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Gerald Chan

Chapter 1 reviews some key developments of the Belt and Road Initiative. It then turns to the maritime Silk Road. The book argues that geo-developmentalism captures well the essence of the Belt and Road Initiative, including the maritime Silk Road. Geo-developmentalism is a concept and an approach that I proposed a few years ago in an earlier book. The present volume continues to refine this theoretical approach with evidence drawn from the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative so far, to be elaborated in Chapter 3. Chapters 4 to 6 focus respectively on the maritime Silk Road to the west, the south (Oceania), and the north (the Arctic). Chapter 7 looks at the ways China goes about protecting its maritime investments. Chapter 8, the last chapter, is the concluding chapter.

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Gerald Chan

Chapter 2 gives an overview of the current state of affairs of the maritime Silk Road, as a prelude to more detailed analyses of the three main routes which China identified in an official paper in 2017 entitled ‘Vision for maritime cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative’. These three main routes are: the traditional, established route to the West to connect with Europe through the Malacca Strait, the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal; a second route to reach Oceania and the South Pacific via maritime Southeast Asian; and the third, newest route to link up with northern Europe and northern America through the Arctic Ocean. China has started to develop port facilities along these routes to facilitate trade and other forms of connectivity. This chapter discusses the efforts made by the People’s Republic to develop its shipbuilding industry and to promote its maritime interests since the reform and opening up in the 1980s.

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Gerald Chan

Chapter 3 is a theory chapter. It provides some pointers to guide the framing and analysis found in the book, using geo-developmentalism as a concept to capture the spirit and practice of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. I have defined geo-developmentalism as ‘China-initiated developmental strategy of infrastructure building aimed at promoting mutual economic growth by increasing connections across the globe.’ I have identified ten core features of geo-developmentalism, including a win–win formula, infrastructure building, geo-economics and geopolitics. Using this concept, I try to probe into international developments based on the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and on other developments in global politics, especially the impact of American foreign policy under President Donald Trump. The purpose is to help enhance our theoretical understanding of China’s new diplomacy under President Xi Jinping. These international developments include the emergence of neo-transnationalism and neo-globalisation. I explain them and assess whether or not a new global order is in the making. I would argue in the positive by describing the emerging order as a hybrid system which combines global features and Chinese characteristics.

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Gerald Chan

Chapter 4 follows China’s maritime journey to the west through the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea to reach Europe. This route has served as the main artery for trade between Europe, the Arab world and Asia for a long time. China is in the course of opening up, developing or upgrading numerous ports and sea channels along the way. The chapter focuses on four case studies: the Gwadar port in Pakistan; the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka; the Piraeus port in Greece; and the Djibouti port in East Africa. All these four port cities occupy strategic locations along major trade routes, although the host countries of these ports face vastly different politico-economic environments, both domestic and external. China’s concerted efforts in developing these infrastructure projects have met with different responses: cooperation, resistance and confrontations. The chapter analyses the responses of some major powers to China’s initiatives. It assesses the implications of such interactions for global order and development.

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Gerald Chan

Chapter 5 investigates China’s way to the south to connect with Oceania and the South Pacific. As China’s economy grows, it reaches out to other countries to promote trade, investment and development. The maritime route to Oceania and the South Pacific helps to achieve such aim. In this region, Australia and New Zealand are the big players. They form parts of the Western security alliance led by the U.S. However, they have to strike a fine balance between the U.S. and Europe on the one hand and China on the other. This balancing act is not easy to perform. In addition, they have to protect their traditional sphere of influence in the South Pacific. For China, it is a matter of dealing not only with Australia and New Zealand, but also with a large group of small island states. Increasingly too these small island states have to practise their own balancing: between Chinese trade and investments on the one hand and on the other their aid-receiving diplomacy with Australia and New Zealand. As a result of China’s expanding presence in the region, Australia and New Zealand find it necessary to step up their foreign assistance to their neighbours. China expresses its willingness to work with both Australia and New Zealand to help these states. However, Australia and New Zealand have become cautious. In comparison with Australia, New Zealand plays a slightly more independent role. It can serve as a bridge for China to reach out to Latin America and the Antarctica. China faces an addition problem in the region as some of the small island states maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

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Gerald Chan

Chapter 6 explores China’s venture to the north to make connections with Europe and North America through the Arctic. The Chinese call this route the ‘Polar Silk Road’. The country is a latecomer to the region. In January 2018 the Chinese government published a white paper on its Arctic interests and policy, declaring itself a ‘near-Arctic state’, although its northernmost part is still a fair distance away from the Arctic Circle. China pledges to follow international law in dealing with Arctic affairs, in contrast to its policy towards the South China Sea. As a result of global warming, Arctic ice is melting and the surrounding sea widening. This geographic change offers new opportunities to countries to exploit new ways of navigation and mining, including Russia and the U.S. Does China’s recent intrusion in the Arctic pose a threat to others? What has China done to invest in the region? In what way does China’s northern venture tie in with its Belt and Road Initiative? Does China’s interest go beyond economics and science to politics and security? How do other countries, especially the eight member-states of the Arctic Council, respond to China’s activities in their vicinity?

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Gerald Chan

Chapter 7 asks the question: How does China protect its assets along the maritime Silk Road? History has taught us that when a country grows strong and reaches out, it will look for ways to protect its expanding interests, usually by building up its military. Will China prove to be an exception to this rule? This chapter aims to find out the ways in which China goes about protecting its investment overseas. It looks into two major aspects of China’s protective measures: legal means to settle trade and investment disputes; and martial means to provide security protection. In terms of disputes with other countries, China has started to establish its own arbitration system to deal with the increasing number of such disputes. In terms of security risks, some big Chinese state-owned enterprises have started to employ private security services to protect their employees and properties. Some of these private security providers are Chinese companies newly set up in the country. At the same time, the Chinese government has begun to organise military assistance to overseas Chinese stranded in conflicts or natural disasters. This would involve the strengthening of China’s maritime and naval capability and the building of port facilities to provide logistical support. In this way, China is not acting unlike other rising powers. What is China’s maritime power? How to assess its growing capability? What is the present state of China’s shipping industry? What are the consequences and implications of China’s maritime rise?

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Gerald Chan

Chapter 8, the concluding chapter, brings together important findings reached in previous chapters and makes sense of the current situation of China’s maritime Silk Road. It addresses two major issues relating to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative. One is the so-called ‘debt trap’ that critics have accused China of using by extending easy loans to developing countries to build infrastructure projects with little hope that these countries could service their debt repayment. The other is the major tech advancements that China has made. China plans to continue to invest in IT industries, especially its Made in China 2025 programme. The chapter compares the views expressed by critics and China’s responses in defence of these. It assesses the likely developments of this confrontation in the near future. It also assesses whether or not geo-developmentalism can stand the test of time, and to what extent.

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Gerald Chan