Posts Tagged ‘China and the world’

Slightly late posting a piece for Prospect a week or so ago about China-Russia relations. Covers ground that has been touched on before at greater length in Current History and China Economic Quarterly pieces. Undoubtedly more on this topic to come. Separately, spoke to The Times about the two captures ISIS ‘Beatles’, my recent China-South Asia piece was picked up by a Forbes columnist, and for those who can understand Italian, an event I spoke at in Rome (alongside the chair of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the UK Ambassador, the head of Counter-Extremism in Italy, and we were joined at the end by Marco Minniti, the Interior Minister) has now been posted online.

China and Russia: the perennial frenemies

As Russia’s relations with the west go into deep freeze, watch as Putin warms to the east

Back in 2014, relations between Russia and the west took a nosedive as Moscow annexed Crimea, then invaded eastern Ukraine. The west’s opprobrium was largely shrugged off by Russian president Vladimir Putin who instead headed to Shanghai where he was feted by President Xi Jinping. A $400bn gas deal between their two countries was signed. As we watch western relations with Moscow slide even lower in the wake of the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury and the Syrian crisis, do not be surprised if we see President Putin turning, once more, towards the east.

The paving stones for a visit were laid a couple of weeks ago during the Moscow Conference on International Security. Bringing together allies from around the world, the aim of the conference is to showcase Russia’s international relationships. This year, Beijing was represented by its Defence and Foreign Ministers. Both used the event as an opportunity to highlight the importance of bilateral relations. Foreign Minister Wang Yi described relations as at the “best level in history” while Defence Minister Wei Fenghe went further stating “The Chinese side has come (to Moscow) to show Americans the close ties between the armed forces of China and Russia… we’ve come to support you.” Reinforcing this, at around the time of the conference the Russian news agency TASS announced the delivery of an S-400 Triumf missile defence system to China. They also discussed President Putin’s pending visit to China later this year, another opportunity to highlight the strength of their ties.

For those minded to see axes of evil around the world, this pro-Chinese orientation by Moscow seems to fit the bill. As essentially one-man and one-party states, they are natural allies. But this superficial understanding of a relationship misses the contradictions and disgareements at the heart of their relationship: China and Russia are bound together, but they do not necessarily like it.

Back in July 2000, soon after his first inauguration as president, Vladimir Putin gave a speech in Lake Baykal in southern Siberia near the border with Mongolia, in which he worried about Russia’s far east. “If we do not make real efforts to develop the far east in the very near future,” he said, “the Russian population will mainly be speaking Japanese, Chinese and Korean in a few decades.” Yet just 17 years later, Putin’s Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev was in Beijing praising the rise of the Renminbi and speaking of Russia’s interest in connecting with the currency, further opening Russia to Chinese investment. From fearful neighbour to pusillanimous supplicant, the shift in the Sino-Russian relationship is almost complete.

On the surface of course, relations are better than ever. Chinese officials will highlight how Moscow is a first port of call for new Chinese leaders. Xi Jinping went even further than his predecessors, not only going to Moscow but heading to Sochi a year later for the opening of the Winter Olympics—the first time a Chinese leader had attended such an event. Clearly eager to make sure his Russian hosts were happy, President Xi described the games as “splendid.” President Putin has made more visits to Beijing than any other foreign capital, and consistently turns to Beijing when he is looking for support on the international stage.

“From fearful neighbour to pusillanimous supplicant, the shift in the Sino-Russian relationship is almost complete”

Yet, there is a more complicated story. Last year in Moscow I sat in the audience at a conference panel discussing Eurasian visions. On the rostrum were two prominent Chinese experts who proceeded to give superb presentations on China’s view of the new Eurasian Silk Roads in fluent Russian. Cracking jokes, quoting Russian authors and explaining Beijing’s policies, these men had the mostly Russian audience enrapt. Over lunch later, a Muscovite friend joked how the Chinese experts’ Russian was better than theirs.

In contrast, a year or so earlier I had listened to one of those Chinese experts complain about how difficult a partner Russia was, and how their natural preference laid with relations with the west. Moscow was an unreliable and unpredictable partner whose strategic choices were ones disruptive to the placid world view that Beijing favours. Nor is this wariness one-sided. Talking to friends in Moscow during my last visit, people spoke of unrealised investment promises and a growing concern at the erosion of their nation’s strategic influence thanks to China’s actions in Russia’s backyard.

