servile souls all slavery is mild and the free always know how to preserve their freedom."  - seems to be inherent with the well-to-do no matter what nation they claim to belong to. What happened to this well-to-do Stefan Zwieg when the Nazi took power in Europe?

    In 1934, following Hitler's rise to power in Germany, Zweig left Austria for England, living first in London, then from 1939 in Bath. Because of the swift advance of Hitler's troops westwards, Zweig and his second wife crossed the Atlantic to the United States, settling in 1940 in New York City; they lived for two months as guests of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, then they rented a house in Ossining, New York.
    - wikipedia

    Hmm. Zweig escaped to New York? Ha. If only the servile souls were so very clever they could have all escaped to America too. The ones that could afford to of course. But hey, even many of them couldnt get into America - we know that the well-to-do refugees on the SS Saint Louis werent allowed in. And how about all of those European Jews that ended up living in ghettos - and then worse - after the Nazi took power? Servile souls that did not know how to preserve their freedom like our friend Zweig? But yeah, clever well-to-do Zweig preserves his freedom by escaping to America. You couldnt make that up.

    If the Americans remind me of anyone it is the Romans. The American well-to-do are wanna-be Patricians and the American working classes are very much like Roman plebes. And we know how much the Roman masses loved the games dont we? The Vandals were able to take Carthage from the Romans virtually unopposed in 439 because the Romans - including the Catholic Bishop - were too busy watching the consular games. A good day to invade USA would probably be on Superbowl Sunday but at the same time the Europeans would be every bit as distracted if Europe were invaded during the UEFA Euro competition or a Champions League final.

    Mussolini and then Hitler exploited the European masses' love of sports/games but I really do not believe that the Americans were to blame. If we blame anyone for the European masses' love of the games it must be the Romans - or the Greeks. Europeans. Not Americans. Maybe the Americans should be blaming Europeans for this 'American boredom' - not the other way around.

    Karl Marx said that Religion was the opiate of the people. The sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. American sports writer John Tunis said - "Sports is the great opium of the people. It has become an addiction. It has made them forget more important things." I would argue that it is not boredom at all that is responsible for the western masses' rabid consumption of sports and other forms of prolefeed - it is unhappiness that is to blame. What the oppressed and servile western masses are looking for is an escape from the heartless and soulless world of 'capitalist' society, and specially its capitalist politics. The masses seek an escape, but what they are really searching for is Communion. It is in sports and other prolefeed that the masses find their Communion. You can find the Real Presence at a game of football, if you are not a capitalist.

    A capitalist believes that humans are out for everything they can get away with - and they do seem to be - but with the masses what they seek is an escape from aloneness - what they seek is Communion. Erich Fromm - "Human nature is neither a biologically fixed and innate sum total of drives nor is it a lifeless shadow of cultural patterns to which it adapts itself smoothly; it is the product of human evolution, but it also has certain inherent mechanisms and laws. There are certain factors in man's nature which are fixed and unchangeable: the necessity to satisfy the physiologically conditioned drives and the necessity to avoid isolation and moral aloneness." Capitalists desperately want to believe Sigmund Freud and his nonsense about the so-called 'id' because Freuds nonsense excuses them and justifies the way they treat the servile masses that they know are their slaves. The 'educated' 30% outer party members know that us servile masses are their slaves and they want to believe even more than the 1%. Like their hero Winston the clever educated western 30% would steal their sick and dying sisters chocolate rations. Only if they were hungry and could get away with it though.

    It is Communion that the masses seek and this is good for those of us that believe in internationalization. Just like a citizen needs to be a good child to their parents to be able to be a good citizen of the state - I believe that a citizen must be a good national citizen to be able to be a good international/global citizen. The scared capitalist mind must have truly been traumatized by the Nazi for them to still have such a nationalism phobia. Nationalism can help us bring about Fraternity and the Brotherhood of Man - it should not be seen as an obstacle.

