Carl Michael checks the facilitating role of Belt and Road Initiative on globalization in his eighth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The theme of this scenario is: ‘The BRI Facilitates Globalisation – A Converging World Order’. The key drivers are increasing support for globalisation, coupled with the BRI working to support the evolving new global order in a manner which is perceived as positive and useful. This is a scenario where the dominant themes are convergence, multilateralism and transformation, and where the universal aspect of specific political or civilisational doctrines becomes weakened.
In this scenario, states retain their independent perspectives and at the same time, cooperate in order to address global issues. The US and China have escaped the Thucydides trap. Clarification of interests and sustained growth provides no incentive to allow conflict to disturb the status quo. When conflict does occur, it does so at a regional level and even then the international treaty system adapts to ensure an ongoing balance of power and provision of a quick resolution of grievances and mitigation of root causes.
By 2050 the Chinese economy is considerably larger than that of the US. Economic growth is maximised through globalisation, considered cooperation, free-markets, prudent regulations and relatively stable financial markets. The economies of Africa, ASEAN, India and China continue to grow but with an internal prosperity divide. This divide is not only economic, but also urban/rural and digital/manual and is the cause for potential unrest.
From a social perspective, citizens in most advanced regions are politically and socially empowered and regulated migration to these regions is normalised, though illegal migration remains a challenge, being driven by inequality and environmental stress. There are tensions between ethnic and national identities. Values, beliefs and lifestyles remain stable in some areas and change rapidly in others leading to a degree of turmoil in states which are less ‘disciplined’ than others. Developed countries experience a collective decline in population and corruption increases in many countries where centralised control is too strong or too weak.
Technology is a key driver of economic growth, and digital technologies are at the heart of the innovation which drives growth. Most people have access to the information they need. The information environment is fairly well-regulated, but the rate of change makes this hard to control. At the same time technological changes make the many national government systems redundant.
Governance is characterised by the increase of enhanced global initiatives to address global structural and environmental challenges as well as international disputes. Multilateral treaties are positioned within strong institutions that have the capability to address any of a spectrum of challenges, including the transformation to a digital economy and dealing with international crime.
In the larger context of protecting and managing natural environments with long-term sustainability in mind, there are broad collaborative international initiatives to provide mitigation for environmental stress due to the changing climate and to increase social resilience. Access to water, energy, mineral and food resources is regulated in order to manage both short-term shocks as well as long-term good.
In this scenario, in 2050, the BRI has helped to cement the smooth transition to a converging world order in areas such as trade, finance, industry, resource-management, infrastructure, cultural interchange, and environment management. The BRI has addressed inequality by helping to raise living standards, and productivity outside of China, which has helped to address the impact of declining Chinese demographics. Since the BRI is multilateral and geo-economic by its very nature, though a China led initiative, it has provided most of the benefits and little of the geopolitical hegemonistic challenges feared by other nations. China’s soft power has increased through interaction and culturalization along the sections of the BRI and the logic of Eurasian integration has been made manifest.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions a collapse scenario within Eurasia’s Heartland alternative futures through her seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
A collapse scenario with respect to Eurasia’s Heartland in the year 2050 could play out as a future in which opposing forces break down the geopolitical positioning by which the U.S. and Russia have historically situated themselves. Reflective of disruptive changes that derail expectations of the future, it is a scenario largely driven by geo-economic commerce. Characterized by China’s commercialized approach to Heartland power and a unipolar world order, it is one alternative future that could unfold.
By 2050 in this scenario, China has successfully rolled out the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and dominates the commercial space in Eurasia’s Heartland and much of Afro-Eurasia. The owner of most BRI infrastructure and the regional leader along the BRI corridors, China fulfilled her dream of becoming the world’s economic superpower. Her path to victory stems from a geopolitical strategy of geo-economic commerce. As China rose in power, a domino effect of disruptive changes brought about the decline of the U.S. and Russia. They are no longer positioned to influence the Heartland, now under China’s control.