Such duplicity is in some ways not surprising. Anyone who has looked in detail at relations between any states will find a complicated mass of contradictions, where human dynamics, history and strategic imperatives will often wrestle with each other. But it is particularly striking in the Sino-Russian case. Both are powers driven by a fundamental world view of stable authoritarian state power as the ultimate answer to the difficult management of human societies. Both are fearful of the messianic and democratising west that brings instability, chaos and ultimately state collapse in their wake.

This fundamental imperative keeps the two together, while in secret they fret about each other’s activity. Russia’s behaviour in its perceived sphere of influence is the best example of this. Beijing was deeply unhappy about Russia’s actions in Georgia in 2008, and Ukraine more recently. When Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov reached out to his Chinese counterpart in 2014 to get support for Ukraine, the best he could muster was a statement that China and Russia held “broadly coinciding points of view… over the situation.” The idea that the westphalian order of state borders could be so wantonly disregarded and then breakaway provinces recognised strikes to the heart of China’s worries about its own state survival. Fearful that others might start doing the same to some of its own renegade provinces, Beijing was notably less than outspoken in support on Ukraine and actively blocked Moscow’s moves to get Central Asian powers to recognise what had happened in Georgia.

Yet at the same time, what statements did emerge about Ukraine in particular highlight how while Beijing might not like the end point that was reached, it did understand the imperative behind the initial Russian-led activity. For Beijing, the idea that popular revolutions can overthrow regimes—as appeared to be happening in Ukraine—is a worrying prospect. It points towards a confusing world order in which the primacy of state control comes into question. The Arab Spring, for example, was seen in both Moscow and Beijing as a catastrophic set of events which upended a relatively stable world order. The consequences of which they still see today.

And it is this ultimately which will keep the two powers bound together. Notwithstanding the growing Russian dependence on Chinese investment and the stealthy Chinese encroachment on Russia’s backyard—both in Central Asia where Beijing is increasingly the most consequential actor on the ground, or in Russia’s own empty and resource rich vast eastern regions—Moscow will continue to court Beijing as a close ally and friend. A friend Russia will need even more now that its relations with the west are on such a downward trajectory. And while Beijing may disapprove of Russia’s habit of stirring up the international order as a matter of principle, it will not stymie its behaviour or overtly condemn it. In fact, as we saw in Moscow recently in response to a more aggressive posture from Washington, China will overlook Russia’s disruptive activity to more pointedly confront the west.

These are two powers bound together in an embrace the west will struggle to ever pull apart.

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Finishing some larger projects so things have gone a bit quiet, but a few big things in the pipeline on both China’s Eurasian relations and terrorism. In the meantime, I have a chapter with Matt in an excellent new book by Josh and Eric looking at China’s relations with Central Asia. We just launched it to great success in London this past week at RUSI. Given it is for sale, I cannot simply post it here, but if you get in touch I can do my best to help. You can also short circuit the process and buy the book at a very reasonable price in paper or online form on the Routledge website.

China Steps Out: Beijing’s Major Power Engagement with the Developing World

ChinaStepsOut

A short piece in London’s Evening Standard yesterday about the announcement over the weekend of China scrapping the rule that Presidents only stay in power for two terms. Over the weekend, spoke to Sunday Times about the West London cluster of jihadis that fought along ISIS which included the infamous Jihadi John and his friends.

China is sending a message that it is a power on the world stage

People walk past a poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping on a street in Beijing  AFP/Getty Images

In a move that has resonated quietly around the world, the Chinese Communist Party has announced that it is changing the laws on the length of term that presidents can sit in China. Widely interpreted as an indication that current leader Xi Jinping is setting the table to stay on beyond his current term, the reality is that we still do not have any clear idea about what this will mean.

Are we seeing the rise of Xi the forever leader? A reflection of the state of chaos that China sees in leadership around the world? Or something else altogether? What is clear is that from being driven by Deng Xiaoping’s modest maxim of “hide our capacities and bide our time”, China is becoming an increasingly confident power that feels little need to adhere to others’ views of how it should be governed.

Speculation around the change in Beijing has focused on the more ominous potential the amendment suggests. Comparisons have been made with Russia’s President Putin or other leaders who have changed legislation in order to stay in power beyond constitutionally determined terms. But this would be at odds with the leader we have seen so far.

By strengthening his position, Xi is, however, sending a strong message to the rest of the world. A China that is led by a confident leadership is a potent force on the world stage. With China having about a sixth of the world’s population, growing economic might, a steadily increasing military presence and a soft power influence that is raising its global profile, the next decade is one that is going to be increasingly defined by whoever is in power in Beijing.

