Xi’s initiatives

Print edition : May 29, 2015
Conscious of China’s cultural “soft power” and keen to enhance it, Xi Jinping, within a year of becoming President, launched two major diplomatic initiatives whose impact will be felt for years to come.

COMPILATIONS of speeches by heads of state or of government do not make good reading. This volume is an exception for three reasons. One is the importance of the speaker. President Xi Jinping assumed office on November 15, 2012, as President, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. He soon made a mark as a leader of front rank. Secondly, his speeches also provide the light touch.

Sample this: “I have quite a few hobbies, and my most favourite one is reading, which has become my way of life. I am also a sports fan. I like swimming and hiking, and when I was young I enjoyed playing football and volleyball. What makes sports competitions, especially football matches, fascinating is their unpredictability. During the last World Cup we had Paul the Octopus. I wonder if there will be another octopus next year to predict match results.”

The last is the most important. These speeches, excellently indexed, provide a clue to Xi Jinping’s world view, to China’s policies, domestic and foreign, and to the remarkable initiatives he has taken in so short a time. No student of international affairs can ignore this volume.

He is conscious of China’s cultural “soft power” and is keen to enhance it. Within a year of reaching the high office, he launched two major diplomatic initiatives whose impact will be felt for years to come. On September 7, 2013, he spoke of the Silk Road Economic Belt at the Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan:

“A neighbour is better than a distant relative…. China and Central Asian countries are close and friendly neighbours. “… To forge closer economic ties, deepen cooperation and expand development space in the Eurasian region, we should take an innovative approach and jointly build an economic belt along the Silk Road.”

He spelt out the steps to be taken. “First, we need to step up policy consultation. … Second, we need to improve road connections. … Third, we need to promote unimpeded trade. … Fourth, we need to enhance monetary circulation. … Fifth, we need to increase understanding between our peoples.”

This was soon followed by unveiling, on October 30, 2013, in Indonesia, its companion, the Maritime Silk Road. “China proposes the establishment of an Asian Infrastructure Investment bank to support the ASEAN countries and other developing countries in our region to strengthen links in infrastructural development. Southeast Asia has since ancient times been an important hub along the ancient Maritime Silk Road. China will strengthen maritime cooperation with the ASEAN countries, and the China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund set up by the Chinese government should be used to develop maritime partnership in a joint effort to build the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century.”

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor launched in Islamabad on April 20 links the Economic Belt with the Maritime Road by linking Kashgar in Xinjiang with Gwadar in Balochistan.

Even more meaningful is his speech on May 21, 2014, as Chair at the summit of 47 countries, which comprise the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). He said: “China proposes that we make the CICA a security dialogue and cooperation platform that covers the whole of Asia and, on that basis, explore the establishment of a regional security cooperation architecture.”

In the days to come, we shall certainly hear more about China’s “Asian Security Concept” and the U.S.’ discomfiture at the decline of its influence in Asia.