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Session 6: Europe and the New Silk Road: Opportunities at Home and Beyond

Session 6: Europe and the New Silk Road: Opportunities at Home and Beyond

(in partnership with Centre for International Relations and Sustainable Development – CIRSD)

Discussion Points:

  1. What is the New Silk Road and China’s views on Europe within it?
  2.  Is the New Silk Road initiative bringing risk or opportunities for the European countries and the EU?
  3. Speeding up monetary/financial reform and liberalisation or withdrawing back on capital market and monetary internalisation: what are the implications of China’s choice for global economic order relations?
  4. Among the big players: what is the role that EU can aspire to in the global system between USA, China and Russia, and the other emerging powers?
  5. With the changing global dynamics and revealed weaknesses of the existing global system, what kind of new, redefined international order should Europe advocate for?
  6. Is the New Silk Road a threat to the EU that could fuel the intra-European rivalry and divide the European countries, or will it drive the EU to regain its EU-deepening momentum?
  7. If signed, how will the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between EU and USA influence Brussel’s leverage in negotiation with China?
  8. Can the EU go over a crises-driven planning and develop a more comprehensive and coherent strategy for engaging with China?

The Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development (CIRSD) will host a special panel at the Belgrade Security Forum focusing on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), its potential impact on geopolitics and global economics, and the benefits European countries could derive from participation in this flagship globalization initiative of the 21st century.


The term “Silk Road” evokes an image of the long-gone past: a vast trade network of caravans and travelers that transported goods and ideas to and from China through Central Asia to Europe and the Mediterranean Basin. In many ways, the ancient Silk Road represented the first wave of globalization. Though it was eventually replaced in the sixteenth century by cheaper and maritime routes, adversely impacting the economies of the countries along its land and sea corridors, the Silk Road may be about to stage a remarkable comeback.

In the space of only a few decades, China has advanced from an underdeveloped agricultural country to an industrialized powerhouse. Now, the country seeks to expand its win-win development model afield so that others might gain and prosper from it. By combining both the ancient Silk Road legacy and its recent development experience, China has conceived what it calls the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

BRI is the most ambitious infrastructure-based development and security project of the 21st century. Built upon the ideas of economic integration, free transit of goods, the removal of various trade barriers, simpler convertibility of currencies, and the modernization of infrastructural systems, BRI could bring huge economic benefits to the over 65 countries along its proposed land and sea corridors.

These potential benefits extend all the way to Europe, to both EU and non-EU countries. For example, an integrated and efficient rail transportation system, in which rail gauges are compatible and locomotives don’t have to be changed frequently, would shorten a trans-continental shipping trip by entire days and save a great deal of money. Likewise, new investments in port infrastructure, along with an easing of customs procedures and quarantine processes, could help in reducing congestion and help meet heavy demand for port services. The injection of capital and corresponding increase in FDI could help advance the next stage of European and non-European economic development.

A reduction of barriers to trade and increased economic prosperity are not the only possible benefits that may be derived from BRI, however. The initiative seeks to develop cooperation on issues such as developing a common fishing system in the world’s seas, coordinating law enforcement in tackling transnational organized crime, and even developing new institutions that could reinforce effective global governance.  BRI also envisions an improvement in cross-cultural ties, with entire fora and festivals dedicated to the sharing of literature, films, music, and so forth.

The question of the moment, then, is how European countries can best make use of BRI in order to spur development, economic growth, and the development of stronger international ties. Are there any costs to participating in the Belt and Road Initiative? What are the risks? Are there possible conflicts of interest, and the potential for increased competition between China and the EU, or is BRI a truly win-win concept? How would BRI impact more sensitive issues, such as the idea of a China-EU free trade agreement?

There are strong arguments to made for the expansion and deepening of relations and cooperation between China and Europe on not just issues of trade and economic growth, but also other global issues such as climate change, environmental protection, and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Productive dialogue between Europe and China can help spur rapid and real progress in incorporating the different processes of the 2030 Agenda (the SDGs, climate policy, etc.) into their national development frameworks.

The landscape of international politics and global development is changing. It is thus imperative to understand and take advantage of new opportunities, ideas, frameworks, and initiatives that could benefit all countries and produce win-win results.


Selected Readings:

Previous BSF Panels and Sessions on the topics related to China:


2014 – Plenary Panel 1: Opening the New Strategic Debate Between Transatlantic and Eurasian Agendas

2012 – Thematic discussion 2: China’s New Role in a World in Crisis