A weakened U.S., confronted by dysfunction and strong oppositional forces, has lost her superpower status and influence relative to the world order and the Heartland. Whether it involved failed policies against multiple pandemics, domestic social change, and an economic Cold War with China, or unvaried foreign policy towards the Middle East and terrorism, she remained resolute in her course. However, crippling retaliatory policies and sanctions imposed on the U.S. by Britain, the European Union, Japan, and India in response to an “America First” stance that adversely impacted them has left the U.S. floundering and lacking their support.
Drawn into costly military conflicts in the Persian Gulf over Iran’s nuclear activities, and in the Mediterranean over Russia and China’s endless pursuit of Israel’s energy resources, the U.S. and her strength are divided. Widespread American public opinion is that she prioritize recovery from a brutal economic depression. Accordingly, the U.S. has abandoned efforts to contain China’s commercialized dominance in the Heartland and throughout Afro-Eurasia.
Russia struggles against devastating instability and an oppositional force in the form of Chinese Eurasianism that has undermined her power and influence in the Heartland. Whether due to a longstanding closed economic system or the over-extension of aid to former Soviet States, Russia sought a Chinese bailout. She accepted lender/borrower terms more like those China imposed on Central Asian countries for BRI infrastructure development than Euro zone bailouts.
Russia’s inability to repay the debt resulted in China’s ownership of state-owned Russian enterprises in the telecommunications, media, energy, aerospace and defense, and engineering sectors. These industries employ significant numbers of Chinese workers. Substantial revenue outflows support China’s unbounded growth and have contributed to Russia’s economic destabilization. Russia remains a Chinese ally. Yet, she begrudges China for usurping her geopolitical influence in former Soviet states. Russia has surrendered regional control of the Heartland and Afro-Eurasia to China.
BRI success for China, leader of a new unipolar world order, has evolved as commercial colonialism in the Heartland. While Central Asia initially welcomed the growth spurred by connected trade, later the region protested against this New Silk Road. Having defaulted on BRI loans, Central Asian countries lost all hope of self-governance. China’s ownership of BRI infrastructure in Central Asia ensured her economic dominance and rule over the region. A larger percentage of trade revenues flow out to China.
The overwhelming point of contention for Central Asia has involved sharing their lands with countless numbers of Chinese workers. Not only do these workers hold the best-paying jobs in the region, but they also brought with them a diversity of religious practices. Their values threaten the religio-cultural identity of Central Asian Muslims, many of whom are part of a resistance movement against China’s BRI.
This 2050 future in terms of Eurasia’s Heartland could play out as a collapse scenario in which the U.S. and Russia, suppressed by disruptive oppositional forces, concede their geopolitical power in the region to China. Although geo-economic commerce is the driving force by which China has become the world’s superpower, her commercialized approach to Heartland power, while successful, is not without some regional opposition to the BRI. Distinct from this scenario alternative is a future that reflects a new equilibrium in U.S., Russian, and Chinese geopolitics.
Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program reviews the preferable futures of the Arctic region through the eyes of potential stakeholders in his seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Russia will utilize “strategic rule breaking” to realize a vision of arctic dominance by expanding their EEZ and increasingly enclose the Arctic region. Not only does Russia claim the largest area of Arctic coastline, but ice in their region is melting faster than in other areas. Russia will exploit this early access to natural resources, while also taking the opportunity to control trade sea routes for economic gain. Russia will attempt to build a strong military presence in the region to fortify their resources and sea routes, while also controlling the airspace. Economy and security take precedence over sustainability and cooperation. Overall the Arctic Council remains a weak force of governance and Russia is free to do as it pleases with its portion of the arctic.
China will utilize the “opportunistic” strategy to slowly claim more rights to the Arctic region as it expands the BRI and builds the Polar Silk Road. This will include access to oil, gas, mineral resources,research, fishing and tourism in the region through unilateral partnerships. Further, China sees the Arctic as its ‘golden route’ in shipping and will develop the military, technology, and agreements required to secure its ability to ship goods through the region. China will develop a growing co-dependance with Russia, while also advocating for an open and cooperative arctic.
