It is a general rule of thumb that when you are surrounded by zombies muttering gibberish, you need to flee, or join in. Hong Kong has suddenly been taken over by people loudly insisting on the importance of ‘One Belt, One Road’. We don’t know what it means. They don’t know what it means. The word has gone out: everyone start singing the praises of ‘One Belt, One Road’ with immediate effect until further instructions are received.
Thus the South China Morning Post publishes an advertorial to hype it up. We are invited to consider the possibility that “maybe Hongkongers lack enthusiasm for, or a comprehensive understanding of,” the apparently meaningless slogan. It goes on to quote pro-Beijing quote-person Lau Siu-kai as saying Hongkongers should abandon their “narrow-minded focus on local issues” – in other words, presumably, stop worrying about unaffordable housing or unmanageable numbers of Mainland shoppers, and start thinking ‘One Belt, One Road’.
However, this is not just another ‘We should focus on the economy’ thing to try to divert attention from Hong Kong’s rotten governance. We are told that Africa, no less, should be ‘inserted’ into ‘One Belt, One Road’ (not vice versa), and that we should really freak out at the amazing parallels between ‘ASEAN Connectivity’ and ‘One Belt, One Road’. The Moon is next.
According to some sources, it is China’s version of the Marshall Plan (the classic example of enlightened self-interest through which the US funded Western European recovery after World War II, and which has zero relevance here). A map not very usefully suggests that the ‘Belt’ goes overland, while the ‘Road’ goes over the sea. Some commentators calmly suggest that the whole concept is just a gimmicky label for ‘Asian infrastructure development’ – but obviously it doesn’t mean that, because they would have called it ‘Asian infrastructure development’, not ‘One Belt, One Road’, wouldn’t they?
One clue is in today’s SCMP Business section, which, as so often, goes horribly off-message in pursuit of decent journalism. China lost the plot in Sri Lanka, siding with the wrong side in its over-eagerness to establish commercial or maybe not-so-commercial outposts in other parts of the world. Boosting power by propping up unpopular ruler-clients is kind-of 1950s, we will recall, and not invariably successful. (What happens to the ready access to Zimbabwe’s manganese after Robert Mugabe goes, by the way?)
Another clue is in the Western response to China’s neo-mercantilist/imperialism thing. Besotted with China Hype (and desperate), most US allies have rushed to join Beijing’s passé-sounding AIIB investment bank, which emulates post-war institutions of little ongoing use like the IMF, ADB, etc. Meanwhile, Barron’s thoughtfully recommends stock picks for readers keen to share in the profit to be had from China’s friendly cooperation and partnership with the rest of Asia. China’s Communist leaders, indulging in this contrived Cold War II, must be recalling Lenin’s supposed thoughts that ‘the capitalists will sell us the rope we hang them with’.
So let us all stop asking why – just join hands and jump and down together in frenzied glee chanting ‘One Belt, One Road’!