[Bruno Maçães, Belt and Road. A Chinese World Order. Penguin. Gurgaon (India), 2019. 227p.]
review / Emili J. Blasco
Covered at the moment by literature devoted to present the novelty of the Chinese New Silk Road project , Bruno Maçães leaves aside many of the specific concretions of the Chinese initiative to deal with its more geopolitical aspects. That is why Maçães uses the name Belt and Road throughout the book, instead of its acronyms -OBOR (One Belt, One Road) or the more recently used BRI (Belt and Road Initiative)-, since he is not referring so much to the layout of the transport connections themselves as to the new world order that Beijing wants to shape.
Through this economic integration, according to Maçães, China could project power over two thirds of the world, including Central and Eastern Europe, in a process of geographic cohesion of Eurasia to which this Portuguese politician and researcher already dedicated his previous work.
Compared to other essays on the New Silk Road, this one focuses a lot on India (this is the case in its general content, but also in this review a special edition dedicated to that country has been used, with a particular introduction).
Maçães grants India the role of core topic of vault in the project integrating Eurasia. If India decides not to participate at all and, instead, to go for the alternative promoted by the United States, together with Japan and Australia, then the Chinese design will not reach the dimension longed for by Beijing. "If India decides that life in the Western order will be better than under alternative arrangements, the Belt and Road will have difficulty achieving its original ambition," says the author.
Maçães believes, however, that the West is not all that attractive to the subcontinent. In that Western order, India can only aspire to a secondary role, while the rise of China "offers it the exciting possibility of a genuinely multipolar, rather than merely multilateral, world in which India can legitimately hope to become an autonomous center of geopolitical power," at least on a par with a declining Russia.
Despite these apparent advantages, India will not go all the way to either side, Maçães predicts. "It will never join the Belt and Road because it could only consent to join China in a project that was new. And it will never join a US initiative to rival the Belt and Road unless the US makes it less confrontational." So, "India will keep everyone waiting, but it will never make a decision on the Belt and Road".
Without Delhi's involvement, or even more, with resistance from the Indian leadership, neither the US nor China's vision can be fully realized internship, Maçães continues to argue. Without India, Washington may be able to preserve its current model of alliances in Asia, but its ability to compete on the scale that the Belt and Road does would collapse; for its part, Beijing is realizing that alone it cannot provide the financial resources needed for the ambitious project.
Maçães warns that China has "ignored and disdained" India's positions and interests, which may end up being "a major miscalculation". He believes that China's impatience to start building infrastructure, because of the need to demonstrate that its initiative is a success, "may become the worst enemy".
He ventures that the Chinese may correct the shot. "It is likely - perhaps even inevitable - that the Belt and Road will grow increasingly decentralized, less China-centric," he says, commenting that in the end such a new Chinese order would not be so different from the structure of the existing Washington-led world order, where "the US insists on being recognized as the state at the apex of the hierarchy of international power" and leaves some autonomy to each regional power.
If Maçães puts India in a status of non-alignment plenary session of the Executive Council, he does foresee an unequivocal partnership of that country with Japan. In his view it is a "symbiotic" relationship, in which India sees Japan as its first source of technology, while Japan sees the Indian navy as "an indispensable partner in its efforts to contain Chinese expansion and safeguard freedom of navigation" in the seas of the region.
As for Europe, Maçães sees it in the difficult position "of not being able to oppose an international project of economic integration, while being equally incapable of joining as a mere participant" in the Chinese initiative, in addition to the germ of division that project has already introduced into the European Union.
From Bangladesh to Pakistan and Djibouti
Despite the differences indicated above, Maçães believes that the relationship between China and India can develop positively, even if there is some element of latent conflict, encouraged by a certain mutual distrust. The commercial linkage of two such immense markets and production centers will generate economic ties "called to dominate" the world Economics towards the middle of this century.
This movement of goods between the two countries will make Bangladesh and Myanmar the center of a major trade corridor.
For its part, Pakistan, in addition to being a corridor for the exit to the Indian Ocean from western China, will be increasingly integrated into the Chinese production chain. In particular, it can supply raw materials and basic manufactures to the textile industry that China is developing in Xinjiang, its export gateway to Europe for goods that can optimize rail transport. The capital of that province, Urumqi, will become the fashion capital of Central Asia in the next decade, according to Maçães' forecast, agreement .
Another interesting observation is that the shrinking of Eurasia and the development of internal transport routes between the two ends of the supercontinent, may cause the container ports of the North Sea (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Hamburg) to lose weight in the trade between Europe and China at the expense of a greater transit of those of the Mediterranean (Piraeus, especially).
The author also ventures that Chinese infrastructure works in Cameroon and Nigeria can help facilitate connections between these countries and Doralé, the port that China manages in Djibouti, which, through these trans-African routes, could become "a serious rival" to the Suez Canal.
If in Djibouti China has its first, and for the moment only, military base outside its territory, it should be kept in mind that Beijing can give a possible military use to other ports whose management has assumed. As Maçães reminds, China approved in 2016 a legal framework that obliges civilian companies to support military logistics operations requested by the Chinese Navy.
All these are aspects of a suggestive book that does not allow itself to be carried away by the determinism of the Chinese rise, nor by an antagonistic vision that denies the possibility of a new world order. The work of a European who, although he served in the Portuguese Foreign Ministry as director general for Europe, is realistic about the weight of the EU in the orb's design .