Toward a Class Analysis of China’s Radical Belt and Road Initiative [BRI]

The Belt and Road Forum [May 14th-15th, 2017]

As the global forum on China’s Belt and Road Initiative [BRI] concluded yesterday [May 15th, 2017] we begin to process the proceedings of direct collaborative dialogue between twenty-nine heads of state and indirectly to 101 others through their delegations dispatched to the forum.

Belt And

In a nutshell, twenty-nine heads of states and representatives from 130 countries convened to discuss the “project of the century” characterized by technologically advanced infrastructure links [sea-port, high-speed rail, tunnel, etc.] between all the world’s continents. The second Belt and Road Forum [BRF] is expected to be held sometime in 2019.

The initiative, which has been gathering intelligence and capital resourced from over 100 countries puts the United States in a difficult strategic position: BRI is China’s idea and vision and it encompasses their efforts to become the political and economic center of gravity which naturally challenges US post-WWII hegemony. [The United States held half of the world’s wealth after WWII and set concrete measures in place to keep it that way.]

But there are much more important questions at hand than which country is at the steering wheel of world economic organization. As much as ruling classes would have the masses believe, politics is not a March Madness tournament where everybody puts on the same color and cheers for their favorite team. One has to consider, within and between each country, the complex relationships of different classes to each other and to the means of production and exchange.

Therefore, this piece is meant to drive discussion toward a class analysis of the Chinese-led “project of the century” as well as to provide useful background information and contextualization of the planning process of the initiative itself.

Where does the US Establishment Stand?

The United States is keeping its distance closing cultural and political channels to the BRI: While simultaneously keeping their own commentary to a minimum, media outlets like the New York Times is actively trying to undermine China’s efforts to reach its own public by attacking them for “propaganda.” If the picture is looking unclear at the moment, let us take a closer look at the United States’ conservative involvement in the initiative thus far.

Initially the United States loudly self-excluded itself from participation in the BRF. However, it was announced late in the  game that an American delegate would be present in the person of Matt Pottinger, former Marine and expert on Chinese affairs. As important as Pottinger’s presence is, the absence of Donald Trump despite being directly invited by President Xi of China requires careful contextualization.

Instead of cooperating in a Chinese-led initiative, the United States would rather use the N. Korea conflict as a pretext to increasing its military presence in the region to threaten Chinese efforts to lead cooperative international development. Chinese authorities have clearly articulated that the recent deployment of America’s THAAD anti-ballistic system in S. Korea is a direct threat to them rather than to N. Korea. There is a long history of false pretenses being used to justify aggressive military interventions which I will not repeat here.

It does follow, however, the importance of placing all American news stories about N. Korea in the context of China’s efforts to become the new economic center of gravity through the BRI. Recall the destruction of the “Sunshine policy” between N. and S. Korea by the W. Bush administration as well as the undermining of the peaceful nuclear power agreement signed by President Clinton in 1994. Clearly, a Nuclear N. Korea is an indispensable pretext for America’s aggressive military presence in the region.

But this kind of policy is not a new thing under the sun. Remember that when the Soviet Union collapsed back in 1990, the neoconservatives established the Project for the New American Century Doctrine. According to this doctrine, no state or group of states would be allowed to cooperate and surpass the economic or political strength of the United States. This goes hand in hand with the Charter of American States which denies the right of “economic nationalism” [the use of a country’s resources to benefit its own people rather than submit its economy to the structural adjustment programs imposed by global finance institutions like the IMF, World Bank and the WTO] anywhere in the western hemisphere. Indeed, according to these doctrines, the threat of “technological sophistication of third world nations” must be prevented at all costs.

On the other hand, the BRI is gathering the capital of over 100 nations to summon the emergence of new financial institutions to challenge United States economic hegemony. Indeed, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank [AIIB], the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the New Development Bank, the Maritime Silk Road Fund and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. As of now, it is unclear to us if these new economic institutions share the same systemic weakness as the major western banks which lead to successive economic crashes and bail-outs at the population’s expense.

We see now that the United States’ conservative approach to the BRI and the BRF fits cleanly in the type of foreign policy framework it has carried out since the end of WWII. Indeed, were it not for the United States propaganda machine’s strategic lack of informative coverage, there would be no reason for the American masses’ lack of critical awareness surrounding the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative [BRI]. The American media would rather keep you worried about Russia’s non-existent influence on last year’s election while Putin himself is giving a keynote address to 28 other heads of state about how to reconstruct the global economy.

Relationship to the Working-Class

Note that if world leaders get what they want out of the BRI, it does not necessarily follow that the working-class would also gain proportionally or even gain at from the outcome. This is why the working-class needs to be focused on wresting democratic control over any new developments linked to the BRI to ensure the well-being of their communities and families and their class as a whole is not undermined for the macro-economic buffering of ruling-class hegemony. 