The US vision of the arctic relies on the hope that “rule-of-law” and climate challenges will disrupt Russia and China ambitions. The US vision is that the Arctic Nations continue to have a strong agreement that the region remain open and cooperative, while the Arctic Council remains weak. This allows the US to retain the right to unilateral actions in response to strategic competition with Russia and China. However, the US wants to keep proactive investment in the Arctic low. The hope is that the climate will continue to challenge the militarization and development of the region, slowing Russia and China access to strategic global positions.
Canada’s vision will be realized through a strategy of “environmental and economic balance” and further alignment with European nations. Canada will continue to seek an open and cooperative Arctic that is stabilized by a more proactive Arctic Council. Canada will pursue resource extracting within the context of building more economically sustainable indigenous communities, protecting the natural environment, and collaborating on climate change mitigation. Multilateral military agreements and alliances, especially with the US, will support a Canada First defense strategy and Canadian Arctic Sovereignty.
A general European vision is realized through a strategy of “preservation and sustainability.” European nations support the development of a more proactive Arctic Council that can develop into a legal governing body. A more powerful third-party actor in the region would allow the rule-of-law to be enforced. This will ensure that cooperation on climate change mitigation, sustainable resource extraction, safe and open transportation, and arctic peace, can be preserved.
Although the visions of the Arctic Nations have some overlap and consensus, there is also the potential for future divergence that leads to conflict. Russia and China are the key actors in the region because they have strong visions along with access and resources to explore and exploit. Without proactive collaboration and a stronger governing body in the region, the US, Canada, and European nations will be forced to take reactive measures. In general, as nations reach their milestones, the other nations will be forced to adapt or push back.
Carl Michael makes assumptions about the alternative futures of Belt and Road Initiative in his seventh blog post for our Emerging Fellows program.The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The future of the BRI will be shaped by factors both inside and outside China. China’s future geopolitical, economic and social conditions will have a significant impact on the rest of the world. Before one considers whether the BRI will be complete by 2050 or not, one must consider what alternative futures are plausible and probable, and the factors which influence those alternative futures. Some factors which impact the future will not change very much. Among these are the rate of technology change, China’s geographic position, the inherent logic of Eurasian integration and China’s demographic destiny. Its aging society and decreased birth-rates will have a major impact on the potential of workforces in China and the world, with consequent impacts on economic competitiveness.
Environmental stress and changing climate will impact not just China and Asia but the Arctic and the wider world. Currently unviable areas could open to further economic exploitation and some current areas may no longer be economically viable. Environmental stress in turn will trigger population movements within and between nations which could be accelerated by growing economic inequality. In both China and in other nations a significant percentage of the current rural population would have migrated to cities, transforming both China and other nations into predominantly urban states with megalopolises poised to change internal political dynamics. The interaction of contributing factors such as these will impact the future of the BRI directly as well as indirectly. The Eurasian littoral has become increasingly crowded as the visible face of the hegemonic ambitions surfaced by the advent of the BRI narrative. Consequently, the concept of the Indo-Pacific has been adopted as a balancing mechanism and narrative in both economic and geopolitical space. The fault lines between the two narratives is where conflict has the greatest ability to impact the future of the BRI.
In addition to horizon scanning, the following sections will consider alternative futures for the multifaceted BRI at the macro level using a two-axes scenario technique. The axes are based on two key factors selected as having the most impact on the future, which is considered in terms of interaction between the two factors. The first of the factors used will be ‘Globalisation vs. Nationalism’. Globalization refers to the trajectory of the international economy and global geopolitics. ‘Nationalism’ refers to the ways that countries other than China promote their own long-term future interests. The second factor will be ‘BRI facilitates vs. BRI impedes’. The combination of factors is presented as two axes encompassing four plausible positive future scenarios. These are used as lenses with which to view possible futures unfolding over the period to 2050. The four future scenarios that will be covered in the next sections are: ‘The BRI facilitates globalisation – A Converging World Order’, ‘The BRI impedes globalisation – A Continuing World Order’, ‘The BRI facilitates nationalism – A Conflicting World Order’, and ‘The BRI impedes nationalism – A Constraining World Order’. It should be noted that these scenarios are objective and plausible caricatures and it is quite probable that components of one may be fused together with another.
