By Jan Oberg
Western mainstream media and politics disseminate so many negative aspects of China and consider it a serious threat to Western hegemony to such an extent that it is difficult to see any other – more relevant – perspectives.
The China-initiated Silk Road and Belt Initiative (BRI), described in links like these, has drawn far less attention in the West than it deserves. It involves about 100 countries; it will connect the world horizontally after centuries of the Western-dominated vertical world order; it’s emphasis is on infrastructure, trade, education and culture, not military relations; and – if implemented – it could well become humankind’s most fascinating peace and development project.
An article in China Today from May 2017 carries the main catchwords from a peace and security viewpoint:
• pro-peace (constructive)
• respect for sovereignty of states
• cooperative structures
• common security
• benefits to all
• respect for each other’s development path (diversity)
And here some excerpts also from China Today in 2017:
“As some western countries move backwards by erecting “walls,” China is contriving to build bridges, both literal and metaphorical. These bridges are China’s important offering to the world, and a key route to improving global governance. Proposed by China, the Belt and Road is for all to enjoy.”
“China is not willing or able to replace or replicate the vast web of political and economic tendrils maintained by the United States, but China is trying to take the current structure and build from it a more just and balanced world.»
Covering over 60 percent of the world’s population and nearly one third of global economic output, the Belt and Road has the support of more than 100 countries and institutions.
That China takes the Silk Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) very seriously can be seen in the fact that it has been written into the Communist Party’s Constitution. It isn’t just a smart idea for some immediate political purpose; it’s a huge, long-term commitment of the country.
As an aside, it is highly interesting that these principles are new in today’s world but date back to the 1954 Panchsheel Treaty of Non interference in others internal affairs and respect for each other’s territorial unity integrity and sovereignty.
The Panch (Five) Sheel (Virtues) Treaty was signed by China and India in 1954 and its principles became the foundation of the Non-Alligned Movement (NAM, today abut 120 members) which was established in Yugoslavia in 1956 by Yugoslavia’s Tito, India’s Nehru, Egypt’s Nasser, Indonesia’s Sukharno and Ghana’s Nkrumah – the five gathering around five principles of peaceful coexistence.
None of the above-mentioned foreign policies of China make mention of the UN norm of general and complete disarmament, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, nuclear abolition, arms control or confidence-building measures. Further, China is a nuclear weapons power and the 4th or 5th largest military spender on earth (however small in per capita terms).
However, it is remarkable that China’s official representative, veteran diplomat and chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, Mme Fu Ying, stated at the February 2018 Munich Security Conference that China will not/never:
– be the first to use nuclear weapons
– threaten anyone with nuclear war
– use nuclear weapons against a conventional attack
– use nuclear weapons against countries that a members of Nuclear Weapons-Free zones
Finally and very important, Mme Fu Ying states that China believes in minimum deterrence and self-defence.
Being a large military power and possessing nuclear weapons is, undoubtedly, problematic from the point of view of Alfred Nobel’s will and his wish to see a world with much less warfare, armies and destruction. However, in contrast to the dominant, hegemonic policy paradigm China’s international engagement is projected neither by sword (wars, occupation and bases) nor by a Bible. They don’t try to make/force their partners to become Buddhists, Taoists or Confuscianists.
However – and much more important – the Silk BRI paves the way to what Nobel aimed to support, namely the “champions of peace”, peace congresses and the development of fraternity of nations. That is, for sure, what Xi jinping’s initiative is also about.
Remarkable is also that all the Chinese peace and security principles contrast the principles pursued vigorously by the members of the NATO alliance as well as – and in particular – the recent US Nuclear Posture Review and National Defence Strategy.
The Silk Road and Belt Initiative has come a long way in just 5 years. Give it another 5 or 20 years and we may – why not be hopeful? – see a new world of much more cooperation and much less warfare.
The BRI hold the potential of classical conflict-resolution and peace-building/reconciliation philosophy: Give people some common projects that they all benefit from – win-win and as equally as possible – and they will see the benefits in that and a common interest in not destroying such a cooperative structure.
One may even say that the BRI turns the Western thinking on its head.
In the West they say: First arms, then some kind of military balance, then military security, then stability and then peace. Peace at the very end! But if you start in the opposite end with a peaceful cooperation and mutual benefits, you reduce the risk/motivation for the use of violence. Then the need for arms is reduced and you achieve stability and sustain peace at a much lower military level.
This way of thinking is much more in line with what is stated in the UN Charter – that we should establish peace by peaceful means (Article 1) and then secure the peace by everybody’s right to self-defence (Art 51).
That is, potentially and philosophically at least, exactly what the Silk Road Initiative is also about.
If the Silk BRI’s above principles are implemented and become the reality on the ground over the next decades, involving more and more countries, we will see a world where the propensity to start wars is sharply reduced or disappear and then the weapons, and certainly the nukes, will become irrelevant.
They’ll also be impossible to legitimate and morally even more repugnant because the new world structure will become a peace-promoting civilization based with a regional and global ethics that replace narrow-minded national policies. Dominant threat images will outdated, intelligent conflicts-resolution methods and dialogues will be a main way to solve conflicts. And conflicts there will always be on the road – even in peace. But the violence will be reduced.
It’s indeed difficult to find anything more constructive in its conceptualization and philosophy than the BRI in today’s world.
These thoughts deserve to be welcomed and followed up by leaders in the Western world, and it is the Nobel Peace Committee´s responsibility to cultivate such opportunities for renewal and change in international relations.