Xi’s mighty big dream
Dreams can get bigger. So it seems for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Chinese dream. Two weeks after he was elected head of the Chinese Communist Party in late November 2012, he went to the National Museum to see the “Road to Revival” exhibition. He said he would pursue the Chinese dream of the “great revival” of the Chinese nation and people. It was rhetoric expected of a Chinese leader as Chinese people all bear nostalgic feelings for their glory days before the 19th century.
Xi expounded on the Chinese dream in a speech to the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia in May 2013 as host of the Shanghai summit. He called upon sovereign powers in Asia to defend the region and settle regional affairs without outside reliance and interference. The message was mostly interpreted as being aimed at the United States, which was very publicly concerned about the increasing influence of China and the diminishment of its own voice in the region.
Xi’s dream did not stop at the Asian region. During the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing last month, he spoke of a “Eurasian” dream to connect the Asia Pacific with Europe as one big continent. He invited all the countries in the same hemisphere to be one big family through the “One Belt and One Road” project, a modern version of the Silk Road that would stretch halfway around the world to Europe on land and to Africa by sea. Xi’s Chinese dream had swollen to a global scale.
And the world started to take his dream seriously. In fact, Xi’s dream has started to look more like reality than a wild fantasy. It took shape as he described a specific road map. The so-called One Belt and One Road initiative is comprised of a path to connect Asia and Europe through one great economic belt across Central Asia and a sea route across the Indian and Arabic waters to Africa. It is now even being dubbed a 21st century, China-led version of the Marshall Plan.
The Marshall Plan, also called the European Recovery Program, was named after U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall and helped rebuild the devastated European bloc through aid and industrial projects over four years from 1947. The U.S. spent $13 billion to help 16 European countries and revive the post-World War II global economy. During the period, U.S. exports surged and helped the nation solve its industrial glut. It ended up setting the U.S. dollar as the global standard.
The One Belt and One Road scheme has similar goals. Through road, port, and infrastructure construction and capital investment, China hopes to solve its overcapacity in production and globalize the Chinese yuan. The grand initiative would affect a combined population of 4.4 billion - 63 percent of the global population - and 29 percent of the world economy. The economic repercussions could be great as the plan involves mostly developing countries. Xi speaks of generating “mutual connection and communication” by linking members through roads, railways, sea and air routes, the Internet and human exchanges. He claims the project would benefit all.
The West is skeptical of the colossal project. The Marshall Plan succeeded because it had full support of the resourceful European nations receiving U.S. aid. Although their factories and industrial infrastructure were destroyed by the war, the countries were advanced in technology, labor, legal, environmental, and political capabilities and resources. The southeast and central Asian nations China is trying to help are mostly underdeveloped and unstable economically, socially, and politically. China may not reap the fruits it aimed for.
But Xi does not seem worried. Compared with the toil and blood the Chinese ancestors expended on the Silk Road 2,000 years ago, his challenges appear trifling. He has already created a $40 billion Silk Road Fund.
Where does this plan put us? President Park Geun-hye last year also spoke of a Eurasia Initiative, a plan to boost the regional economy through free trade and economic cooperation in the Eurasian bloc. North Korea would be invited to participate. Except for the North Korean part, her vision coincides with Xi’s.
There is a saying that a fly, when it clings to the tail of a horse, can travel 10 thousand miles. Whether we cling to its tail or have a deeper participation, we must join the Chinese dream. Our soft power resources can use the modern Silk Road as a fast track to stretch across central Asia to Africa and Europe.
Xi invites all countries to join in his plan. We must eagerly study the invitation. His ticket could get us to the center of the real world rather than fantasyland.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 10, Page 32
*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo specialist on China.