By Vahid Pourtajrishi & Elaheh Shirvani

Cultural considering New Silk Road: One Belt One Road One Culture

February 21, 2018

TEHRAN - One Belt One Road policy as Xi Jinpeng’s initiative is not just an economic plan but a cultural one which could create an integrated and unified culture along entire the route.

The history of traditional Silk Road dates back to thousands years ago. But initiation of Xi Jinping, the president of China to introduce a new silk road in the name of One Road One Belt which includes more than 60 countries, expanded the efficiency of this route into a global and not just continental scale.

The effects of this route will not be only on economic affairs of the included states but also on their cultural conditions. This affects the coordination between these 60 countries while it is an unavoidable process. In the other hand, people of these countries have to increase at least their interrelations and trade deals with each other if they want to fulfill their economic interests from this new chance. This issue helps to increase multilateral cultural effects of the new Silk Road on cultural conditions of the concerned nations.

This paper is based on the analysis of diverse nations’ cultural similarities and differences and at the same time there exists cohesion between them. Based on the Central Committee of Communist Party’s (CCP) proposal in November 15, One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative was decided to be constructed in three phases with two major goals:

1.    To participate actively in global economic governance and supply public goods  

2.    Promotion of cooperation in diverse fields of mutual interests with the countries alongside OBOR , cooperation in manufacturing equipment and building capacity in China and abroad and opening up land and sea routes to East and West.

Two points here need clarifications which are “opening up to both East and West” and “institutional Discourse”.

1.    Opening up to the East and West

President Jinping’s Silk Road contains the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road (MSR). The first one brings China, Central Asia, Russia and Europe (the Baltics) together and the latter passes from China to Europe and from China to the South Pacific.
OBOR initiative is a redefinition of China’s Geopolitics since through OBOR China will be both a Central Asian and an Indian Ocean country. With constructing ports in Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, China enters a” Two Ocean” era. Around peaks of Pamir, Karakorum and Himalayas, Turkish, Arab, Persian and Chinese cultures have coexisted for centuries. If you stand in the border town of Taxkorgan which is between China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, you come to know that China is so rich in diversity of cultures and it is difficult to differentiate Chinese and foreigners.
Opening up to East and West will speed up the formation of OBOR which will lead the global economy enter a new era. Previously Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific trade played an important role in economic activities, but today by China becoming the Center of world’s economy, OBOR will link China to East, Central and West Asia and Europe thus changing the definition of international economy.
China’s economic development is increasingly dependent on foreign oil and gas resources and approaching almost 60 percent. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, Oman, Iraq, Sudan, Kazakhstan and Kuwait are the Eight of top ten oil importing countries which are located along OBOR. Therefore, peace and stability in the Gulf countries play an important role in China’s energy supply and trade.

2.    Institutional Discourse

 CCP has announced that in order to play a key role in international affairs, China needs a civilizational belt besides economic belt along the New Silk Road. For 37 consecutive years of economic growth in China, its Per capita GDP has increased30 times but in 2014 there was a 7.4 percent decline in China’s GDP growth. Since China is the second-largest economy center in the world and it continues to be the largest one, China needs to devise new rules for the coming years.

Establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) can be regarded as the primary step for China towards increasing its geopolitical and economic influence. The first step to raise institutional voice is to break the political, cultural and intellectual barriers that United States has created around China. China has lost the community of common destiny with its neighboring countries and countries along OBOR.

Unlike U.S. which has troops and military bases around the world, China does not have the needed military allies and bases to secure OBOR. Here one question is raised that how China will defend the thousands of billions investments in different sections of OBOR project? By changing its approach, The United States has focused more on coalition building instead of paying attention to the United Nations, UNESCO, WTO and other international organizations. To strengthen its global power and influence, the U.S. started to speed up the disintegration of the Eurasian region. Many countries along OBOR are either allies of the U.S. or they host its military bases which causes several political, economic and diplomatic obstacles for China to promote OBOR.

3.    Constructing a civilization Belt along OBOR

China has initiated OBOR based on its cultural power. Historically China managed to govern even the farthest frontiers and culturally affect the border regions. By OBOR proposal, China has started to establish new ties with its neighboring and also western countries. After 100 years of playing a passive role in the world order, China eventually decided to play an active role in world order shaping. China and countries along OBOR will engage in geopolitical and geo-economic cooperation and form a community of common destiny, interests, values, cultures and security. China in not only linked to Central and South Asia by mountains, roads, rivers, bridges and corridors but also is connected by languages, beliefs and common cultural heritage.

Since ancient times, the Silk Road culture has maintained and supported multi-nationalities. Accordingly, China needs to maintain regional and cultural relationship with the countries of the ancient Silk Road civilization which contains Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran.

Constructing a civilizational belt along OBOR will reshape China’s geopolitical and geo-civilizational power and influence. OBOR is not only an economic channel but also it is a platform for social interaction where diverse ethnics, religions and cultures will fuse together. The winner of the new Silk Road will be the economic leader and a leader for building a new Silk Road civilization.

The reason for Silk Road decline in the 19th century was not the emergence of the Maritime Silk Road but the “Great Game” between Russia and Great Britain. In this game, the borders in Central, West and South Asia were redrawn and artificial barriers were built at the Silk Road Passage.
By investing and building OBOR, China hopes to establish a community of common interests, destiny, values and security which ultimately forms the civilization belt. It is interesting that how the opposing and diverse elements of Chinese culture which are Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism can merge and form a common destiny? The answer to this question lies on the 2500 years of Chinese culture which is based on middle course, loving peace, seeking calm life, respect for nature, pursuit of harmony, avoiding extremes and not involving in ethnic and religious wars.

Common Values

OBOR has nothing to do with Sino-centrism. Countries along OBOR are proud of their own cultures, religion, history and social values. China should clearly mention the goals it advocates in building OBOR and these need to be in line with everyone’s interests. For this reason it should design a clear slogan for its OBOR initiative. Premier Zhou Enlai proposed a two-word slogan “harmony and benevolence” which clearly expresses the idea of peaceful coexistence. President Xi proposed “community of common interest” as the slogan to express the idea of OBOR as profoundly as possible. Cooperation among the nations along OBOR must be based on the principles of peaceful coexistence, mutual caring, win-win cooperation and common development which bring about common prosperity. Countries along OBOR must oppose conflicts, bloodshed, war and confrontation which are created by superpowers for their own interests.

Countries along OBOR can be divided into three categories: resource-based, geopolitically important and multi-religion and multi-ethnic countries. Superpowers have eye on the rich economic resources in Muslim world specially Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan but at the same time, the geopolitical assets of these countries are valued more than economic resources by the superpowers.

Many countries along the new Silk Road have their own cultures and traditions. However the One Belt One Road civilization belt is heterogeneous in nature but shares a couple of historical and cultural similarities. Most of the OBOR countries are nonwestern counties which were colonized by western powers in the past hence responded strongly to be controlled. Now they attempt to create a new, yet their own, national, political and Cultural identity.

Conclusion

Although OBOR is a combination of diverse cultural and traditional systems hence it can be a civilizational system across multiple countries. OBOR civilization does not advocate a single ideology nor does it encourage opposition which brings about conflicts and violence.

Only by the Silk Road civilization, the diversified cultures will treat one another by respect and can coexist calmly. Chinese need a civilizational belt along the OBOR project. China should try its best to maximize the identity, cohesion and creativity of the diverse cultures, nations and people to integrate the various resources along OBOR and ensure all the stakeholders of mutual benefits that lies in the establishment of the New Silk Road.
 

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