This calls for a clear and coherent response — something that is not always evident in London. While the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Beijing went smoothly, it was a long-delayed trip, a casualty of the current political difficulties London faces with Brexit. Yet the world is not going to wait for Brexit. Rather it is going to move onwards and upwards, and the consolidation in power in Beijing is a reflection of where it is heading.

China’s leadership and what that leadership wants is going to be one of driving forces behind the global order of the next few decades. In order adequately to respond, London needs to develop a clear, coherent and consistent strategy towards China. Whether this one of greater confrontation or greater co-operation is up to Downing Street, but a clear path needs to be laid now. Beijing is showing the route it is going to take; now London and the world need to respond.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI)

And more catch-up posting, this a short piece ahead of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to China for my institutional home RUSI.

Theresa May in China: The Essence of a Working Relationship

ximay

Raffaello Pantucci
Commentary30 January 2018
ChinaUK

Prime Minister Theresa May undertakes her long-awaited visit to Beijing tomorrow. It gives London an opportunity to define and shape its relationship with China, and move it beyond behind-the-scenes sniping and grandiose public rhetoric.

 

Prime Minister Theresa May travels to Beijing tomorrow hoping to shore up trade deals post-Brexit with the world’s second-largest economy amid reports of tensions surrounding the UK’s willingness to formally sign up to China’s flagship Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

Despite May’s reluctance to sign up to the BRI, the UK is already deeply intertwined with the multibillion dollar project.

The UK was the first G7 power to join the Chinese-instigated Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), a platform aimed to support China’s outward infrastructure push; a report from 2015 by the China-Britain Business Council and Tsinghua University showed how UK companies were already doing projects worth around $27bn with Chinese firms in BRI locations. In addition, any British company worth its mettle with deep interests in China has had an established BRI strategy for some time.

And, as Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond stated at last year’s Belt and Road summit in Beijing, ‘As China drives forward the Belt and Road initiative from the East we in Britain are a natural partner in the West’.

In sum, the UK is already playing a role in the initiative, although questions persist about how the UK can connect with President Xi Jinping’s globe-spanning vision. There are four elements that should guide Britain in this debate.

First, build on existing connections. There is often a public misconception that the BRI is a large aid project. Indeed, the initiative amounts to a vision for improving connectivity across the Eurasian landmass, through underdeveloped countries that need infrastructure development, but it does this using Chinese funds and enterprises. Often projects are financed using linked loans provided to countries with stipulations of using Chinese contractors.

The entry point into this business chain for non-Chinese companies has, therefore to be an existing link with a Chinese firm or bank, rather than necessarily waiting for contracts to be pushed out into the open market.

Foreign companies that can develop such arrangements are  likely to be those already connected to Chinese firms or Banks and have a longstanding presence in Beijing, a deep history in the target market or those with specific technical know-how that is required in delivery of the ultimate project which the Chinese firm is lacking.

Second, British corporate actors should focus on foreign markets where the UK has an edge. Chinese banks and enterprises will often not have the necessary history or expertise in a target market and this provides an opportunity for British corporations or policymakers.

Certain niche opportunities include, for example, Pakistan, where the legal system is largely modelled on Britain, Kazakhstan whose major firms are listed on UK stock exchanges and, until recently, the UK was Kenya’s largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI). All three of these countries are identified as key BRI states, and all are where the UK has deep experience which can be leveraged, together with Chinese companies penetrating that market.

Third, British planners and commercial actors must remember that Chinese infrastructure investment in many countries will potentially create opportunities for a next wave of investments. The BRI is about building trade and economics corridors, often starting with much-needed infrastructure.

However, for this to provide benefits to locals, and generate a sustainable future, it will need to be developed into a broader economy. Something that will require many ancillary projects and construction.

Targeting this next wave of projects which build on the initial Chinese-dominated infrastructure wave is going to be key in ensuring the long-term viability of the BRI.

Government departments, such as the Department for International Development and the Department for International Trade, should, therefore, concentrate on this potential next wave, seeking both the trade opportunities, but also separately ensuring that poverty alleviation, environmental and sustainable development goals are advanced in relevant locations. In other words, BRI should be piggybacked by outside powers like the UK.

