Once there was a time when China was one of the most sophisticated civilizations in the world. They discovered everything from the compass, to printing, to gunpowder, to making paper. China and India put together were the economic powerhouse of the entire world. But after the Industrial Revolution and with the coming of the era of colonization this started changing. And then there was a massive decline in its presence on the world stage. The British attacked. Then were the Japanese during the World War II. China was pushed back to poverty. While this happened, the west devised a new financial and economic system, it was capitalism, free enterprise, and the free market. In post-WWII years Capitalism worked like a magic elixir in rebuilding the economy so fast that it left the gazers struck in awe. West Germany which had a free-market-based economy developed rapidly while East Germany under Soviet influence was underdeveloped. America’s Economy exploded. While the western countries were thriving China on the other hand was declining further. While more and more countries were joining the Capitalism Party, China joined the communist club. This prevented further development. Until the 1980s no development was seen in China. In fact, in the 1970s China had 542 million people living in poverty which made up about 80% of the total population. But this was about to change. In 1970 China got a new leader Deng Xiaoping, who hoped to turn around the situation of 150 years of Humiliation. Once a superpower, China had then hit rock-bottom.
Meanwhile, China’s neighbors Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore joined the capitalist party and were thriving. Deng Xiaoping went on a personal visit to Singapore where he saw that the ethnic Chinese people had adopted the free-market system and were thriving. They had pulled millions of people out of Poverty. There Deng Xiaoping saw light. He was awe-struck and inspired. He felt it was time to rebuild China’s economy. He started with a pilot project in a small fishing village bordering Hong Kong. He called it a special economic zone (He created 4 SEZs) and opened its markets to the global market chain, and the result which came out was astonishing. The small fishing village had grown into a large city in few years. And China started doing the same in many other cities and opened up its economy to the west. Today Shenzhen has a near 10 million floating population. It sought better ties with the US from then on. Companies from the west started manufacturing products in China due to the low-cost labor present in China. And two decades later in 2001, China became a member of WTO. And then what followed was rapid development. So, in simple words, the story of China is actually the story of Capitalism.
This is how China became an Economic Powerhouse. During the cold war, Space proved to be the final frontier which actually declared the winner. So, China knew what it had to do. China became a member of ISS, which was a major victory for the CNSA (Chinese National Space Administration). The military power grew as the country grew economically.
Space and Military were dominated by the US, but there was one more field in which China had the chance of mastering. TRADE.
There are new highways being built in Pakistan, Seaports being built in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Myanmar, new Rail terminals being built in Kazakhstan. What’s interesting is that they all are being built by one country, China. This project spans three continents and touches over 60% of the world’s population. This is the Belt and Road Initiative, the most ambitious infrastructure project in modern history, and this is how China plans to become the next superpower. This project is inspired by the Ancient Silk Road and it’s a multi-trillion-dollar project. This is how china plans to dominate the trade routes in the world. And there is another side of this, these projects are built by lending money to the host country, and if not repaid, China, according to the agreement made, would acquire the ownership of the project for another 100 years or more. The seaport built in Sri Lanka is now leased to China for 99 years in this way.
Though it may seem that many countries are not repaying on time and China is losing trillions of dollars, China has gained control over a lot of strategic locations. For example, India had a very strong hold on the Indian Ocean. Most of the ships headed to China from the west pass through the Malacca strait, which could very well be blocked by India. To counter this China built a series of ports alongside the Indian ocean- Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Myanmar. This is called the String of Pearls Theory. These ports could be used for military purposes in the future if India decides to create a blockade. Along with this China has developed an alternative to the Malacca Strait. China has built a port in Gwadar, Pakistan, and a highway that connects Gwadar and China. So, in case there is a blockade made, China will ship crude oil and other products via Gwadar to China by road. So practically, India has lost the strategic advantage it had against China. But instead, China can now create a blockade that could cut off the Indian Peninsula from the global trade routes.
The BRI has become China’s way of leveraging power to become a Global leader, by building relationships and taking over, China is well on its way.
Rishi D V