The hope is for a BRI which ennobles mankind in the broadest possible sense and the fear is that the drive to ‘complete’ the BRI could end up sowing loss and division. The evolution of the BRI and any effective response to it will require radical geopolitical changes. The goal of presenting the scenarios which follow will have been achieved if they are seen to be plausible, address the fundamental fears of all concerned yet leave room for hope in the image of the future.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050 through her sixth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The expected future of Eurasia’s Heartland in the year 2050 could play out as a scenario that reflects a continuation of current trends in geopolitics among the U.S., Russia, and China. As it was in 2020 and earlier decades, it is driven by geopolitical positioning through foreign policy. Characterized by a territorial approach to Heartland power and a unipolar international order, it is the future least likely to unfold.
By 2050 in this scenario, there is a grand chessboard of geopolitical positioning and a territorial power play between the U.S., Russia, and China. After all, the player that triumphs in achieving universal domination, according to Mackinder, will wield control over the earth’s largest continental landmass by way of Heartland-centered power. From the Heartland, throughout the Afro-Eurasian continent, and across the globe by land, sea, air, and digital communications, it is a region unrivaled potential for economic growth and global impact.
In the Afro-Eurasian region, Eastern Europe is an emerging contributor to science and technological advancements in the production of vaccines and engineered therapeutics. Central Asia, now the green energy capital of the world, leads the way in providing access to affordable, reliable, and renewable energy for all its populations and selling the surplus to meet demand. The Middle East and African regions south of North Africa are exclusive suppliers of precious gemstones, mineral resources, popular metals, and stone.
Across the African continent are state-of-the art manufacturing facilities, distribution warehouses, and production studios. They support talented producers of high-quality textiles and fashions, contemporary art, Afrobeat, Afro-jazz, and other rhythmic music, as well as award-winning documentaries and films. West, East, and South Africa stimulate growth through sustainable agriculture and tech-driven agribusinesses, and dominate the market of plant-based pharmaceuticals. And the Congo has become the major supplier of fresh water for Africa and Europe. Despite escalating social and religious tensions in the region, the Afro-Eurasian continent, beginning with the Heartland, is the jackpot at stake in a winner-takes-all power struggle.
Russia and China’s foreign policies involve a territorial approach to Heartland power. Russian foreign policy allows for land grabs in the Caucasus and in Eastern Europe. She considers it her right to protect former Soviet States from further encroachment by China and Western influence. China’s foreign policy is still multifaceted. She has partnered with Russia and Iran for green-energy developments in Central Asia. Likewise, through trade, foreign direct investment, and increased militarization to protect BRI infrastructure and all of her borders, she now has full influential reach into Central Asia and the Middle East. Separately, Russia and China are advancing their interests in Africa. They understand Africa’s strategic importance to their geopolitical positioning.
The U.S. remains the sole superpower, always ready to defend a unipolar international order. Her geopolitical positioning is reflected in foreign policy aimed at containing Russia and China. She resorts to sanctions against Russia and Iran, a trade war with China, and threats of a stronger military presence in Central and Western Europe. Her containment strategies merely shadow her approach in 2020 to their expanding Heartland power and influence.
The expected future of Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050 could resemble a continuation of geopolitical positioning between the U.S., Russia, and Chin. However, this makes it the least likely future to unfold. Disruptions are likely to change how things play out, and shape one of three alternative futures.
