VIDEOS | MAY 2019
Susan Dietz-Henderson: I think there’s been some controversial discussion lately about whether or not China is filling the vacuum left by American leadership on the world stage, especially with the advent of President Trump in recent years.
China has taken the opportunity of uncertainty about America’s interests on the global stage in the medium to longer term by being able to present itself as an icon of stability, continuity, and leadership in maintaining the current international world order. In times of uncertainty, these sorts of signals are welcome because people are nervous about any changes to the status quo.
Whether or not China is going to be the guiding light in terms of maintaining the international order as we see it now remains to be seen over the longer term, because China’s interests are naturally going to be asserted for its own self versus others. And we have yet to see what kind of leadership role China will take on the world stage as it becomes more confident in its place on the world stage. One of the ambitions of Xi Jinping, in terms of China’s foreign policy and strategic policy, is to be able to make China a world power, and it’s as simple as that. China is to reassert its place in the world stage, as it had in the 1800’s.
When it comes to foreign policy, in the 19th Party Congress, he also described the vision he has for China in terms of China being able to assert its national interests globally, because now that China’s economy has developed to the extent that it is embedded into the international environment, China’s global interests have to be able to serve their domestic interests.
One of the achievements of Xi Jinping, in terms of the 19th Party Congress last year, was to be able to embed the concept of the Belt and Road Initiative into the constitution. It makes the Belt and Road the signature foreign policy priority of Xi Jinping, and it puts the Communist Party on notice and the rest of the population on notice that this is a priority initiative for Xi Jinping and it’s real.
When the Belt and Road Initiative was first articulated as the New Silk Road back in 2013, there was a little bit of skepticism about what that might mean and that it might not be a real concept. But it is very real now, and the ambition of the concept has escalated enormously. Initially, the Belt and Road concept was an overland opening up of trade routes, transport, ports, and rail networks from Central and Western China all the way across to Europe via the Central Asian landmass. Then, that was followed by the Maritime Silk Road, which is going from South and Southeast China and Central South China all the way through Southeast Asia and South Asia. You have a lot of infrastructure development going on there, as well. In recent times, that has been articulated to be even more comprehensive. Now you have the Maritime route extending all the way across the Pacific and down into New Zealand. A couple of months ago, the latest initiative was the Polar Silk Road, which is to extend those maritime routes up north through the Arctic Sea and through to Western Europe.
So you have this very comprehensive network of road, rail, energy pipeline infrastructure, ports, and rail networks all the way across all of the major land masses of the world.
One of the ambitions of this goal is not just about building infrastructure networks and enabling trade routes to be opened up across the world, but it’s also to embed Chinese interests and cooperation into these countries, so that people are thinking about China in terms of how they develop their economies and who they look to for trading relationships, for economic relationships, and even for political relationships. So this is a much more ambitious strategic plan than just infrastructure projects around the world. The 70 countries that are now involved in the Belt and Road Initiative are comprised a third of global GDP. China has already sunk about 25 billion US dollars into projects related to infrastructure development across all of these countries, and they’re interested investing far more than that over the lifetime of this project, however many decades it takes.
People are now talking about several trillion US dollars’ worth of investment and development projects across this network, and this will be a great legacy for Xi Jinping if it is successful, which I have no doubt it will be.
Susan Dietz-Henderson is the china affairs director at Capital Group. She has 31 years of diplomatic experience and has been with Capital Group for 11 years. Prior to joining Capital, Susan was the Australian Consul-General in Shanghai, an assistant secretary for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra, and had other diplomatic postings in China, the United States, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. She holds a diploma in applied economics from the University of Canberra, a bachelor’s degree in arts and Asian studies from Australian National University, and a diploma in applied linguistics and translation from Wycliffe College. Susan is based in Beijing.