Global trade issues in contemporary international relations are characterized by the opposition of powerful states or unions of states in their attempts to obtain a leading global position. In particular, the latest research findings and geopolitical observations indicate that China has started a new strategy of dominating global trade by entering Europe through its newly designed New Silk Road. The concept derives from the Chinese policy initiative called One Belt One Road that predetermines investing in infrastructure and transportation to gain ease and cost-efficient access to European countries (Li et al., 2018). Through such means, China aims at competing with the European Union (EU) in its trade dominance. For this paper, one should clarify that the EU is referred to as a political and economic unit or actor comprised of state members, while Europe is referred to as a geopolitical region. Overall, the Chinese government uses the New Silk Road to implement its national strategy of globalizing its economy.
The history of the Chinese economy and its leading position in global trade demonstrates that the competition between Asia and the West might intensify due to the pursuit of the same goals of gaining influence in global trade. The successful and long-term trade connections between China and other Asian and European countries during the time of the Tang dynasty between 600-s and 900-s A.D. was the time when the Silk Road was a trade link between East and West (McKillop, 2012). Thus, now when China demonstrates its rising power, experts relate to this historical experience in combination with its globalization policies and anticipate a strong advancement on the side of China (Baylis et al, 2020). However, the opinions of academics and political observers differ in terms of the anticipated outcomes of such a policy for the global community in general and Europe in particular. Indeed, since the New Silk Road is aimed at facilitating the transport connection with Europe for better economic relations, concerns about its effects on the trade processes in the EU are being addressed.
Researchers seriously consider China a rising power in terms of political, economic, and trading influence on a global scale. In general, “recent developments such as China’s implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the creation of the New Development Bank by the BRICS countries suggest the increasing global influence of rising power” of China (Baylis et al., 2020:90). Moreover, (Kastner and Saunders, 2012:163) state that “since the beginning of the reform era in 1978, China’s economy has averaged nearly 10% annual growth”. Throughout these years, the People’s Republic of China has established itself as “one of the world’s largest trading nations, while amassing vast holdings of foreign reserves” (Kastner and Saunders, 2012:163). Such rapid economic advancement demonstrates that China is an important, powerful, and influential global actor that is capable of economic dominance.
The New Silk Road Overview
The intensification of trade-related threats from China is derived from the strategic development the state has outlined with its recent national policy initiative. The initiative called One Belt One Road was introduced by the Chinese government between 2011 and 2015 (Li et al., 2018). The initiative implies extensive investment into the development of trade routes for import and export to Europe. Currently, the New Silk Road project incorporates a significant transport and trading project that follows the routes of the old Silk Road. It includes two main paths, namely a land way and a maritime one, which allow for connecting Asia, the Middle East, Russia, Eastern, and Central Europe, as well as Southeast and East Africa. Overall, “the intercontinental railways have a positive effect on China’s exports to its trading partners in Central Asia and Europe, especially concerning exports of manufactured goods, machinery and transport equipment” (Li et al., 2018:275). Such an initiative and its successful implementation provide a basis for serious consideration of China as a powerful global actor.
Given the outlined background of the issue at hand and the scholarly debate identified in the current academic literature, the research question generated for this research is as follows: How might China’s intensified investment in the New Silk Road initiative influence its trade with the EU manifested through the rate of trade agreements between them. The question is specific enough to narrow the research around the trade-related implications of the New Silk Road for the future. The combination of proper methodologies and research designs, namely qualitative inquiry based on survey and the Delphi method, will allow for making a compelling conclusion and answering the research question. The literature review and methodology discussion presented further will contribute to developing a reliable theoretical and practical basis for conducting the suggested research study.
The review of recent scholarly literature sources on the topic of China in global trade and geopolitics provides a basis for discussing several themes. First, the theme of China as a rising power and its prospective influence on global politics will be briefly discussed for general context. Second, the theme related to China’s trade policy and the implementation of the One Belt One Road initiative will be reviewed to analyze its potential ability to influence trade competition with the EU. Third, the trade competition between China and the EU will be investigated related to the Silk Road Initiative. The discussion and synthesis of the research findings and their relevance to the studied scholarly debate will provide a solid evidential basis for answering the research question.
China as a Rising Trading/Economic Power
The history of Chinese trade dominance is long and rich, which reaches the time when China was the main trade actor connecting East and West. In particular, the rule of the Tang dynasty in 600-s and 900-s A.D was characterized by the intensive use of the Silk Road as the main economic passage between Asia and Europe (McKillop, 2012). The relevance of this historical outlook to today’s geopolitical situation is validated by the evaluation of the capabilities of China to regain its global dominance by returning to its long-lost leading position.