Travis Kupp, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the possibility of shaping an Asian Union in his sixth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Asian regionalism has a complex past and an uncertain future. Events of the 20th century including a tumultuous process of decolonization, industrialization, and ideological reconciliation have set the stage for stronger relationships between Asian nations. The growth of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) provides a potential starting point in the eastern part of the continent that could lead to broader unification, continuing its legacy of increased economic cooperation. Central Asia could serve as another point of origin for unification with its compelling location as the geographic heart of Eurasia. Regardless of where an Asian Union emerges, its approach to international rules and norms—especially from a security standpoint—will ultimately determine how firmly it takes root and how successfully it grows.
The expansion of ASEAN over the years provides a thread toward increased economic cooperation across the continent at a minimum. Originally exclusive to southeast Asia, the Association has added a “Plus Three” component to include economic heavyweights China, Japan, and South Korea, as well as an East Asian Summit that includes India, Australia, and New Zealand. This trajectory could continue into the creation of an East Asian Community that looks similar in nature to that seen in Europe as a precursor to a deeper Asian Union. However, it may be unpalatable to nations in Central and Western Asia who may not be keen on joining an organization that developed over many years without any of their influence in the process.
Alternatively, the dormant seeds of the short-lived Central Asian Union (CAU) could sprout in the fertile soil of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The establishment of this bloc would initially serve as a counterbalance to the Chinese - and Russian - led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes many nations that continue to be wary of each other’s intentions. The CAU could then be instrumental in leading to a more equitable framework for continental integration. As the geographic nexus between cultures in every direction, Central Asia could be a more acceptable birthplace for an all-inclusive union.
Whether emerging from East or Central Asia, negotiating existing international relationships and norms will make or break an Asian Union. For instance, many ASEAN nations enjoy a relationship with both China and the USA and would rather keep it that way. However, China has an interest in unchecked access to disputed seas along its entire coast. This could lead to an attempt at forcing the hand of these countries to “side with Asia” for handling its own regional security, thus creating the conditions for potentially decades of intra- and international conflict. Central Asia would similarly need to play a careful balancing act between Chinese and Russian interests without picking sides. Even if successful in this endeavor, the region has historically not integrated well with the existing world order and may not have much incentive to push for the non-hostile establishment of a Union.
An Asian Union that spans the entire continent is an unlikely future for 2050 but should not be disregarded as impossible. Tremendous shifts that have taken place over the last century both within and between Asian states, in particular through the development of economic infrastructure under Western security guarantees, make such a regional institution worth considering. This could emerge from China’s relationships with Central Asia and Russia in the west, or with from China’s involvement with ASEAN in the east. Either way, a successful Asian Union will need to carefully navigate its security framework in order to avoid provoking the distrust and potential opposition of the rest of the world. An Asian Century without a broad Union is a more probable outcome in the next few decades.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the players that may change the rules of world-power game in her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The question of a plausible world power shift from the West to Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050 necessitates an understanding of the trends driving change in today’s geopolitical landscape. Geopolitical positioning by the U.S., Russia, and China could continue the status quo. However, trends of increasing geo-economic strategies, geo-technological warfare, and geo-cultural identity suggest possible disruption to the current world order. These drivers of change could influence alternative ways in which the future unfolds.
Continued geopolitical positioning by the U.S., Russia, and China to exploit Heartland power is driving change from a unipolar to a multipolar international system. Following the Cold War, the U.S. moved forward, unchallenged as the sole superpower in a world order characterized by unipolarity. America extended her assumed “greatness” and sought to spread her influence throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East directly or indirectly through regional partners and global institutions. Russia and China did likewise, albeit more gradually and astutely. All three’s tendency to leverage the Heartland to their own advantage shows a pattern of promoting and protecting their geopolitical agendas and interests in the region. Presently, the U.S. hints at purchasing Greenland, whether to block China from establishing a Polar Silk Road or contain Russia’s growing presence on the island. As Russia, China and other stakeholders increasingly drive a multipolar world order, with the U.S. promoting an “America First” policy, America’s greatness is diminishing.
