With its New Silk Road mega-project, China is building on old traditions. But hard-core geostrategic interests, not nostalgia, are guiding Beijing’s investments. Miodrag Soric reports from Tbilisi, Georgia.
When it comes to the economy, the Chinese government thinks and acts quickly. And the same is true of China’s exports. Currently most products exported to Europe are transported by sea, but Beijing is looking for alternatives, and has its eyes set on new land routes.
Four years ago, the Chinese President Xi Jingping announced the mega-initiative “New Silk Road” (One Belt and One Road, or OBOR for short). This project involves various transport corridors from China to the west – for example through Russia and Belarus; or along roads and railways through Central Asia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey; or on alternative routes through Pakistan to the Indian Ocean, and from there by ship.
Beijing has chosen several routes so it can pick the most favorable, and play the different countries along the new Silk Road off against each other.
Much welcome investment
But we are not there yet. First, Beijing has to invest a great deal of money in the New Silk Road. Recently, China’s Premier Li Keqiang promised investments in infrastructure at a meeting with 16 of his counterparts from Central and Southeastern Europe, amounting to about $3 billion over the coming years. These countries are in dire need of cash and eager to take Beijing’s money. Many in the Balkans, in particular, feel forgotten by the European Union, and closer economic relations with China, while not an alternative to the EU, are helpful.
In Beijing’s consideration of which transport corridors should be developed, Georgia has played a key role. It will become a hub for Chinese products – and not only because of its central geographical location. According to the World Bank, Georgia now offers excellent conditions for foreign investors: little bureaucracy, functioning institutions, low levels of corruption, and steady growth.