China’s Western Horizon: Geopolitical Consequences and China’s Belt and Road Initiative

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Courtesy Photo / wm.edu

Thursday, Feb. 13, the Alexander Hamilton Society at the College of William and Mary hosted a discussion in McGlothlin-Street Hall entitled “China’s Western Horizon: Geopolitical Consequences and China’s BRI” with associate proffesor of government Rani Mullen serving as moderator with guest Professor Daniel Markey of Johns Hopkins University.

The discussion centered around the topic of China’s relationship with its western and southern neighbors. Themes of the discussion included the effect of China’s rising power on Indo-Pakistani relations, China’s influence on the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia and the state of China’s restive Xinjiang province.

Markey is a senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and served as senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations from 2007 to 2015. Prior to his time on the Council, Markey served in the State Department on the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff, holding the South Asia portfolio. His latest book, “China’s Western Horizon: Beijing and the New Geopolitics of Eurasia,” will be published in March 2020.

Markey said the motivations for his recent research have been the continued expansion of China’s international profile as well as the lack of attention given to China’s influence outside of East Asia.

 “I think the future is one where China is going to play an increasingly significant role, geopolitically, economically, in just about every other way you can imagine, so the first big story of this century really is China,” Markey said.

“I think the future is one where China is going to play an increasingly significant role, geopolitically, economically, in just about every other way you can imagine, so the first big story of this century really is China,” Markey said. “Then the question is, ‘What are the various ways that China is likely to matter?’ A lot of these ways have gotten an enormous amount of attention already over the years … One of the areas that I think gets the least amount of attention what I call China’s western horizon, that is, China’s role in places like South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. My book is partly meant as a corrective to get us to begin to think about China’s role in those three places in ways that I think many Americans just aren’t used to doing.”

Markey explained that the Belt and Road Initiative is one of the largest and most publicized of China’s new policy objectives in the twenty-first century.

“When China builds these types of things or invests in them in other countries, it is forging connections with countries around the world and sometimes forging ties and influence and access that it didn’t have before,”  Markey Said.

“The Belt and Road Initiative is an important touchstone for all of us who are trying to understand, ‘What does China want?’ … At the core of the BRI, first known as One Belt One Road, is a set of grand, principally infrastructure investment initiatives overseas, throughout much of the world, kicked off in 2013 by President Xi of China to much fanfare,” Markey said. “When China builds these types of things or invests in them in other countries, it is forging connections with countries around the world and sometimes forging ties and influence and access that it didn’t have before.”

Markey further argued that China’s foreign investment and influence, including the BRI. and other projects, may produce outcomes across South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East that destabilize the balance of power between states in those regions as well as domestic political and societal forces in those states.

“In both cases, in domestic political economy and regional geopolitics, I see China’s involvement in some ways as destabilizing, making problems that existed there already somewhat worse,” Markey said. “From the U.S. perspective this is very troubling, and even from a Chinese perspective, I would say, this is kind of troubling … I don’t think China is trying to destabilize South Asia, but, unfortunately, its activities may counterproductively bring that very thing about.”

Xufeng Liu ’22 attended the talk and said he was interested in the discussion after seeing the effects of China’s BRI. policy first-hand.

“The main reason I came to the discussion is that I am currently working as a research assistant for TDF team at AidData, where I need to code financial aid projects from China, including the BRI-related projects,” Liu said. “The most impressive part is when the author pointed out the different impacts on different social groups within a country due to Chinese investments. It arouses the thinking about who are the losers and winners of these aids, which is usually ignored by the current researchers.”

Audrey Thronson ’23 also attended the discussion and said she thought the most interesting aspect of the BRI. was the different reactions of China’s potential and current partners towards Chinese investment.

“I liked the Q and A, I liked how it got a lot more specific and we could hear some of the details about the anti-Chinese sentiment in Kazakhstan,” Thronson said. “I thought that was something that not a lot of people would know about and was a really specific thing about that part of the world.”

Bryce Liquerman ’23 said he enjoyed the discussion and that it provided him with new insight into the Chinese strategic mindset.

“I enjoyed when the speaker responded to the question regarding whether it was a good or bad idea for China’s project; it gave me good insight into their point of view and the thought process that was going into it,” Liquerman said.