Between 5 and 7 September 2016 a representative of IsAG Eurasian Program (Fabrissi Vielmini) attended the second session of the Tyan Shan Forum: “The Great Silk Road” in Urumqi, the regional capital of Chinese Xinjiang. The initiative run in the framework of the Chinese titanic ‘One Belt — One Road’ (OBOR) political-economic project, a master plan intended to assist the internationalization of national State-owned enterprises, mainly by way of massive infrastructure expansion along the traditional land routes connecting East Asia with the Mediterranean, the ancient Silk Road. The bilingual (Russian and Chinese) Forum was organized with the direct involvement of the authorities of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region who welcomed the participants confirming the great importance attached by Beijing to the initiative.
The very first session (“Silk Road and communication between civilizations”) made clear the main objective and underlying vision that informs the Chinese approach: the Silk Road should be an instrument for supporting dialogue between Eastern and Western civilizations and by this to allow the smoothest possible projection of Chinese interests towards the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
While the Chinese presence is already a consolidated reality in Central Asia since years, the South Caucasus still remains a largely unfamiliar terrain to Beijing. The attendance of the Forum by representatives from all the three Republics suggested the increasing Chinese attention that to the region. Here Chinese economic presence is becoming more and more salient – as suggested by the recent finalization of a Free Trade Agreement with Georgia, where China has already become the major investor<sup>1</sup>. As expressed during the debates the appearance of Beijing on this regional theatre raises hopes among local observers: China is the only external player “clean” of imperialist accusation and by this way expected to influence in a positive way the regional strategic stalemate brought by the separatist conflicts and the consequent hostile web of alliances which coagulated around these open wounds. The engagement in an open and frank dialogue of Azerbaijani and Armenian representatives within the Forum stood as a good sign of this potential Chinese role.
Indeed, the message that the Chinese side constantly strives to communicate is that OBOR should be intended as a win-win solution for all the nations (100 according to the Chinese) from both Europe and Asia, which should only expect benefits from the synergy of their potentials that the project will implements. This vision may at tracts appear to be over-optimistic. The main point at issue is the uncertain coordination of the OBOR plan, with its deep impact on the economic structure of Central Asia, with the Russia led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which position itself as alternative to the OBOR concept in terms of the routes of the infrastructures and protectionist conception – to be noted that representatives of Moscow were absent.
Moreover, as pointed out by IsAG representative during the debate, the Anglo-American interests in Eurasia may be wary of a too much integrated region from where they will be excluded. Accordingly, these interests may act in the future as spoilers, both directly and influencing the actions of the countries along the ‘Silk Road’ that still orient their foreign policies on an unconditional pro-Atlantic line.
Chinese reply to the concerns raised in this direction is that there is plain complementarity between the OBOR and the Eurasian integration. This optimistic vision of the potential of the OBOR is shared by Kazakhstan. Erzhan Saltybayev of the Library of the First President of Republic reiterated his country’s vision of an integrated Eurasia built on a special relationship between the EEU and the EU, an axis underpinned by the reinforced infrastructural connections of OBOR, a vision where the China is the main driver of an upright process.
The four days event was closed by a guided visit to the Xinjiang Ecological and Cultural Park established by the corporation Yema International Group Co. This is a unique and scenic project enclosing in a single area specimen of the culture, landscape, vegetation and living beings of the Tianshan Mountain area. Along with a unique collection of meteorolites and other human and natural artefacts, the site present an astonishing breed of over 150 horses, including wild and rare races. The site presents this animal, the main vehicle assuring contacts over the centuries between Europe, Eurasia and Asia, in all its beauty and historical relevance and by such it stands as an outstanding cultural tourism attraction in Urumqi as well as a sign of the importance that Chinese side assigns to culture in its diplomatic interaction with neighbours.
- 1. Free Trade Agreement negotiations with China have been finalized, «NewsDay Georgia», 5 October, 2016.