Conference of Asian Political Parties on “Silk Road”
FROM October 14-16, 2015, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China convened a special conference of the Asian political parties with the specific agenda of the reestablishment of the ancient “Silk Road”. Apart from the large Chinese delegation, 66 parties from 32 countries of Asia participated in this conference including many heads of State/governments. From India four parties were invited – CPI(M), CPI, BJP and Congress. Specific invitations were addressed to the general secretaries of both the CPI(M) and the CPI. The Asian political parties conference is a process that began in the year 2000 under the initiative of the then speaker of Philippines parliament. This gathering, held usually in intervals of two years, did not initially include the communist or the Left parties. It was mainly confined to the ruling parties and the bourgeois opposition parties. The Communist Party of China was requested to hold the third conference in 2004 to which the Communist parties of the region were invited for the first time. Since then CPC has been playing an active role in this process which includes many countries from West Asia to South East Asia including countries of the Oceania. At the request of the Chinese Communist Party, this special conference was held on this specific agenda. The Chinese Communist Party has recently undertaken a major shift in its economic strategy. Even earlier in the wake of the global financial meltdown of 2008, which started the current crisis of the global capitalist economy, China also gave a massive bail-out package. But unlike the major capitalist countries this was not to bail out the corporates that caused the crisis in the first place but was directed at massive expansion of public investments for infrastructure building. This generated new jobs and greatly expanded domestic demand. This emphasis on boosting domestic demand as opposed to ‘export oriented’ growth strategy continues. According to the Polit Bureau Standing Committee member and a member of the Secretariat and vice president of the People’s Republic of China, Liu Yuancho, “The Chinese economy has entered a state of new normal. It is shifting gear from high speed to medium high speed growth, from an extensive model that emphasized on scale and speed to an intensive one emphasizing on quality and efficiency, and from being driven by investment in production factors to being driven by innovation. In recent years, we have kept to the principle of promoting progress while maintaining stability, and focused on securing steady growth, promoting reforms, adjusting structures, improving livelihood and preventing risks. In spite of the instability in the global economic environment, China’s economy operates within a reasonable range, presenting a sound momentum of steady and healthy growth. Our economy grew by 7 percent in the first half of this year, ranking among the top among major countries. Moreover, it is realized on the basis of an economic aggregate exceeding US $ 10 trillion. At the same time, China has steadily increased jobs, maintained stable prices, and the per capita disposable income of our residents grows faster than the economy. The contribution of consumption to economic growth has been notably increased, and the ratio of the added value of the service sector exceeds that of the manufacturing. All these show that China’s economic structure is becoming better with the quality and efficiency of the economy being improved.” Lin Yuanchao further said, “We have an economy with over 1.3 billion people, a workforce of over 900 million, and more than 70 million market players, which has huge development potential, and can generate huge market demand and demands for investment and production capacity cooperation..” This shift in economic strategy also resulted in the recent devaluation of the Chinese currency Yuan. It appears that this shift has happened primarily due to the fact that the global capitalist crisis has still not shown signs of any stable recovery. Consequently, the volumes of global trade and commerce have sharply declined. For many countries including India, this has meant a sharp fall in exports. For China this is of special significance because much of its growth has been based on the strength of its exports. In order to overcome this problem it has devalued its currency. But this in itself appears insufficient to permit China to maintain its three decade long 10 percent growth average. China is therefore in search of creating newer markets and newer avenues for investments. The Silk Road initiative is a part of this effort. Simultaneously, the Chinese have come to the conclusion that the process of economic integration that had begun in the current globalisation of the world economy has not realised the big potential of such an integration in the Asian region. There are efforts to integrate the economies of the Asian countries with the US economy but such an integration while allowing US capital to maximise its profits does not permit the cross integration amongst the Asian countries and consequently their domestic growth. This Silk Road initiative will provide the impetus for such larger integration amongst the Asian economies. Already China is a big economic player in the countries of Latin America and Africa. It sees a great potential for mutual economic gain through such integration of the economies of the Asian countries. As Lin Yuanchao said “The Chinese government has already contributed US $ 40 billion to establish the Silk Road Fund, providing financing support for infrastructure construction, resource development and industrial cooperation of relevant countries, which has already started substantive project investment according to the principles of internationalisation, market orientation and professionalism. From January to July this year, the trade volume between China and countries along the routes exceeded US $ 570 billion; the Chinese businesses conducted a total of US $ 8.59 billion direct investment in 48 countries along the routes, up by nearly 30 percent than that of the same period of last year”. Due to the current economic slowdown China has accumulated huge amounts of production capacities and reserves. It is thus in a position to engage in further large scale financing of infrastructural development abroad. This surplus, it feels, can be utilised through the development of the Silk Road and the massive infrastructural additions they anticipate in the extension of roadways, railways, telecommunications etc amongst the Asian countries. Most of the countries participating in this conference were eager for such flow of Chinese investment for developing infrastructural facilities in their countries and facilitating the faster movement of goods and services through these new communication routes. Some of them graphically explained through statistics that with these new Silk Road connections, goods from China can reach Europe in one-third of the time it currently takes across the seas. Further, China sees a big potential in tapping into the energy reserves in central Asia. This region is reportedly sitting on the largest reserve of natural gas anywhere in the world. This, therefore, appears to be the immediate consideration that is motivating China in this direction and given the response that this initiative is receiving from countries of the ASEAN and Central Asia in particular, it appears that such communication roads and networks will be established soon. According to the CPC this is a “win-win” situation, which will mutually help all the economies in the region. Interestingly all the countries involved in disputes with the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea have also responded positively to this initiative. Even amongst the SAARC countries this initiative is receiving an overwhelming response. In the background of the stationing of 60 percent of the US naval forces in the Asian region, particularly in the Indian Ocean, and the efforts of USA to rope in bilaterally countries of this region in their foreign policy and strategic framework of strengthening US unipolar hegemony in the region, China sees this Silk Road initiative as its and the region’s required response. The increase in joint military exercises between USA, Japan and other countries including the current “Malabar Exercises” being conducted between USA, Japan and India are naturally seen as a source of worry and concern by the PRC and many other countries in the region. The success of this Silk Road initiative, China feels, will help in meeting the current US pressures on the Asian countries and providing them with new avenues for economic growth in an otherwise retreating global capitalist economic situation. As far as India is concerned, we had some years ago proposed to simultaneously activate the maritime “Spice Route” extending from Mediterranean Europe through the Indian Ocean to the far end of South Asia. Unfortunately, this proposal is not being pursued with the required vigour by the present BJP government, despite the recognition given by the UNESCO to develop this ancient maritime spice route as a tourism initiative. It is in India’s interests to ensure that the maritime spice route does not remain merely a tourism initiative. Rather India should target to convert this project into a modern maritime trade route that will contribute to faster economic growth with over 38 countries that are connected with this route. But the current BJP government with its preoccupation to emerge as the subordinate ally of US imperialism globally and in the South Asian region particularly is not giving the required attention and push to translate this maritime spice route into a reality.