Trade Competition between China and Europe
The review of the scholarly literature on the competition between China and the EU due to the intensification of investing in the New Silk Road initiative reveals a debate around this topic. It is manifested in the opposition of scholars’ views on the overall implications of Chinese trade advancement for Europe. On the one hand, research supports the idea that China is likely to conquer Europe in terms of trade. This side of the debate claims that China as a powerful state will cause economic stagnation for Europe due to the dominance of the Chinese presence in the European states (Holslag, 2017). Indeed, it is argued that China aims at global trade expansion that will threaten European competitive ability and ultimately make China into a global dominant state trade-wise.
On the other side of the debate, some scholars do not envision a threat from China’s investment in the New Silk Road initiative. On the contrary, they analyze the efforts of China to enter the European trade world via advanced cost-efficient and environment-friendly means and perceive them as an opportunity for mutual development through healthy competition and collaboration. The New Silk Road will provide “the blueprint of railway and road investments that would create an optimal and feasible network of Eurasian transport links that join Europe’s domestic plans of transport expansion” (Chan, 2018:pp.111-112). Similarly, (Hughes et al., 2020) claim that the positive outcomes of the New Silk Road for Europe might include the promotion of a sustainable economy and prosperity for struggling European states. Moreover, in (Li et al., 2018) opinion, the advancement of the One Belt One Road initiative will trigger cost-efficient European transportation for more competitive trade. Such positive implications demonstrate the developmental effects anticipated to result from China-EU competition in trade.
The debate in the international relations field is characterized by the opposing views of some experts on the possibility of Chinese dominance in trade relations through the New Silk Road initiative. In particular, Jerden (2014) claims that the narrative about the Chinese superpower as an international trade actor is artificially created and has no evidential grounds since the discussion of its threat to the global economy has suddenly appeared in literature within several past decades. In particular, Jerden (2014) emphasizes that the narrative of China’s assertiveness in foreign policy “was naturalized as a social fact, which was conducive to the rebalancing policy and thus benefited US interests” (Jerden, 2014:85). The author states that China’s policy has not changed over the years, but only scholarly and political narrative has. Kastner and Saunders (2012), on the other hand, recognize China’s power and indicate the perspectives of this state to dominate global trade by obtaining a significant competitive advantage over the EU. Importantly, some scholars claim that since China’s policy is a developmental one and not monopolistic, the New Silk Road will have a beneficial effect on trade advancement in Europe (Chan, 2018; Hughes et al., 2020). It means that China does not strive to dominate the economy by suppressing other nations but aims at creating a favorable environment for better trade opportunities. This assertiveness goes in accord with Jerden’s (2014) position since the narrative about China’s monopolistic or dominating goals in the global economy was introduced to literature without proper grounds, implying the lack of domination ambitions in the Chinese policy. Other scholars question this position, arguing for the inevitability of China’s global economic dominance, which will result in European economic stagnation (Holslag, 2017). Such polarization of opinions necessitates additional research to clarify the realistic plausible effects of the New Silk Road on European trade.
Thus, the review of the literature demonstrates that scholars have different views on the influence that the New Silk Road might have on trade development in the EU. The anticipated outcomes and effects vary from the total dominance of China as its ultimate goal to the successful cooperation that would yield European economic prosperity. The reviewed literature sources are all strong evidence-based academic studies that have significant relevance for further consideration. However, to answer the research question, one might suspect that a combined interpretation of the debate implies that given the lack of transparency, an authoritarian political system, and a strong national policy aimed at global trade domination, China is likely to outperform Europe economically (Chenet al., 2020). Thus, the New Silk Road is likely to have a negative influence on the rate of trade performance of the EU. The argument supporting the idea of China’s inevitable economic dominance over Europe will be at the center of the suggested future research, the methodology of which will be presented and justified in the next section.
The nature of the research inquiry addressed in this outline implies the investigation of future anticipations and predictions of economic and geopolitical processes. The lack of facts in such an inquiry limits a researcher to the methodologies capable of synthesizing available expertise and data to foresee possible outcomes. The methods that have been used by the researchers working on the issue at hand included a number of both quantitative and qualitative designs. In particular, (Chan, 2018) adhered to a descriptive method with the elements of quantitative analysis of trade indicators. Similarly, (Holslag, 2017) used quantitative data analysis to describe the perspective influences of China on global trade. As for the qualitative inquiry, (Jerden, 2014) applied a method of discourse analysis, while (Hughes et al., 2020) applied a Delphi method to their research.
The proposed study will synthesize previous studies of methodologies used by scholars in the reviewed literature to answer the question. Since the research question is qualitative and inquires about the investigation of the overall influence of the Chinese international trade advancement into Europe through the routes of the New Silk Road, qualitative research is preferred. A method of the survey with experts in economy and international relations is considered the most relevant choice due to the necessity of using a reliable set of evidence retrieved from credible sources. For that matter, the method of Delphi will be adapted to the proposed study to ensure that the opinions of economic and political experts are collected and synthesized for answering the research question in an informed manner. The Delphi method implies recruiting a group of academics and critics in the field of global economy and trade to arrive at the most credible opinion. This “procedure is defined by four basic principles: anonymity, iteration, controlled feedback of responses to all group members, and statistical aggregation of individuals’ responses” (Belton et al., 2019, p. 72). The experts will be surveyed in several stages to obtain their answers to the questions concerning the implications of the New Silk Road on trade between China and the EU. The methodological implications of the reviewed literature might be useful at the stage of developing the questions for the survey, including the analysis of quantitative data, secondary findings, and policy documents.