Russia and China’s foreign-policy shifts toward geo-economic commerce is disrupting the U.S.’ extension of power. Russia expanded her foreign policy, desiring partnerships with Muslim majority countries and other non-traditional partners in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. Beyond political, military, and or security cooperation, Russia organizes international commerce among them by trade and energy imports-exports. China became the manufacturing hub for American companies pursuing competitive advantages through inexpensive labor. She adapted her foreign policy to support state-controlled capitalism, and could become the economic superpower by 2050. Ideally, China’s Belt and Road Initiative will facilitate international commerce across Afro-Eurasia through connectivity. However, India and other stakeholders perceive it as a precursor to economic colonialism in the Heartland. Russia and China’s foreign-policy shifts along with their embrace of geo-economic commerce has the U.S. scrambling to “Make America Great Again.” This change driver signals increasing disruption to U.S. power abroad. Still, China’s handling of COVID-19 may disrupt her superpower dream.
Geo-technological warfare supposedly waged by Russia, China, and Iran is progressively disrupting the international order. In this New Cold War era, they stand accused of cyberterrorism, cyber espionage and cyberwarfare against Western targets. These digital tactics pose as serious a threat to the established international order — based on peace and cooperation — as nuclear weapons, although on a different scale. Election hacking is eroding people’s trust in democracy. Fake news continues to damage the media’s credibility. And thefts of intellectual property and trade secrets are costing businesses, inventors, and artists billions of dollars in unrealized revenues. As digital warfare increasingly undermines international law, disorients governments, threatens national security, and destabilizes societies, disruption to the international order is accelerating. Geo-technological warfare has Western targets concentrated on reactive policies and measures and distracted from Heartland strategies. It is a change driver that could threaten the U.S.’ “Buy American, Deregulate, Innovate” domestic agenda.
Geo-cultural identity as a unifying ideology emphasized by Russia and increasingly adopted by her partners is disrupting Western influence in the Heartland. The underlying cultural spirit of Russia’s foreign-policy is expressed by Eurasianism. Identification with this ideology seemingly implies one’s rejection of Western civilization and capitalism, acceptance of authoritarianism, and or value for unity. South Caucasus, North African, and Muslim majority countries in Central Asia identify with the ideology’s inclusion of the Muslim community (“Ummah” in Arabic). Turkey adopted Eurasianism to symbolize her geopolitical reorientation from the West to Eastern and Central Asia. However, growing resentment among Turkish citizens of Syrian refuges and migrants may disrupt Turkey’s embrace of Eurasianist solidarity, especially if COVID-19 worsens. As Russia increasingly unites much of Afro-Eurasia around a geo-cultural worldview, Western influence in the Heartland is declining. This change driver could transform geopolitics, while Russia’s “Ummah Pivot” (rebalance to Asia) may position the Heartland for a world-power shift to the East.
Will the geopolitical landscape be shaped by a continuation of the same? How might geo-economic strategies, geo-technological warfare, and or geo-cultural identity drive change toward alternative futures? Could world power shift to Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050? These are the questions scenario stories will explore.
Travis Kupp, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects Russia’s attention towards Asia in his fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In 2018, former Putin aide Vladislav Surkov wrote that "Russia's epic journey toward the West … [after] numerous fruitless attempts to become part of western civilization" had concluded. If this in indeed true, then the nation’s borders dictate that increased interest in Asia, from the Black Sea to the Sea of Japan, is likely over the coming decades.
China’s future as a great power and its reach west through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) threaten Russia’s influence in the region as a whole. Cooperation between China and Russia in the Western and Central Asian states could be a regional stabilizing force if economic and security agendas can be harmonized. On the other hand, these agendas could lead to flashpoints along Russia’s entire southern border if integration is resisted. Either way, Moscow’s game in Asia will assuredly affect the nation’s identity and regional alignment into the future.
Russia is keenly aware of its need to have a non-hostile relationship with China. While it is possible that a more complete alliance could form, the mid-20th century psychology of great power politics remains alive and well in Moscow. It is therefore more likely that the coming decades will see a warm-yet-wary relationship emerge with Beijing. In this future, Russia will play a careful game of reinforcing its security and economic partnerships with China while engaging in bilateral relationships with India and Southeast Asian nations as a hedge. Russia will also take advantage of its natural gift as the wide belt of land that separates China and all other nations to its South from direct access to the Arctic.