Beyond the BRI, the UK must establish a more coherent and considered security relationship with China. This includes considering the many key UK security relationships that may clash with Beijing’s view of the world. However, it needs to recognise that, as one of the world’s major economies, China will have an international security footprint.

Engaging with this footprint, cooperating where useful (in counterterrorism, in countries where we have shared interests such as Afghanistan, in military operations other than conflict like rescuing nationals or alleviating humanitarian disasters), while not shying away from criticising when relevant remain key ingredients.

Drawing ‘red lines’ while continuing to engage remains the only practical way to manage such an emergent security power. The reality is that a global interconnected world is one that currently favours China and one that Beijing wants to maintain.

Finally, the UK needs to focus on continuing to push China to open its markets further. Among European economies, the UK is one of the most open and attractive to Chinese investors.

According to cumulative figures published by the Rhodium Group, the UK attracted some €23.6 billion in Chinese FDI between 2000–2016. Next closest was Germany at €18.8 billion.

Consequently, it is only proper that Britain should expect some reciprocation and should be willing to draw lines around investments that are made into the UK.

And this reciprocation has to be founded on improving the rule of law and accountability in China. And when this is not met, then clear lines need to be drawn in return about the degree to which China is allowed to invest in the UK.

It is also equally important for the UK to remember that Asia’s rise is not just a Chinese story. Beijing is the most prominent of several ascending Asian powers, and the UK needs to enhance its diplomatic and security engagement across the region.

This is something that the UK needs to do while at the same time continuing to enhance its engagement with Europe. As a power making an active choice to withdraw from one of the world’s most powerful economic and political blocs, the UK needs to engage in deft diplomacy around the world and demonstrate its continuing relevance as a major player on the world stage.

Prime Minister Theresa May meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the State Guesthouse, on the second day of the 2016 G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China. Courtesy of PA Images

The views expressed in this Commentary are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI or any other institution

Been a bit quiet of late, am focused on some larger writing projects which should be coming out over the next few months. We did, however, finally launch the Whitehall Paper authored with my colleague Sarah Lain which came out last year at an event at RUSI in London with Mark Field, MP, Minister for Asia at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and James Kynge of the Financial Times. Given it is behind a paywall, I cannot just post the paper here, but it can be found online and if you get in touch with me, I can see what I can do to help. Many thanks to the MacArthur Foundation for their generous support of this work, and as ever, to find more work on this topic, check out China in Central Asia.

Separately, spoke to Eurasianet about China’s rail activity in Central Asia, WikiTribune about ISIS, the Times quoted my book in an article about Hafiz Saeed, and the Financial Times about the Belt and Road.

China’s Eurasian Pivot: The Silk Road Economic Belt

WHP_Chinas Eurasian Pivot
Raffaello Pantucci and Sarah Lain
Whitehall Papers31 May 2017
ChinaNew Silk RoadInternational Security StudiesPacific
The modern Silk Road is a key component of China’s political and economic strategy in Eurasia.

China’s growing influence across its western and southern borders is one of the great geopolitical trends of the past decade. With the development of its western domestic regions, Beijing has been drawn into building trade and economic corridors in nearby Central and South Asian countries. Yet these states are home to security risks which China is only now beginning to address.

China’s Eurasian Pivot analyses the country’s growing regional footprint from an economic, security and political perspective. It offers a comprehensive overview of China’s relations with Central and South Asia, showing that the policies now shaped by the concept of the Belt and Road Initiative are ones that China has been implementing in the region for some time.

The paper concludes that China is still developing its approach to the region, which is increasingly being driven by events and external relations. Beijing has stressed that its policies must be successful – both within the region itself and in terms of the impact back home. This highlights the degree to which Beijing feels that it must not fail, and why its approach to the region will continue to be a driving national priority for the next few decades.

Non-RUSI Members and Members with Standard Access

Read the Introduction for free

Buy the book through Taylor and Francis

Catching up posting as ever, this another piece for South China Morning Post looking at China’s problems along the Belt and Road with reference to current tensions with India potentially being an indicator of what could happen more substantially.

China must get along with regional powers to make its New Silk Road plan work

Raffaello Pantucci writes that Beijing is seeking to increase its presence in regions where it is going to need more friends than enemies, including India

Geopolitics matters. As we move deeper into a multipolar world, the importance of grand strategy will only grow. Relations between states at a strategic, economic and even emotional level will all intertwine to create a complicated web that will require sophisticated diplomacy to navigate. For China this is a particularly important lesson to learn, given its keynote “Belt and Road Initiative” that requires an acquiescent and peaceful world to deliver on its promise of building a web of trade and economic corridors emanating from China and tying the Middle Kingdom to the world. China’s current stand-off with India highlights exactly how geopolitics can disrupt Xi Jinping’s foreign policy legacy initiative.

