Text: Žikica Milošević
China has been doing a tremendous job of building infrastructure during the last 25+ years. Regular railways, high-speed railways, motorways and airports have been mushrooming all around China. Now the length of China’s high-speed railways surpasses the entire rest of the world combined, and almost every year China builds the complete length of Germany’s autobahns. Marco Polo travelled along the Silk Road centuries ago, but the first man to cross the continent by car was a Brit, who did so just a few years ago. The old Silk Road may have been forgotten, but China has one of the biggest infrastructure plans in the history of mankind. It is now unquestionable that China can connect the world. If you can do it in your country, you can do it in Eurasia and beyond. This is really important, given that we once had the old Silk Road but that maritime routes became more important over the last few centuries. Now China wants to rebuild the Silk Road, with its One Belt – One Road project, and revive Eurasian continental roads connecting countries like Mongolia, Kazakhstan etc. Serbia will also benefit strongly from this project. In order to find out more, here we talk to Mr Huang Ping, Director General of the Institute of European Studies of China.
To what extent is the New Silk Road a peace keeping project and how much is it a political and economic project?
Of course it is an economic project, designed to achieve prosperity and progress; a win-win result in terms of the economy and in terms of employment. That is the Chinese aim. At the beginning of our reforms, in the late 1970s, we reached consensus on the idea that if we want to develop our economy we first have to develop the infrastructure, the roads. That was one of the main and key goals of China’s management. So, if we have a win-win solution it will also, of course, bring peace along with it. If we know each other better, then we will not hate each other, nor have suspicions. If we know the culture, then it is not going to be an enemy culture, but a culture we know, and all the prejudices, or ignorance, will dissolve. Infrastructure comes first, but without cultural exchange and mutual understanding it will not work.
What does this initiative entail and how much does it rely on tradition (the Old Silk Road), on the one hand, and on modern vision of the future (multiple Silk Roads) on the other? To what extent will it be built along older routes?
I don’t think it will be built on the older routes or older branches of the Silk Road, though of course it will rely on that to some extent. Some people have called it “China’s Marshall Plan”, but it is an initiative and we have to work with our partners to match their needs and their plans. It will work in the manner of a partnership. Of course, history always teaches and we can learn a great deal from it. And in the future it will be used for travel, for connecting people, for mutual understanding; it will be used for more than just silk. It will be more international, more comprehensive. This is our initiative and whoever wants to propose something that fits them whenever, they can do it. Even in terms of export/import. Secondly, it is a kind of continuation of China’s trade, after the closure of China in the 19th century, during the late Chin dynasty. Now it is all based on interest, with no more coercion.
Because of the closures of China and Japan, all those countries that were economically inferior to you became superior and even invaded you, taking some ports. Being closed in is not a good solution. Being connected can make you superior. The vision of a truly prosperous world is not one in isolation. Do you agree?
I do believe in the kind of future where people have to be connected with each other, creating a network in a globalised world. Every country must find its own interests, but the network itself has to be open and inclusive. Protectionism won’t work. Free trade, but fair, with dialogue among equals, will bring just and equal globalisation. There are people who have suffered from globalisation. Globalisation is okay, but what kind of globalisation? Unequal globalisation is not good.
China built the first tramway in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and is now developing Kenya’s railways. Besides the One Belt – One Road project, China is doing a lot in Africa. Do you think next step will be the unification of the triune continent, with Africa connected to Eurasia?
Of course, for China, Europe is important, and we are doing lots of things within the framework of our Europe-China partnership relations. Eurasia comes first, which is necessary because it is one continent, and Africa follows. Such connectivity will bring less poverty and less misery, less immigrants heading to Europe from Africa.
How much does the New Silk Road fit the existing geopolitical relations between the world powers? Is it going to change something or contradict the current status?
I think that when we talk about the current order in the world, we are thinking about the post-World War II situation. Then two superpowers controlled everything, and even during Cold War those superpowers were in control. Even after 1991, in the so-called unipolar world, some people called it the end of history. Even the UN was created as a consequence of World War II. Now in the globalised world the old order and the old world has to be upgraded and improved, since we now have more participating countries. I don’t think there will be a next superpower, but the new order has to be built on peace and there should be no domination.
How much can these relations impact on overall relations between the EU and China? Do you consider the two to be friends or rivals, especially in Eastern Europe? How much do China’s efforts to collaborate with CEE countries, including Serbia, fit into the European ‘rules of the game’, particularly in light of political and economic interests in this region?
I think that the EU needs some time. They need to resolve what kind of union they will be – is that just an economic union, or one with diplomacy and everything. Secondly, the EU now has a huge Chinese presence, even financially. And of late refugees have represented a serious challenge to the EU. There are lots of challenges, like Greece and also relations with Russia. China, on the other hand, has a very privileged relationship with the EU. And European enlargement has been very ambitious, like in 2004 when it expanded from 15 countries to 25. But enlargement is not only about increasing the number of member states, but also about the need to integrate them. And that didn’t happen fully in Eastern Europe. Of course, China-EU relations have been very good, one of the best. Better than China-U.S. or China-Japan relations, China-EU relations are just next to China-Russia relations. We have a partnership for peace, for innovation, for culture, but China’s One Belt – One Road initiative has raised many questions, such as regarding whether or not it is changing the rules, especially in the candidate states? But I think people’s opinions about China are gradually changing. They are gradually beginning to understand that we are not rivals or a challenge, but that we are complementary.
China has never been a colonial superpower. Even in older times when it had resources, China never made conquests either in Asia or Africa. If China was a superpower and a technologically superior nation with gunpowder and printing machines, yet it did not conquer the world, why would anyone be afraid that it will do so now?
There is some prejudice and ignorance, and we also need to do a lot from the Chinese side. China did a tremendous job within the Chinese territory. Now we have to do a lot in order to do a great job outside our borders, and to convince people that we are doing it benevolently and with mutual interests in mind.
DIFFERENT MODERNITY, DIFFERENT ETHICS
Europe frequently suggests that the greater permeation of Chinese capital would jeopardise the European social model, which entails a high level of respect for democratic rights, including workers’ rights. Does that differ from Asian working ethics; should Europe be concerned?
Asian countries followed in the footsteps of Europeans from the 19th century, though only much later, only after World War II. It will take time for the world, for the American people, Europeans and Anglo-Saxons to see that there can be another type and another kind of modernity, of working ethics. That is not necessarily in conflict with the existing Western model. It takes time for them to understand that there can be an alternative, a different model; a different approach to prosperity. They eventually understood that with Japan, then with South Korea, now they are gradually accepting China. They will need time, but in the long run I feel optimistic.