As interest in the northern pole heats up and Siberia becomes more inhabitable, Russia will likely take full advantage of the desire for influence in the region. Moscow may begin to welcome an increasing number of immigrants from India and elsewhere into its Far East in order to balance out the increasing presence of Chinese workers and reap the rewards of diverse labor force. This could in time start to tip the scales of economic power in Russia’s favor. However, at least in the coming few years, Moscow will be more focused on holding its ground as an energy enabler and economic beneficiary of the Chinese powerhouse.
Without friendly relations between Russia and China, Western and Central Asia could become a hotter geo-economic, if not literal, warzone. Chinese political influence through the BRI buildout could lead a threatened Moscow to push neighbors like Kazakhstan to pick a side. This is a future in which Asia’s middle increasingly resents the exploitative mindset of its behemoth neighbors, resists integration into this different flavor of globalization, and descends into fracture and volatility. Weakened economic relationships along its southern border, along with the need to secure it, could force a reluctant Russian reunion with Europe. However, Moscow will not be keen on making the concessions to the West that would likely be necessary.
Asia has long been a key arena of Russian foreign policy but is likely to now become the primary focus as an Asian Century looms. It remains unclear what course this future will follow, whether more cooperative or competitive. Cultural differences will continue to be a wedge between still-European Moscow and its southeastern neighbors, but over time an alignment of values could add fuel to the fire of Asia’s global growth. On the other hand, mismanagement of this partnership could serve to ignite conflicts in the unstable Central and Western Asian region. Regardless, if an Asian Century is inevitable, Russia may come to belong more and more to the continent over the next few decades.
Carl Michael inspects the impact of technology on Belt and Road Initiative in his fifth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program.The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The term technology covers the development and utilization of technical capabilities in relation to people and the environment. Technologies are material and non-material or digital inventions that have enabled human beings to survive, thrive and advance. They ought not to be considered in isolation from the era or the societies in which they exist. For instance, some experts consider that were it not for the development of the chariot, China itself as a unified entity would not exist. Such is the impact of technology on society. Continuing on this note, if one considers the very concept of the state as a ‘technology’ in its own right, one can define a state as the sum of human endeavour in the production of economic, military, social or artistic outcomes. Extending this train of thought, one can consider the state or the BRI to be a ‘network’, and one which acts within a global network.
The evolution of the BRI must be considered in the context of political technologies such as states and intrastate activities. It should be acknowledged how these technologies interact with other cutting-edge technologies and the resulting evolution of governance. In this macro-context, national or civilizational interactions are part of a complex technological network. When insights from complexity theory and network theory are incorporated into one’s perspective, the evolution of the BRI and its vision can be viewed in a new light. This provides a viewpoint which could be useful when considering how technology impacts the intentions driving an initiative such as the BRI. The economic future of China is technology dependent and effective utilization and transfer of technology will be at the heart of the BRI. Further to this, as BRI members develop, there will be greater demand for advanced technologies, wherever they come from.
For China, technology and success are almost synonymous and the ‘Made in China 2025’ strategic plan is the blueprint for China’s intent for seizing leadership in advanced technology. It is a world leader in digital payment systems and the intent is to surge forward in ICT, artificial intelligence, robotics, high-speed railways, biotech and medical technology, pharmaceuticals, space technology, renewables, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, nuclear energy and military technology. To fuel this surge China needs access, one way or another, to commodities from developing countries or cutting-edge technology from developed countries. The BRI presents China with opportunities to use its accumulated capital to increase its ability to control and optimise global value chains on favourable terms for developing and exporting its technology.