The details of the specific transgression within this context are not entirely important. China is asserting itself in its border regions and changing facts on the ground to solidify claims. Indian push-back is based on strategic relations with Bhutan that go back a long way and a concern about how this changes Indian capabilities on the ground.

It comes at a time when relations between China and India are particularly low, with suspicion on both sides. Most analysts do not seem to think we are going to end up with conflict, but it is not clear at the moment what the off-ramp looks like. But whatever this exit looks like, we are undoubtedly going to see China finding it tougher to advance its Belt and Road Initiative through India’s perceived or real spheres of influence in South Asia.

This is something which is already visible in the broader tensions between China and India over Pakistan. China has focused on the country as a major ally that it is supporting to develop its domestic economy and improve its strategic capacity for a variety of reasons. Yet this approach directly undermines Pakistan’s perennial adversary India’s current approach of isolating Islamabad on the international stage as punishment for cross-border terrorism.

Further, the CPEC route’s cutting through disputed territories in Kashmir provides a further spur to Indian concerns. At a more tactical level, China’s refusal to allow Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar to be included on the list of proscribed terrorists, and its blockage of Indian entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, all point to a relationship with which Beijing is clearly playing an aggressive hand. India has also shown itself to be a hardball player in this regard, making public shows of proximity to the Dalai Lama, a source of major concern to China.

Of course, such a posture is either capital’s prerogative. Past relations between China and India have been fraught. The two countries have fought wars against each other. Yet at the same time, the overall tenor between the two is often in a different direction: both are proud members of the BRICS grouping (arguably the two leaders of it), and both have embraced the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. India is keen to gain a slice of the outbound Chinese investment, while China is keen to access India’s markets. Both see the opportunities and recognise that as Asian giants they have an upward trajectory over the next few decades. Together they will undoubtedly be stronger than alone.

But this positive message is thoroughly buried under the negative news around the border spat in Bhutan. Rather than being able to build a productive relationship, the two countries now find themselves at loggerheads. This is a problem for both, but has an important lesson within it for China as it seeks to advance its Belt and Road Initiative globally.

To be able to credibly realise the Belt and Road Initiative, China is going to need to have positive relations with partners on the ground, in particular major regional powers. With plans to build infrastructure, expand investments and grow physical footprints on the ground, Beijing is seeking to substantially increase its presence in regions where it is going to need more friends than enemies. When looking across South Asia, this means having a productive relationship with India. Without this, Delhi will find ways of complicating China’s approach or, more bluntly, obstructing it. Given the importance of some of the South Asian routes to the development of some of China’s poorest regions, it is important for Beijing to make sure that these corridors related to the Belt and Road plan live up to their promise.

And this lesson is one that will be relevant outside a South Asian context. For Beijing to be able to deliver on the promise of the Belt and Road Initiative, it is going to need to watch the geopolitics. Similar problems may eventually materialise with Russia, or on the seas as Beijing seeks to turn the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road into a reality.

Without friends along these routes, China is going to find it very difficult to make these visions work no matter how much money they try to throw at the problem. With nationals, companies and interests broadening and deepening, China needs an acquiescent environment and countries that are eager to work with it. Geopolitics is a chess game of many different levels, and as power becomes more diffuse on our planet, Beijing is going to have to learn how to play these games if it wants to deliver on the promise of its grand visions.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: It’ll be tough going without friends on the New Silk Road

LONDON, 19. MAY, 11:56

Chinese leader Xi Jinping trumpeted his foreign policy vision – the Belt and Road – to great fanfare this past week.

Yet a consistently discordant note was heard from European reporting around the event, with officials talking to press about their lack of understanding of the project. While some of their concerns were understandable, there was an element of missing the point.

  • The symbolic first arrival of a Chinese train in Germany (Photo: DB Schenker)

Xi Jinping may talk in terms of a project, but in reality what we are seeing laid out is a grand vision: one that Beijing is using to re-shape its engagement with the world.

For Europe, it is important to figure out exactly what this means. Otherwise, it could both miss out on an opportunity, and create a series of potential problems with a relationship that will continue to be important going forwards.

First, it is important to dispel what the Belt and Road is not. It is not a giant aid project. Nor has China particularly ever pretended that it was.

