Wednesday, February 28, 2018

China’s Belt and Road will recast global alliances

There are opportunities for the Gulf to figure prominently in them

By Mohammad Al Asoomi, Special to Gulf News

12:33 February 28, 2018

Through a forward-looking approach, China has achieved remarkable success in finding new trade routes linking continents, in what has come to be known as the “One Belt and One Road Initiative” and a reminder of the historic Silk Road. China’s success, however, will definitely lead to a reversal of control over global trade routes that were once dominated by the West.

The recent Beijing conference, held to discuss the latest developments on these routes, saw a qualitative leap in terms of the number of participants — from more than 60 countries — and in taking practical steps to implementation.

With initial allocations of $60 billion (Dh220 billion), the first route will extend across the Asian continent while the second will pass through Africa and head to Europe and the Americas. This move has got on the nerves of China’s traditional competitors, with the US, Japan, India and Australia announcing they are planning to set up competitive routes to the China project.

This means re-igniting the conflict over control of trade routes that has been there more than 500 years ago, leading to wars. The latest version will of course lead to new alliances.

It is a fact that these developments are not normal but will radically alter strategic interests, positions of power and hegemony, and expansion of influence. This could lead to the greatest gains possible on a wave of globalisation, set of an information revolution and progress in artificial intelligence. It would prove a setback for traditional economic forces and emergence of new powers, as well as create a level playing field thanks to a knowledge-based economy.

Common interests

This raises many questions which require thoughtful consideration and strategic analysis on the new division of labour. This comes at a time when the struggle for dominance over trade routes is no longer happening among once major powers, such as Great Britain and France, but between alliances of countries that are joined by common interests and share centres of influence.

Where do other influential powers, such as the EU and Russia stand in all of this? And what of the Arab countries, which were completely ignored when the new Chinese Silk Road was mapped out?

Would the EU join the US-Asian project by virtue of past alliances? Or would the current reconciliation make it crucial to join the Chinese project? Would it put up its own rival project?

What about Russia? Would it join the Chinese project, the closest to its interests? Or would it wait to develop one, which can attract strategic countries that are located on key trade routes such as the Middle East, Turkey and the Central Asian countries?

Gulf countries

The implementation of each project will depend on the financial capabilities and leaders’ ability to attract massive capital. This means there are real opportunities for Arab countries, especially the Gulf ones, to find a role in one of these projects thanks to their strategic location, financial capabilities and advanced infrastructure.

Yet, taking an immediate and specific position in this regard is not easy, as it requires a comprehensive strategic study that takes into account the new division of powercentres, the trade and economic influence of Gulf countries and of those that depend on the Gulf’s energy sources.

Also to be taken into consideration is the need to pass these projects through many of the conflict-ridden countries in the region. This could seriously affect the development and economic and stability.

The rapid technological and geopolitical changes will result in major implications in the new alignments among countries in terms of their economic importance and political and military influence. This indicates that there are real opportunities for countries to prepare for future changes and harness them to serve their own development.

Dr Mohammad Al Asoomi is a UAE economic expert and specialist in economic and social development in the UAE and the GCC countries

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