China’s Belt and Road Initiative without “roads”?

Imagine, there is a Belt and Road Initiative, but due to war the “roads” are blocked. Imagine, that a central part of China’s “roads” turns into a blank spot on the map and the BRI lacks “roads” that are functional to allow transgression and connection of goods and cultures.

Russia and Ukraine are both part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The so-called iron silk road, that is the railway connecting China with Europe, passes through Russia and right before Russia started to invade Ukraine Poland was hoping to become a more important player on the iron silk road. China has maximally globalized its economy and is thus depending on its trade routes to function.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Aamir Khokhar PK, own editing

The war in Ukraine now might have strong and long-lasting effects on China’s BRI and thus China’s economical growth. The first and obvious problem is that with the war in Ukraine parts of the trade routes are physically blocked or even destroyed and goods cannot pass through the war zone to be delivered to Europe (the new silk road passes through Ukraine on the way from Turkey to Moscow). This problem can of course be solved by searching alternative routes bypassing Ukraine. The factor that will most likely really have an effect on China’s economic growth are the sanctions that the so-called West (Europe and the USA) imposes on Russia. Because of the sanctions many companies will either not be allowed or voluntarily decide not to ship goods via Russia anymore. Since Russia has been a very important part of the silk road this will mean great losses for China and threaten China’s wealth.

Until now China seems to be rather on Russia’s side and although it has not yet announced a full support of Russia it has certainly not condemned Russia’s attack on China. The question is how long China’s friendly ignorance of Russia’s aggression will last once China will actually see and feel negative affects on its economy. How long can China afford or is willing to except economic losses and threads to its BRI caused by the hunger of power of the Russian president? Wouldn’t a war between the European Union/NATO and Russia mean an (preliminary) end for a great part of the BRI and thus threaten wealth and stability in China?

Linda Gerlach and Jamila Adeli, March 3, 2022

Linda Gerlach and Jamila Adeli belong to a group of researchers of the BMBF-funded research consortium “De:link // Re:link” at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. In the project, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (2013, initiated under Xi Jinping) serves as a larger framework to understand and analyze how large transnational infrastructures and local knowledges/reactions re-shape the notion of regionality.

More information on their joint research blog

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