UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — China’s “new Silk Road” — an ambitious initiative to increase China’s presence on the world stage through greater economic ties to Europe, the Persian Gulf, and Africa — will exert a profound influence on international affairs and American foreign policy in the coming years, argues Penn State School of International Affairs professor Flynt Leverett in a new publication.
With co-author and Peking University professor Wu Bingbing, Leverett lays out a detailed analysis of China’s strategic goals in “The New Silk Road and China’s Evolving Grand Strategy,” which will appear in the January 2017 volume of The China Journal published by the University of Chicago Press.
Despite China’s tense and increasingly competitive relationship with the United States, as well as with its Asian neighbors, Leverett argues that Beijing’s “new Silk Road” (which is also referred to as “One Belt, One Road”) is not geared at replacing American primacy with Chinese primacy.
Rather, China’s evolving grand strategy is designed to create “a more multipolar order” in which China achieves “great power status” alongside the United States, thereby creating a more even distribution of global power among nations.
Historical context is important for understanding this goal. Leverett notes that the People’s Republic of China has long been opposed to perceived “overly concentrated distributions of global power” — a position that has been shaped by China’s previous “domination by foreign (mainly Western) powers.”
And now that China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second-largest economy, becoming the dominant economic hub of the Eastern Hemisphere in the process, the nation is in a position to increase its international influence; reorient its export-based economy to focus more on domestic consumption; and attain long-term economic, diplomatic, and energy security. Mindful of the U.S.-centric system in which it currently operates, China’s new Silk Road initiative represents a “win-win” approach to these goals that will benefit not only China, but potentially the wider international community.
How exactly the United States will respond to this “rising” China remains to be seen, though Leverett cautions against an overly reactionary or aggressive response. China’s new strategic posture could have a profoundly beneficial influence on issues such as global climate change and economic security.
“Certainly, China will face economic, political, diplomatic, and security obstacles in implementing One Belt, One Road,” Leverett writes. “In reality, though, Westerners and their governments have critical long-term interests that would be well served by the new Silk Road’s success.”
“If the United States and its partners care about the global economy’s trajectory, they should want China to succeed a consolidating a new growth model — which means they should want China to succeed in realizing One Belt, One Road.”