The danger from the current global crisis has showcased China’s strategic biotech capabilities. Chinese leadership in other key technology sectors can be noted from its young, large and ambitious technology workforce, its recent accounting for a third of a space-launches, its pushing ahead with ambitious plans for cleaner and safer next-generation nuclear power, and its acknowledged strength in 5G telecom networks and digital platforms. With this in mind, we can see that China’s ‘Technological Tianxia’ will be one of fast, technologically driven economic and social change with a centrally managed approach, including the use of technology for military and power-projection. The speed of this change is considerable. China took just over a decade for over a billion people to double industrial output per person. In comparison, the UK took well over a century and the US took about half a century. The technology driven vision of the future will be a distinctive factor for an imagined community such as the BRI and this vision will be driven by Chinese technology prophets, entrepreneurs, influencers and venture capitalists.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program identifies players that could likely affect the world-power game in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
India, Iran, and Turkey are three regional powers being wooed as part of U.S., Russian, and Chinese geopolitical agendas. How they align their aspirations with the civilizational values of the U.S., Russia, and China may upset the balance of power. One of these or other stakeholders could influence a world-power pivot to Eurasia’s Heartland.
To advance their respective civilizational values, the U.S., Russia, and China have extended their rivalry through India, Turkey, and Iran. The U.S., an ally to Israel, firmly defends the values of Western European civilization. She seeks to cozy up with India in Asia and desires Turkey to support her interests in the Middle East. Russia is a self-described Eurasian civilization state. She’s friendly with Iran, pursues an alliance with India, and is improving relations with Turkey. China has been characterized as a civilization state due to her historical heritage, religious diversity, and distinct cultural identity. Despite border disputes with India, she aims to preserve their cultural and economic exchange, dating back to the Old Silk Road. She sweetens relations with Turkey through increased trade and wants Iran as a strategic partner. These regional powers could play critical roles in shifting the balance of world power.
An aspiring emergent global superpower determined to safeguard her borders, India has civil relations with the U.S., Russia, and China. Her foreign-policy agenda is aligned with a multipolar power balance. Supposedly, India is moving away from some Western values — liberalism, individualism, and secularism — that conflict with traditional Indian culture. Yet, she may promote U.S. and Japanese interests in Asia. India could counter China’s encroachment into Central Asia through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Still, for her security, India will “make nice” with China, including joining China’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Recently, India purchased Russia’s S-400 missile defense system against strong U.S. objections and sanctions. Her bilateral relationship with Russia across mutual interests likely will mean continued economic, political, security, and nuclear cooperation in the future.
Turkey is a wild card and complicates the rivalry between the U.S., Russia, and China with her own aspirations. A NATO member and Western ally against communism during the Cold War, she aspires to be a major regional power. Even so, she faces a Kurdish rebellion, Greek territorial disputes, and threatening Iranian power. Potentially, Turkey may stabilize the Middle East and contain Russia’s expanding influence. Still, she defied U.S. expectations and joined Russia in backing rebels in the Syrian War. Having secured Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, she is abandoning Western liberal democracy and embracing authoritarian rule. Plans to connect Turkey’s Middle Corridor transportation network with the BRI supports China’s trade ambitions in Eurasia. But how they address a bilateral trade deficit that favors China could better or sour their relationship.
Supported by Russia and China, Iran seemingly has hegemonic aspirations of being the central regional power in the Middle East and Central Asia. However, her increased involvement in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria has incited Israel’s military opposition. She rejects westernization and strategizes to limit U.S. influence in Central Asia. Trade with Russia is Iran’s saving grace, given the destabilizing impacts of U.S. economic sanctions to deter her from amassing nuclear weapons. Yet, despite their reciprocal friendliness, Russia refused Iran’s request for a S-400 missile defense system. While Iran sought but was denied full membership in the SCO, it’s likely she will stay connected to China through economic and cultural exchanges along the BRI. Their bilateral relationship could solidify Iran as China’s strategic partner in the area.
India, Turkey, and Iran add to the complex rivalry between the U.S., Russia, and China. Will these regional powers or other stakeholders influence a world-power pivot to the Eurasia’s Heartland? Understanding the forces that could drive or block change is key to reducing uncertainty.