The researcher would collect data on the estimated scope of influence of China on the EU’s competitive capability in trade, changes in trade indicators for China and the EU since the launching of the New Silk Road initiative, and the opinions of experts about the observed tendencies. Moreover, the data would include the estimated share of trade agreements for both China and Europe within the next decade. In particular, the survey questions will be focused on the specific positive and negative effects of the New Silk Road on Europe. At the stage of data analysis, the researcher might concentrate on the frequency and prevalence of either positive or negative developmental implications for trade in Europe. The analysis of the collected data might be conducted using thematic analysis to divide the identified considerations into themes and the comparison of their quality within the context of the research question.
Based on the literature review, this research proposal argues that within the context of the contemporary geopolitical power distribution processes, such an economic giant as China is likely to dominate global trade and diminish the competitive advantage of the EU (Chen et al., 2020). Overall, the selection of such a methodological approach and the data collection and data analysis methods is likely to help the researcher to answer the research question due to the reliability and credibility of the anticipated findings. The combination of the Delphi method and interview findings is likely to contribute to the scope of already available data on the issue and find validation for the opposing views of the identified scholarly debate.
In summation, the overview of the topic of China’s New Silk Road’s implications for trade in Europe unveiled the relevance of the issue to the contemporary geopolitical situation. Indeed, the advancement of China as a rising power threatens the distribution of economic and political influence in the world today and implies significant shifts in the directions and dominance globally. Given the elevated attention to the Chinese question in the context of global trade, opinions on the likelihood of China’s dominance in Europe appeared. In particular, an important scholarly debate has been identified in the course of the literature review. Scholars do not prioritize the powerful historical past of China as a dominant empire and are critical of its ambitions as a dominant economic power. Some experts argue that China’s defined national policy implemented through the New Silk Road initiative in combination with an authoritarian political regime and the lack of transparency might hinder the EU’s competitive advantage.
Given such a disparity in opinions, the proposed research will be aimed at clarification the issue within the framework of the following research question: How might China’s intensified investment in the New Silk Road initiative influence its trade competition with the EU in Europe manifested through the rate of trade agreements with international actors? The premises of such an approach to investigating the identified problem imply using a qualitative research design implemented in the form of a Delphi method with surveys conducted with experts in economy and trade. The data collected from the participants will be analyzed and evaluated to identify the prevalence of expert opinions on the likely effects of China’s trade dominance in Europe. In such a manner, the domain of research on the relevant topic of China as a global actor will be expanded and enriched with a reliable and evidence-based inquiry.
Baylis, John, and Steve Smith and Patricia Owens, (2020), (eds.) (8thed) The Globalization of world politics: An introduction to International Relations, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Belton, I., MacDonald, A., Wright, G., & Hamlin, I. (2019). Improving the practical application of the Delphi method in group-based judgment: A six-step prescription for a well-founded and defensible process. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 147, 72-82.
Chan, M. H. T. (2018). The belt and road initiative – the new silk road: A research agenda. Journal of Contemporary East Asia Studies, 7(2), 104-123.
Chen, A. W., Chen, J., & Dondeti, V. R. (2020). The US-China trade war: dominance of trade or technology? Applied Economics Letters, 27(11), 904-909.
Holslag, J. (2017). How China’s new Silk Road threatens European trade. The International Spectator, 52(1), 46-60.
Hughes, A.C., Lechner, A.M., Chitov, A., Horstmann, A., Hinsley, A., Tritto, A., Chariton, A., Li, B.V., Ganapin, D., Simonov, E. and Morton, K. (2020). Horizon scan of the Belt and Road Initiative. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 35(7), 583-593.
Jerden, B. (2014). The assertive China narrative: Why it is wrong and how so many still bought into it.The Chinese Journal of International Politics, 7, 47-88.
Kastner, S. L., &Saunders, P. C. (2012). Is China a status quo or revisionist state? Leadership travel as an empirical indicator of foreign policy priorities.International Studies Quarterly, 56, 163–177.
Li, Y., Bolton, K., & Westphal, T. (2018). The effect of the New Silk Road railways on aggregate trade volumes between China and Europe. Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies, 16(3), 275-292.
McKillop, B. (2012). Islamic frontiers of China: Peoples of the Silk Road and tea horse road: China’s ancient trade road to Tibet. Asian Affairs, 43(2), 349–352.