There is no denying that the Silk Road Economic Belt (SRBE) is an extremely beneficial initiative. However, what many people do not know about it is that it is also a massive trade-off. In fact, this Belt has the potential of significantly reducing China’s global footprint. This comes as no surprise given the country’s vast resources and the state of its economy. Nevertheless, it is important for China to understand how such trade-offs are made and what role the country will ultimately have in the development of these high-speed railways.
First and foremost, it is important for China to realize that the Belt does not represent a return to the days when high-speed rail was simply a technological advancement. Instead, the Belt offers one potential alternative to a high-cost nation with a dearth of available land. In other words, while the Chinese government is pursuing growth at the highest possible level, it has to realize that this growth needs to be backed by infrastructure. With that in mind, it would seem that one of the first trade-offs is land. Indeed, there are limited available acres in China that can be used for constructing high-speed railroads. In order to make way for the planned developments, the country will need to make large tracts of its desert available.
Secondly, a major trade-off will take place over the construction of high-speed rail. In fact, when compared to the United States, Japan, and India, China’s share of the investment in this venture is minuscule. Furthermore, even if India were to invest in this venture, it would be a relative small investment. Given this, India would be forced to rely upon foreign currencies to finance the construction, which will ultimately reduce its overall domestic manufacturing capacity.
Thirdly, one of the most significant trade-offs takes place over the development of nuclear weapons. As China is trying to modernize its economy, it cannot afford to lose its nuclear weapon capabilities. As a result, it will be forced to put more emphasis on the Silk Road Economic Belt and other emerging regional development schemes. This means that, over time, the economic belt will become increasingly important as it attempts to develop a stronger economy Silk Road economic belt.
Then, there is the question of the alignment of the Belt and Road. Although China is not a major global player at the moment, the country’s shift towards Asia and the subsequent globalization will have some disturbing implications for global trade. India, for example, has already made this transition. In fact, it is looking to the Middle East for markets and it wants to continue the process of globalization by developing connectivity via Middle East. If one believes that the Middle East is capable of offering adequate solutions for developing sustainable economic policies, then one would have to agree with this assessment.
The other four countries in the vicinity of the Belt and Road, Pakistan and Afghanistan, face unique challenges. They are experiencing political and security problems of their own, which means that they are unlikely to cooperate with the Chinese. Moreover, both Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying hard to develop their infrastructures and these resources are slowly running out. Both of them will be forced to look to the West for help, which will reduce their influence on the region and reduce the trade-off.
At the same time, developing countries such as India are not necessarily ready to sacrifice their own interests. The prime motivation for Indians in supporting the Silk Road is the belief that it will eventually help them develop their own economy. This is possible only if they receive assistance from other countries. However, it is not clear whether any such assistance can come from within the country, or whether it will have to be sponsored by outside sources. Even if it does come from outside sources, such assistance will have to be channeled according to Indian interests.
The current scenario of instability in the Middle East and North Africa highlights the urgent need for a flexible and open approach to the Silk Road Economic Belt. This has become even more relevant given the fact that several of these countries are now in the middle of fighting proxy wars (which they apparently cannot win) and facing terrorist organizations that claim allegiance to Islamic State. In order to avoid being sucked into one of these conflicts, all countries in the area must find a way of promoting and supporting economic integration and development in each country. Otherwise, they will be susceptible to being swallowed up by larger trading powers that are already developing regions within the Belt.