Chapter 1: Green silk: Chinas governance gamble
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In the 21st Century, the new Silk Roads have become a metaphor for expanding connectivity, trade and wealth, with the Belt and Road Initiative often seen as PRC’s de facto ‘grand strategy’. However, each of the BRI’s economic corridors exhibits unique features, benefits and challenges, fulfilling different needs for the involved parties. Chinese power (whether military, economic or in terms of influence) varies across these different pathways, depending on regional frameworks and the mix of partnerships and opponents at the regional and global levels. The extra ‘roads and passages’ added to the BRI, especially the Polar Silk Road and the Pacific Loop, are areas where PRC’s influence is contested, and their governance capacity limited. Likewise, growing criticism of PRC’s human rights and security practices has forced some rethink of the BRI, especially among Indo-Pacific and European partners. China’s linking of economic, environmental, developmental and foreign-relations issues has been managed through the concept of an evolving Eco-Civilization, increasingly integrated into PRC governance from 2007 onwards. However, the environmental and later ‘blue ocean’ agendas attached to BRI planning and AIIB guidelines have had limited implementation. In the worst-case scenario, the ‘greening’ of the Chinese economy might be undermined by shifting polluting industries and manufacturing into poorer countries along the BRI. Improved knowledge, management and implementation of environmental policies are needed to enhance BRI’s governance capabilities in coming decades.