First, understand and process President Xi’s framing of the project during his keynote address at the BRF.

“We should build the Belt and Road into a road of prosperity. Development holds the master key to solving all problems. In pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, we should focus on the fundamental issue of development, release the growth potential of various countries and achieve economic integration and interconnected development and deliver benefits to all.”

This is the same kind of rhetoric that has been spouted out by political representatives of the 1% for decades. In the words of Bereket Simon, Chairman of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and Adviser to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, any semblance of economic success in his country has came from opposing the kind economic “advise” of the IMF and other giants of globalization:

“Against the misgivings of neoliberal establishment, our initial answer to the daunting task of fighting poverty lay in the state-directed, agriculture-led development policy and strategy aimed at poverty reduction. This is because agriculture, and specifically that of the small-holding farmers, is the backbone of our economy on which depends the livelihood of the overwhelming majority of our people.”

However, by also endorsing Ethiopia’s investment in the BRI, Simon seems to contradict himself. By attaching himself to macro-economic figures like a rising GDP, he overlooks the plight of his country’s working class whose labour is exploited to develop major infrastructure projects. Mr. Simon, if your economy depends on state-protected small-holding farmer families, how do you expect them to benefit by coming off the fields and placing themselves under the heel of global capital?

A “Master Key to Solve all Problems”?

The BRI itself, also called the New Silk Road Initiative, was first announced by President Xi of China back in 2013. It is a multi-trillion dollar plan to reconstruct the world capitalist economy through ambitious infrastructure development along with the concomitant “renaissance” of new cities centered around terrestrial and maritime trading routes. To illustrate, when it is all said and done, a passenger rail-road trip from London to Beijing would take only two days.

Whether or not it is supposed to result in “win-win” economic development as the Chinese president claims, it is important to be aware of the massive movement of intelligence and capital currently directed at achieving this ambitious endeavor. To express this, parts of Xi’s keynote address are worth quoting at length:

“Industries are the foundation of economy. We should deepen industrial cooperation so that industrial development plans of different countries will complement and reinforce each other. Focus should be put on launching major projects. We should strengthen international cooperation on production capacity and equipment manufacturing, and seize new development opportunities presented by the new industrial revolution to foster new businesses and maintain dynamic growth.

“Finance is the lifeblood of modern economy. Only when the blood circulates smoothly can one grow. We should establish a stable and sustainable financial safeguard system that keeps risks under control, create new models of investment and financing, encourage greater cooperation between government and private capital and build a diversified financing system and a multi-tiered capital market. We should also develop inclusive finance and improve financial services networks.

“Infrastructure connectivity is the foundation of development through cooperation. We should promote land, maritime, air and cyberspace connectivity, concentrate our efforts on key passageways, cities and projects and connect networks of highways, railways and sea ports. The goal of building six major economic corridors under the Belt and Road Initiative has been set, and we should endeavor to meet it.”

Before concluding, let us take another look at a few objective elements of this story. First, keep in mind that twenty-nine heads of state just met to discuss the BRI and America’s president was not there. Realize that the BRI is not just a proposal — It is already happening. For instance, in June 2016, heads of state from Mongolia, China and Russia signed a trilateral partnership consisting of 32 concrete project proposals. Today, over 100 countries are already investing and thousands of high-speed rail lines have already been laid down in different parts of the world. America’s dis-investment in the BRI is significant and also helps to clarify some of its recent foreign policy and PR campaigns against countries like Russia, Syria and the N. Korea.

We think  that many of the world leaders likely genuinely believe that the BRI will be a literal road to global peace and prosperity. However, as we develop our own class analysis of this burgeoning development, it seems clear that these hopes are lofty and unrealistic. We cannot see how the working-class masses can be liberated by a shift in economic hegemony from the West to the East or by the introduction of new infrastructure which can only make more efficient the exploitation of resources and labour.

Conclusion

We conclude that in order for the dream of “peace and prosperity” to become a reality, the working–class needs to be made keenly aware of these plans to alter the economic order. Following their rise is critical consciousness around these developments, citizens of the world would subsequently apply pressure on their leaders to ensure the safe-guards to prevent the exploitation of environment and the undermining of communities’ community economic self-sufficiency. We want you to take away that you have been selectively kept our of the loop of informative coverage of the BRI and other centers of power and control over the affairs that govern your relationship to capital. 

Remember that power is in the hands off the governed if only they would chose to wield it. Your apathy is an indispensable resource of ruling-class.

More on this as the coming days reveal new information.

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