Leadership will get caught up in grandiloquent language about how the project is a great gift to humanity. However, in reality, it is a vision of re-connecting the world in a manner that will support Chinese trade flows and help Chinese companies go out into the world.

At its core, it is about helping to develop China’s underdeveloped regions – parts of the country that are deeply disconnected from its bustling ports.

Second, it is important to understand what is actually happening. Not all of the strands of the Belt and Road are new, nor are they all the same.

What has been happening in Central Asia for almost two decades, re-branded as Belt and Road, is not the same or as important domestically to China as newly advanced projects in parts of Africa or Eastern Europe.

At the same time, some corridors seem to be advancing far more slowly: the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) is one that has been talked about since the late 1990s, but has only now actually moved into clear action across its entire route.

The point is, while the Belt and Road is discussed by Beijing in the same light, the reality on the ground is very different in each and every case.

Third, it is a vision with a long timeline. China is thinking to a very long horizon. In typical fashion for a centrally planned economy, it is considering things into the future and not the short- to medium-term eye-line with which most Western governments operate.

So, when the country looks to build train links across the continent that make little economic sense now, it could be that the lens we are looking at them through is too short.

Once China is able to develop its western regions and create industrial and manufacturing bases out there, it might suddenly become more economically sensible to put goods on trains across the continent.

Fourth, not everything is expected to work – this is a leadership vision and not a project.

The Belt and Road was first christened by Xi during a set of speeches in Astana and Jakarta. Laid out then, they were outlined as a pair of concepts that would slowly catch on and become the defining foreign policy concept that Xi Jinping would offer the world.

Conceptual Nature

The illogical nature of a Belt being over land, while a Road went to sea highlighted the conceptual nature of what was being laid out. In fact, the seeds of the concept could already be found in previous administrations – Jiang Zemin had his “Develop the West” concept, and Hu Jintao’s administration was the one that started up the idea of refocusing on Xinjiang and developing its relations with its neighbours.

Both of these served as ideological godfathers to the Belt and Road, which in essence took this model and internationalised it.

But the point is that none of these were specific projects. They were rather broad policy directives that were launched out of Beijing which were then followed up and pushed out by the many institutions in China, to varying degrees of success.

The BCIM was born under Jiang Zemin and went nowhere, and while the Hu Jintao initiative with Xinjiang and Central Asia was more successful, there are a few projects along the route that have failed to deliver as they were intended.

None of this is that surprising, as, ultimately, the leadership’s announcements should be assessed as a central policy direction rather than detailed plans.

Initially, when the speeches were delivered, there was no specific policy planning behind them.

Now that the concepts have firmly caught on, almost everything has become Belt and Road – in part this is because the concept is so broad (so everything fits under it), but also it is a way for everything to try to connect with the bright vision laid out by the leadership.

This includes ideas and projects that have a very limited connection to the actual Belt and Road – there is an almost inexhaustible list of Chinese regions that have defined themselves as the crucial points on the Belt and Road.

Within this, not everything is going to work (because it never does). But this is not a concern, as ultimately what has been offered is a concept rather than a project, meaning that it will not ultimately fail, as no specific parameter for success has been laid out.

EU Engagement

All of this is essential for European policymakers and thinkers to understand.

If they are to properly engage with the vision, they need to first understand it in granular detail – something that is eminently doable through the numerous reports that have been published, or by undertaking research themselves.

They then need to appreciate what the vision actually is and the timelines to which it is operating, and then finally focus on which aspects do correspond with their specific interests.

China’s biggest problem with this vision is that it requires considerable support, consent and contributions from the countries along and at the end of the routes, and those that are more likely to succeed are those with supportive partners.

Consequently, Europe can choose which aspects it wants to engage with and simply ignore the others. This will not necessarily stop them from happening, but they are not realities Europe has to engage with if it does not want to.

The key in all of this is for Europe to decide exactly what its strategy towards China is going to be, and what it is that it wants to do to engage with this century’s rising power. In the Belt and Road they are facing Xi Jinping’s foreign policy legacy.

Given that the conceptual outline is focused on the Eurasian continent, Europe has an opportunity to re-craft its relations with China in a way that connects with the leadership and potentially has a game-changing impact across the continent the two powers share.

It is not enough for European officials to simply tell the press they do not understand the Belt and Road – the vision is clear enough, but the point is to decide how to engage with it.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute,a think tank in London