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Book Review BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE: EMERGING WORLD ORDER BY DR. TALAT AYESHA WIZARAT (SINGAPORE: PARTRIDGE, 2023)

SYED SAMIULLAH

The book, titled: “Belt and Road Initiative: Emerging World Order” is authored by Prof. Dr. Talat Ayesha Wizarat, an esteemed scholar in international relations and Middle Eastern studies from Pakistan. Within the pages of this book, Dr. Wizarat meticulously dissects President Xi Jinping’s visionary and evolutionary concept of connectivity and collaboration, offering a comprehensive exploration of the future trajectory of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Recognizing that modern infrastructure is the bedrock upon which both economic and political progress is built, she underscores the paramount importance of digital technology in the current development landscape.

The scope of the BRI which in fact is transforming the world order, spans both land and maritime domains, and Dr. Wizarat expertly delineates the intricate interplay between these two facets. Beyond mere trade routes, the BRI embodies a multifaceted entity, where economic corridors function as conduits of interdependence, fostering cooperation and shared growth among participating states. The book consists of seven chapters and a concluding section, delving into two main themes. The first six chapters extensively explore the Modern Silk Road Economic Belt (MSREB), while the seventh chapter focuses on the Modern Maritime Silk Road (MMSR).

In the book’s initial section, Dr. Wizarat provides an overview of ancient trade routes. It encompasses the historical and cultural significance of trade routes in promoting global interdependence. The Silk Road, a renowned trade network, is detailed extensively, encompassing multiple routes connecting diverse regions like China, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The section also explores other routes, including the Spice Route, Salt Road, Incense Route, Tea Road, and routes for commodities like amber, tin, and fur etc. These routes facilitated economic survival, cultural exchange, and strategic interests across Asia, Africa, and Europe. Furthermore, the arms trade is likened to a Silk Road of its own.

The modern world has seen the emergence of various Silk Roads, like the Knowledge Silk Road, Digital Silk Road, and Space Silk Road, all fostering global connectivity. China’s role in promoting mutual development through these routes is emphasized. The author, Dr. Wizarat underscores the continued significance of trade routes and proposes their revival, highlighting factors like economic compatibility, sustainability, and interdependence among states (p. 19).

Exploring the intricacies of energy routes, particularly those entailing the Middle East’s supply of oil and gas to diverse regions, sheds light on the complex dynamics at play. Among these routes, the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipelines hold significance which faced challenges in recent past due to the presence of the US in the region. The author, Dr. Wizarat emphasizes that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched by China’s president in 2013, aims to create trade routes with infrastructure like roads, railways, storage facilities, and industrial zones. The Modern Silk Road Economic Belt (MSREB) is its land component. The BRI, focuses on economic development and communication enhancement, spanning Asia, Africa, and Europe, aims to alleviate poverty and promote mutual growth. China’s exceptional success in reducing poverty is notable (p. 46).

BRI’s first phase involves over a trillion USDs investment for infrastructural development while the second phase emphasizes over industrialization, Special Economic Zones, creating millions of jobs, technology upgrades, and research. The promotion of key developments in this regard has been advanced by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund (SRF). The Silk Road Economic Belt encompasses a network of diverse economic corridors, each with a value in the billions of dollars, effectively bridging continents and catalyzing profound socio-economic transformations.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is considered a flagship BRI project. According to Dr. Wizarat, China and Pakistan prioritize their interests, avoiding interference in each other’s internal affairs, possibly learned from US-Pakistan relations, which is assembled with great lack of trust owing to American interference (p. 89). Realizing the importance of CPEC both countries have created a number of special institutions to facilitate decision making and smooth implementation of CPEC projects. Several task forces and joint commission committees have been bilaterally established which especially deal with energy, transportation infrastructure, Gawadar port, industrial cooperation, security, policy planning and cooperation, socio-economic development, international cooperation and coordination, agriculture and science and technology.

CPEC has divided into three phases. The phase one focuses on infra-structure and energy, which was expected to be completed in 2018, the phase two focuses on creating Special Economic Zones (SEZ) to promote the industrial ventures while phase three will see the completion of railways, mainline-1, and operationalization of all SEZs.

