Along the new Silk Roads
Mains Paper 1: International Relations
Prelims level: Silk Roads
Mains level: India and its neighborhood- relations. Bilateral, regional and
global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India's
interests Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries
on India's interests
- The recent Paris Peace Forum commemorating the end of World War I,
the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank made the
case for a more inclusive multilateralism.
- Drawing comparisons between 1914 and today’s situations in terms
of inequalities, they warned against the temptation of a divisive
globalisation which could only benefit the wealthiest.
Key significance of BRI
- China’s discourse on a new “connected” multilateralism, through
the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- It is building upon the same inclusive project now led by a
non-Western and non-democratic superpower.
- There is indeed an ambition to influence the world if not directly
control it — by making the rules on which it functions.
- This normative determination to achieve a far greater objective
has hardly been addressed when analysing China’s BRI and its impact.
- There is more to the BRI than the six economic corridors spanning
Asia, Europe and Africa, of which the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic
Corridor (CPEC) is perhaps the most controversial.
- The BRI is included in the Constitution of an officially socialist
- The BRI “shared interest” and “shared growth” hence coexist with
Marxism-Leninism and “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” in a country
now said to be more trade-friendly than its protectionist American rival.
- The U.S. Beijing has never been afraid of contradictions in terms
and this capacity to ‘Sinicise’ concepts is a signature trait.
- The BRI is a political project and a Chinese one no matter the
number of other partners joining the effort and participating to its
Normative yet not legal
- In this regard, the normative framework put in place by Beijing
plays an interesting role.
- These norms manifest themselves in the form of guiding principles,
declarations, general agreements and other communication tools including the
hardly studied “Digital Silk Road” envisaging “innovation action plans for
e-commerce, digital economy, smart cities and science and technology parks”.
- They constitute a normative discourse, a form of behaviour, a
standard to abide by, but are not legally binding yet.
- The BRI indeed develops without any dedicated law, nor is it a
comprehensive trade or economic partnership.
- It is different from conventional trade agreements that seek to
eliminate market access barriers, harmonise regulations and impose
preconditions for entry.
- The only legal texts one could refer to are to be found in the
network of foreign trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties and other
international investment agreements China is a party to.
- However, these networks of agreements have no special link with
the BRI, although they could be brought in to resolve issues emanating from
- China is a party to numerous state-sponsored business contracts
between Chinese firms, including state-owned companies, and foreign business
partners, public or private.
- This non-legal yet rather domineering proposal is not a surprise.
- The fluid, if not vague, nature of the BRI is nothing but a
manifestation of a pragmatism with Chinese characteristics that has the
capacity to constantly adjust to a fast-changing environment. The absence of
law is actually partial and temporary.
- China is preparing for the domestic resolution of BRI disputes
with the creation by the Supreme People’s Court of two dedicated branches of
the China International Commercial Court, one in Shenzhen to tackle the
Maritime Road disputes, and one in Xi’an to settle overland Belt issues.
- The Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre has specific BRI
arbitration clauses and administered arbitration rules.
- The investor-state disputes could also be settled on the basis of
China’s investment agreements, nationally or internationally, in a given
arbitration forum for example, the World Bank-sponsored International Centre
for Settlement of Investment Dispute (ICSID).
- The institutional setting of the BRI is also rather light.
- Joint committees are put in place and the existing institutions
mobilised from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to the Asian
Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which is contributing to the BRI
despite the rather distant position of some of its members and India in
particular, which is the largest recipient of AIIB funding.
- In this context, China is not challenging the existing
institutional set-up or proposing something different than what exists in
the Bretton Woods Institutions.
- From the functioning of the banks to their advisory committees,
the same structure and often the same people are found.
- The BRI as it stands is not conceived as a tool for economic
- The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
negotiations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and six
countries is better equipped to deal with market access and integration
goals within the Asia-Pacific region. Again, the BRI’s dispute resolution
will be predominantly on commercial disputes, involving either projects or
- However, with the world trading system passing through a turmoil,
the possibility of regional trade agreements or amorphous legal devices such
as the BRI embracing greater trade liberalisation goals cannot be entirely
- A failure to resolve the WTO Appellate Body crisis or any
consequent weakening of the multilateral dispute resolution process could
present an opportunity for purely nationalistic initiatives to transmute and
assume larger objectives.
Q.1) The Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road are parts of
a) North-South Transport Corridor
b) One Road One Belt initiative
c) India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway
d) Kaladan Multi-modal project
Q.1) Critically evaluate the Regional agreements such as the BRI could
embrace greater trade liberalisation goals.