China's New BRI Strategy: Policy Recommendations by Prof. Shi Yinhong
"The BRI’s geostrategic significance for China should be discussed largely behind closed doors and should not be talked about publicly without due care and attention."
Today’s edition begins with a short commentary by Dr. Moritz Rudolf. Moritz is a research scholar and fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center, where he focuses on the impact of China's rise on the international legal order. He is the author of The Belt and Road Initiative: Implications for the International Order. — Thomas
In his presentation, Prof. Shi Yinhong underlines the need to re-examine, re-discuss, and re-plan the BRI to adequately respond to shifts in the geopolitical environment and the domestic economic situation in the PRC.
Generating broad support for the BRI has been a critical challenge for the initiative since the beginning. Despite billions of BRI Dollars, the PRC's image abroad has not improved significantly, even among developing countries. Among Western countries, Beijing's image has been deteriorating. Shi acknowledges that raising suspicions about the PRC's intentions poses a threat to the BRI. For example, Shi underlines the contradiction between the PRC's territorial disputes (e.g., the South China Sea and the Sino-Indian border) and the development of the Maritime Silk Road. To counter suspicion, Shi proposes discussing the geostrategic significance of the BRI mainly behind closed doors. It is highly questionable whether this approach will convince India (which he mentions repeatedly).
Shi proposes a geographic reorientation of the BRI towards the developed world, highlighting the PRC's need for advanced technology. Shi acknowledges the US-China trade and high-tech wars, and an emerging two-way split of the global political economy. According to Shi, the US is seeking to build a new system of economic and trade rules with other developed countries and their closest partners. In contrast, the PRC's room for economic manoeuvre may shrink to friendly developing countries. Western analysts often argue that the PRC is also attempting to set new global economic and trade rules with the help of the 'Global South.' Shi concludes that China must slow down the two-way split of the world, but he does not provide a clear path as to how the PRC can achieve this goal.
With the Taiwan issue and US-China relations becoming more critical, Shi argues that the BRI is moving down the PRC's priority list. In his sober assessment of the BRI, Shi contends that the strategic risks for the BRI are getting bigger. Diplomatically, even friendly developing countries are selective in their approach towards the PRC. Economically, Shi argues that the BRI must generate economic benefits to remain sustainable. Therefore, he proposes to carefully elaborate on Xi's August 2018 speech on gongbi brush painting, which highlights the need to shift the BRI's focus onto concrete results. While the PRC's leadership has recently put more emphasis on "small and beautiful" BRI projects, Shi highlights the many obstacles Xi's pet project faces in a more volatile and challenging international setting.
Although BRI projects may initially be driven by geopolitical needs, they must end up being financially sustainable in the long run. China no longer has the financial resources to sustain too many loss-making endeavours.
China should not assume that its infrastructure-led development model is welcomed by and applicable to all countries in the world. It must pay closer attention to the needs and specificities of its BRI members.
To avoid resentment and suspicion growing among China’s neighbours, “the BRI’s geostrategic significance for China should be discussed largely behind closed doors.”
China’s territorial and maritime disputes are constraining the development of its Maritime Silk Road. These must be addressed, but in which order remains to be defined.
Against a backdrop of rising US-China tensions and domestic economic difficulties, maintaining the stability of China’s economy and finances should remain the country’s foremost concern.
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With the number of China’s strategic priorities “set to shrink when compared with previous years”, only Taiwan and US-China relations (incl. Beijing’s arms competition with Washington) should be given particular attention.
The BRI has not necessarily helped improve China’s relations with its neighbours. It should not count as one of China’s top priorities, nor should such issues as military cooperation with Russia, North Korea or even disputes in the South China Sea.
Beijing and the BRI have focused too much of their attention on developing countries and not enough on the developed world. This imbalance should be rectified. China’s future development depends on it.
The risk of China being excluded from a US-led trading bloc of countries with their own set of rules and standards is rising. Beijing must do its utmost to prevent this from happening. Reliance on the Global South for China’s future development is not a viable option.
Name: Shi Yinhong (时殷弘)
Age: 72 (March 1951)
Position: Director of the Centre for American Studies and chairman of the academic committee of the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China
Previously: Director of the Centre for International Strategic Studies at the PLA’s School of International Relations in Nanjing (which is part of China’s National University of Defence Technology); Researcher at CASS’s Institute of American Studies; and Professor of international relations at Nanjing University
Other: Appointed Counsellor of the State Council in 2011
Research focus: International relations; US-China relations
Education: MA (1981) and PhD (1988) from Nanjing University
SHI YINHONG ON THE BRI AND CHINA'S STRATEGY (EXCERPTS)
Shi Yinhong (时殷弘)
Q&A conducted by CASS Prof. Xue Li (薛力)
Published by China Review News Agency (中国评论新闻网) on 30.11.2023
Note: The following excerpts come from a presentation made by Shi on 22 July 2023. Its rather repetitious and ungainly style should be understood in this context.
(Illustration: China’s new BRI strategy according to DALL·E 3)
I. Listen more, talk less and do more