The Belt and Road Inititative, Macau SAR and the PSCs
The first thing to outline in what concerns the “Belt and Road” is that it is not defined as a policy, but as an initiative. Therefore, its outline is not strict. It is not a thoroughly detailed plan, but, in contrast, written in somewhat flexible terms and subject to various interpretations. It is folly at this point to scrutinize the validity of these different readings; let us instead focus on the opportunities that can arise from its implementation.
The “vagueness” of the “Belt and Road” initiative, together with incentives offered to the different Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) Provinces, invites provincial governments to seek potential projects that fall into the “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) framework. This invites Provinces to invest in economy diversification while maximizing their natural advantages, and to further foster technological and industrial development which, taking the PRC 13th Five-year Plan into account, should be focused in pursuing as targets economic and social development, the maximization of quality, and fostering environmentally friendly policies.
Referring to the map above, the “two fronts” of the OBOR are the “New Silk Road Economic Belt” (land-based component of OBOR) and the “New Maritime Silk Road” (sea-based component). Still in what concerns Chinese internal policy, from the outset it becomes tentative to interpret the sea-based route as obviously prevalent for the more developed coastal regions of the PRC, home to logistic multi-modal hubs and financial centres, while the land-based route will stimulate the development of the lagging Chinese hinterland, inviting the allocation of the PRC’s industrial overcapacity, and further allowing its flow along the “Belt and Road”.
On the foreign front, the initiative consolidates what has been China’s foreign policies for years, establishing economic ties throughout the world under a label of mutual respect and win-win situation. The OBOR initiative invites the participation of the different foreign governments and Chinese and foreign private enterprises, under the premise of extensive benefits for all involved.
Economic expansion is of course a clear objective, at the same time strengthening political and economic ties: in fact, expanding Chinese influence. And so too is Renminbi internationalization, a policy backed by the establishment of multilateral organizations and financing mechanisms, such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), New Development Bank (NDB), and the Silk Road Fund.
Infrastructure investment, as the key factor in this initiative, is the foundation for Chinese economic expansion and economy development of the countries involved. Of course, Chinese foreign investment in infrastructure projects is not a new thing. The OBOR concept thus seems to consolidate Chinese policies under a coherent, if loose, framework.
Transport infrastructure projects are in fact at the core of China-Africa cooperation, as illustrated in January 2015 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between China and the African Union for the establishment of a network to connect all 54 African countries through transportation infrastructure projects. Such projects could be included in the OBOR framework, specifically related to its sea-based component, the “New Maritime Silk Road”.
How these infrastructure projects can be framed in the OBOR initiative is a defining factor, demanding the study of transport networks and their management and identifying potential financial and economic benefits.
This demands a holistic approach, as the OBOR initiative involves an overwhelming number of different factors. The aim should be on: 1- Definition of infrastructure projects that are beneficial for all parties; 2 – Outline of the resulting economic benefits; 3 – How such infrastructure fall within the OBOR concept; 4 – Financing potential and models; 5 – Influencing factors.
Focusing on PSCs, the role of the Macau SAR has been repeatedly underlined by the PRC. The Macau SAR’s role derives from its historical past, with almost five centuries of Portuguese presence. This, together with the well-established and strong relationship between China and Portugal, has contributed to China’s approach regarding policies for Macau, where this historic past is hailed as a positive hallmark, and something to be fostered as an example of openness materialized by the label of “East meets West”.