This phase is intended to be finalized by 2030. Developments in the energy sector covers all thermal power, hydel power, tidal wave energy, wind energy, solar energy and nuclear energy. In 2018, somewhat 13000 MW of energy were added to national grid station. Industrial parks and special economic zones are being created in the core areas of CPEC. CPEC begins in China’s Kashgar, crosses into Pakistan via Khunjerab Pass, and features three routes within Pakistan: a western route to, an eastern route, and a central route. However, all the three routes originates from Gawadar and culminate in the North (p. 112). The collaboration under CPEC is driven by mutual interests, bolstering China’s global maritime influence via Gawadar.

The realization of CPEC was made possible by the existence of the Karakoram Highway (KKH), acclaimed as the 8th wonder of the world, constructed in the 1960s. KKH’s historical and cultural significance is emphasized, serving as a conduit for ideas, religions and cultures (p. 129). Originally spanning 1300km from Hasan Abdal to Xingjing, KKH has been extended to connect Gawadar and all Pakistani provinces, forming a basis for an extensive network of roads, railways, and pipelines. This is vital for socio-economic development, education, and China’s strategic outreach. (p. 159).

In the past three decades, the concept of ‘Special Economic Zones’ (SEZs) has gained global traction, with 5400 established in 147 countries. Notably, China’s SEZs lead, contributing 46% of exports, 22% of GDP, and employing over 30 million people of the country.

The author, Dr. Wizarat, emphasizes to maximize Gawadar port’s potential, addressing security, local fisherman concerns, and enhancing education and lifestyles are paramount. Gawadar has the potential to emerge as a regional trade hub involving China, Central Asia, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. This outlook presents opportunities and challenges in equal measure.

The book’s second part includes chapter seven, “Modern Maritime Silk Road: Geopolitical Realities in a Changing World.” This chapter introduces the concept of the Modern Maritime Silk Road (MMSR) within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). MMSR focuses on the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Indian Ocean, with potential expansion into the Mediterranean Sea, Pacific Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean. The 14th Chinese five-year plan (2020-2025) aims to extend this initiative to the Arctic Ocean. The success of this expansion could revolutionize the maritime network, impacting the Indian Ocean’s Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, Bay of Bengal, and Strait of Malacca. This expansion is referred to as the ‘Polar Silk Road.’ China also intends to connect the Andaman Sea and South China Sea by digging a canal in Thailand’s Kra Isthmus, involving bridges and road networks (p. 248). In the historical context, the Indian Ocean was long dominated by European powers.

This hegemony eventually gave way to US influence following World War II. However, the emergence of China has introduced a significant shift in power dynamics, creating unease among Western nations, particularly the US. According to D. Wizarat, in this situation a dual approach could be seen: intense anti-BRI propaganda and, if unsuccessful, attempts at regime change. In this regard the already taken steps e.g. ‘Pivot to Asia’ and Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) aims to contain China. Other platforms like AUKUS and Fourteen Eyes are established, though yet a direct power clash remains unexpected but the notion of an ‘Indo-Pacific corridor’ seeks American influence in the region.

China’s maritime security strategy evolved over four decades, but challenges persist due to dependencies on the Indian Ocean, South China Sea, and East China Sea. The South China Sea is pivotal, handling 80% of China’s trade. Unconventional measures, like converting reefs into islands and ‘Blue water Navy,’ address challenges. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy also plays a crucial security role.

Additionally, the maritime strategies of regional states, notably Pakistan and India, hold significant importance. Pakistan’s development of Port Qasim, Jinnah Naval Base, and Gawadar as a deep sea port enhances trade avenues and maritime security. Gawadar’s potential benefits extend to Afghanistan and Central Asian states. In contrast, India aligns with the US to counter China amid their rivalry (p. 270). However, Chinese initiatives are meticulously planned and resonate with developing states’ aspirations for a better future.

In conclusion, the book “Belt and Road Initiative: Emerging World Order” is a remarkable demonstration of Dr. Wizarat’s insightful grasp of worldwide dynamics, effectively shedding light on the intricate interplay between developmental pursuits and geopolitical considerations. Within its pages, the comprehensive examination of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is presented alongside a well-defined path for participating nations to skillfully navigate the uncertainties that lie ahead, all while fostering a sense of unity in the global arena. This work encapsulates the profound potential for a shared and interconnected tomorrow, one that thrives on strategic cooperation among nations. Central to this vision is China’s notion of ‘shared prosperity,’ which infuses a sense of optimism for a more promising future, magnifying the influence of collective determination in translating aspirations into tangible achievements.

The author is Research officer at RFI

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