    Why is it that there is rising inward orientation? It is because so-called globalization has hurt the western masses and the only ones seeing gains are the educated 30% that voted against Brexit and for Hillary Clinton. It is a fact that out of control immigration policies of capitalists reduce working opportunities for the western masses and put downward pressure on working class wages yet all we here from the educated is that us 'white' working class masses are racists. And bored apparently. We arent bored we are unhappy. No, we are furious. And the neoliberal capitalist educated 30% are against us. And we know it. The masses are all for healing the world but we know that capitalists have no intention of doing that. We can see that the capitalist plan is to turn the entire world into a third world hell hole where us working class masses must compete with workers from the third world. When was the last time a capitalist wanted to pay more for a third world worker? Have you ever heard a capitalist talk about bringing about a global minimum wage? Of course not because capitalists dont believe in a minimum wage or worker rights and protections. The capitalist wants all workers to be as desperate and insecure as possible so that we will drive them around in an uber car for as little as possible.

    Marxism may be experiencing a popularity crisis but the fact is that in all western nations - even USA - the core socialist ideals have been realized under so-called 'democratic capitalism'. Until the fall of the USSR the western workers had forced the core socialist ideals onto the capitalists through workers parties and a type of permanent revolution that 'democratic capitalism' ensures ( even now that capitalists have taken control of all of the workers parties and made them 'liberal' ) . But with the fall of the USSR came the end of what Thatcher described as 'socialist ratchet' and so began the capitalist ratcheting and the mass privatization of national utilities and the winding back of the welfare state. The influx of immigrants to western 'democratic capitalist' nations, and the offshoring of working class jobs was key to the capitalist ratcheting and the working class masses know it, so is it really any wonder that the working class masses are against so-called 'globalization' and a 'world without borders'? Racist?

    “What's happened to me,' he thought. It was no dream.” -  Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

    In my opinion the One World - One Dream and the Chinese Dream are the same dream. China stresses 'win-win' trade relationships with 'no strings attached'. This is China saying to the world that they know and understand why the world hates capitalist America/West - and with China things will be different. China knows how it feels to be treated as a 'third world' nation and because of Chinas communist history China is more aligned with the western working class than the neoliberal bourgeois capitalist 'elite'. Unlike USA that wants to make the entire world into capitalist America, China expects its core values to be respected and respects the core values of other nations.

    I fully agree with you that spiritual spheres are of vital importance. Capitalism has no soul so socialist China has a much better chance of bringing about the Brotherhood of Man. Even Hitler knew that the material and spiritual spheres were inseparable and that the soulless capitalists did not understand - "It is, of course, possible to make out a case for the success achieved in peopling continents which before had been empty. The United States and Australia afford good examples. Success, certainly - but only on the material side." - "The white races did, of course, give some things to the natives, and they were the worst gifts that they could possibly have made, those plagues of our own modern world-materialism, fanaticism, alcoholism and syphilis. For the rest, since these peoples possessed qualities of their own which were superior to anything we could offer them, they have remained essentially unchanged. Where imposition by force was attempted, the results were even more disastrous, and common sense, realizing the futility of such measures, should preclude any recourse to their introduction. One solitary success must be conceded to the colonizers: everywhere they have succeeded in arousing hatred, a hatred that urges these peoples, awakened from their slumbers by us, to rise and drive us out. Indeed, it looks almost as though they had awakened solely and simply for that purpose!" - Hitler/The Testament of Adolph Hitler

    And Einstein knew it - “One strength of the communist system of the East is that it has some of the character of a religion and inspires the emotions of a religion.” ―Albert Einstein . Soulless Capitalism does not.

    The beautiful thing is that us western masses hate the western 'elite' every bit as much as the rest of the world does - if not more. The next time we rise and drive them out I am hoping that it will be the beginning of The Brotherhood of Man and they will have nowhere to go. No more escaping to the east - or to New York.

    where there is light, there is shadow

    Where there is light there is shadow.

    Anyway, I have to go to work now. Seriously. I would add that Cultural Humility is going to be very important going forward. It is an ongoing process with no end. And I think it will help us end history. I dont think we should be closing any books.

    PostScript - I am guessing from Part 2 that you are no fan of Antonio Gramsci. I wouldnt agree with everything that he said but you have to admit that working class and capitalist culture are two different things. The western working class are more aligned with socialist China. And what we seek most of all is Communion. Its good right?

    Im late!

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