Eurasia’s Silk Road and Trilateral Prospects for Cooperation
On January 26, 2016, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), in partnership with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, hosted Filip Grzegorzewski, advisor and COASI chair at the European External Action Service, Ian Lesser, executive director of GMF’s Brussels office; and Akio Takahara, professor at University of Tokyo, Japan, and senior fellow at Tokyo Foundation for a roundtable discussion focused on Eurasia’s changing geopolitical, and geo-economic environment, and the prospects for trilateral cooperation between the United States, Europe, and Japan in the region. The panel was moderated by Hans Kundnani, senior fellow at GMF’s Berlin office, and addressed China’s Silk Road initiatives, including their by-products such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Russia’s engagement in the region, through the Eurasia Economic Union and the impact of this renewed interest from various actors on the region.
Kundnani opened the conversation with a focus on China’s Silk Road Initiatives, mentioning that he cannot remember any other investment initiative being discussed so much while knowing so little about it. In response, Takahara emphasized that the main drivers behind China’s mega-projects are geopolitical, economic and internal political aspirations. He also expressed doubts about the success of the project in Central Asia, which is already resulting in China shifting its attention to, and strengthening cooperation with Central, and Eastern Europe as an alternative. Grzegorzewski pointed out that the “One Belt, One Road” initiative (a term also used interchangeably with the “Silk Road” term) is neither one, nor a belt or a road, but rather an extension of the Chinese domestic agenda, and an approach to doing business with a global vision, and geostrategic interest. The initiative’s impact on the Chinese economy, and overall internal stability was also discussed and the broader implications of the project, such as transformation of business and investment practices in the countries involved, cultural influence, hegemonic aspirations, and finally potential tensions both with Russia and the United States. Lesser brought the importance of the current political and security situation in the Middle East and potential spill-over in Central Asia, and the Caucasus to the fore.
The discussion was followed by a question and answer session in which the speakers agreed that due to its developmental dimensions the success of investment projects and the attention that the region can attract by various players would be a positive outcome for the region, and the three partners. However, respect for international law, and transparent management of projects should be at the core of any regional investment endeavour. In a capacity crowd room academics, journalists, government officials and people from the business sector enjoyed the discussions.