The central theme of ‘Bucharest Forum-2013’ was to academically evaluate a topic of remarkable political and economic importance, which might define the agenda of the states from the Caspian, Black Sea and Adriatic Sea regions for the coming years. This is about the influences and opportunities provided by the ‘New Silk Road’ to the states of these regions, against the background of the possible remarkable reinvigoration of this ancient route that has connected Eastern Asia with Europe for at least two millennia. Recent finds in Romania, belonging to the Cucuteni culture, proved the existence of agricultural exchanges between China and Europe as early as 7,000 years ago.
Why this debate now and here, in Bucharest, one of the important centres of Eastern Europe?
In order to have a clear answer to this question we should first make an overview of the major changes that occurred in the global landscape these last years.
First, one must emphasise the process of remarkable shifts that changed the well-defined global equilibrium axes inherited post-Cold War. There is the undeniable exponential growth of China, which becomes a real magnet for global commerce and consequently reclaims, along with the surrounding region, a systemic centrality that is already obvious. And this occurs to the detriment of Europe, practically concluding – as some experts reveal – a historic cycle of 500 years, while the present crisis of the EU apparently is closely related to this evolution. No less, India experiences a noteworthy economic development that still has not reached full impetus, while Russia has the benefit of its vast landmass and territorial water in the North – the latter defined as a future highway of East-West commerce, due to the global warming as well as to the inexhaustible energy supply – which will place it in a privileged position, regardless of its political evolutions at home. It seems increasingly obvious that Russia, with its endless supply of raw materials and with a territory connected with two continents is an indispensable and major actor in the global economy of the future, hence of the very international system of states, where it will exert an influence in line with its role. Russia initiated a real power-recovery process after two decades of absence. ‘The dark September,’ as last month can be named from the perspective of Eastern Europe, brought several successes along this line – Armenia opted for the customs union under Russian aegis, to the detriment of the Eastern Partnership proposed by the EU; the return to the Mediterranean by the re-involvement in the power equations of the Middle East in the context of the Syrian crisis; affirming its global strategic equality with the USA through the September 14 agreement on liquidating the Syrian chemical arsenal. In this context of new emerging powers strongly affirming their presence, the USA and Europe had to promptly resort to a profitable accommodation. The USA already initiated the ‘Asian pivot’, in other words and regardless the interpretations, establishing as conduct line of its grand strategy for medium and long-term future the ‘Asia First’ orientation. Only the future will tell if this will also mean a containment of China or a partnership with this huge power. At the same time, by starting the energy evolution of fracking, the USA became the most important global producer of oil and gas. Europe is still in the preliminary phase of making a decision of major importance – accepting the undisputable systemic decline and identifying a way to accommodate it, while preserving the prosperity and a soft force of importance, of going the difficult and costly road – for many states, especially for the big powers of the continent – towards the position of global actor with all the attributes of power. Presently, it tends – through an economic partnership and a free trade zone with the USA – to delay this decision and, at least, preserve the unity threatened by the financial crisis and the global geopolitical dynamics.
In terms of current systemic shifts, China is one of the causes which generate them, and equally one of their beneficiaries, due to its extraordinary economic growth, its insatiable appetite for resources and for sale markets. And the policy it conducts with this regard could not remain without significant systemic consequences, that would determine other actors – big or small – to rethink the permanently shifting geopolitical positions in the immediate or remote neighbourhood of the Chinese giant and to find the optimal position.
Against this background was born the idea of the ‘New Silk Road,’ which was amply debated in Bucharest two weeks ago. The ideas voiced on this occasion revealed the multiple interest of the states of Central and Southern Asia, also of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe to enjoy the benefits yielded by such a transcontinental economic highway. The initiator of the ‘Bucharest Forum,’ Mircea Geoana emphasised in the first place that the ‘New Silk Road’ is not a legend, but a project that comes to life under our eyes, day after day. The prime minister of the Romanian government, Victor Ponta explained that Romania, as a gate of the EU, has the obligation to use its geographic position in order to participate in this grand project of the ‘New Silk Road’, also mentioning in the context the capabilities of the Constanta Port as terminal of a big European highway with Rotterdam as a terminal, which would decrease the cost of China and India’s connection with the Dutch port, and with Europe in general. In the same context, he added that a partnership between governments and private companies would be an adequate solution for reaching this vision, which needs – in view of being implemented – grandiose, useful and feasible projects, as the ties with the big economic powers to the east of Romania represent a regional priority of Eastern Europe. Some experts explained that the regions to be crossed by the New Silk Road need a large-scale infrastructure, whose construction requires political and economic cooperation, while others believe that applying the principle of inclusiveness – the participation of all the states of this region – is a must. In such a large-scale project, it would be counter-productive to exclude one, or several states, without benefits for all participants. And a congruence of the vision regarding the route and significance of the project must be agreed upon by its main actors, as different perspectives on this matter can engender contradiction and result in failures. At the same time, discussions also revealed that it is necessary to be precisely define the target of this project: is it the economic – and also political – cooperation, or is this a project with geopolitical ambitions? In the latter case, it could lead to clashes of interests and contradictions of vision that would endanger its implementation. The territories to be crossed by the New Silk Road still have (some of them), a fluctuating security risk, from Afghanistan to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, where the fight against the new threats that arose – immigration, drug and human trafficking, terrorism and extremism – demands an obvious and close cooperation between the actors involved. The same logic was applied to the situation of Afghanistan post-2014, when the multinational operation of post-conflict construction will end, but there is still a need for the continuity of an international military presence and an adequate cooperation.
An ambitious project, at a huge scale, which is beneficial and useful in a globalised world. Without doubt, it will take time, as well as political and economic energy to bring it to life at its true potential. If this was possible so many times in history, it is clear that the New Silk Road is also possible in the world of today and tomorrow. Experts must continue to refine this vision, so it can be assumed by politicians and implemented of a programmatic way.