The WPF Round Table on the “New Silk Road”

The WPF “Dialogue of Civilizations” Co-Chairman Walter Schwimmer organized at the World Public Forum’s Vienna Headquarters an interesting and well attended Round Table on the “New Silk Road” project.

The head of the Economic and Trade Department of the Chinese Embassy in Vienna, Counselor GAO Xingle presented the project which was launched already in 2013 by Chinese President  Xi Jiping.

For centuries the ancient Silk Road, stretching across deserts, steppes, and mountains, linked China with Europe and Africa. It was the way to exchange goods but also ideas. On the Silk Road Confucianism, Christianity and Islam met. The Chinese initiators of the “new silk road” identified 65 modern nations along the ancient Silk Road which always had two belts, the land route and the maritime one. To re-create those ancient trade routes and the political and economic clout that came with them China seeks the cooperation with these 65 nations and beyond.

Nicknamed One Belt, One Road, China’s plan is to construct roads, railways, ports, and other infrastructure across Asia and beyond to bind its economy more tightly to the rest of the world. The scheme was honored with a prominent place in the country’s domestic and foreign policy, and has become a favorite subject of top leaders, who sell it as an international initiative to foster peace and prosperity. The program will “answer the call of our time for regional and global cooperation,” Councilor Gao quoted President Xi Jiping. And the New Silk Road will like the ancient one not be a one way street but foster the exchange of goods and services.

The Silk Road Economic Belt focuses on bringing together China, Central Asia, Russia and Europe (the Baltic); linking China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea through Central Asia and the Indian Ocean. The 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road is designed to go from China's coast to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean in one route, and from China's coast through the South China Sea to the South Pacific in the other.

An important part of the overall New Silk Road strategy is the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank can be construed as a natural inter-national extension of the infrastructure-driven economic development framework that has sustained the rapid economic growth of China since the adoption of the Chinese economic reform. It stems from the notion that long-term economic growth can only be achieved through massive, systematic, and broad-based investments in infrastructure assets – in contrast with the more short-term “export-driven” and “domestic consumption” development models favored by mainstream Neoclassical economists and pursued inconsiderately by many developing countries in the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century with generally disappointing results.

The discussion after Councilor Gao’s presentation focused on the relation of the New Silk Road project to other regional cooperation initiatives such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Union and on the impact of the New Silk Road on Austria, in particular the possibility of the Russian railway’s broad gauge reaching Austria. 

All participants emphasized their interest for further information about the challenging project “New Silk Road.”