China's Maritime Silk Road: Advancing Global Development?

AuthorRahman, Chris

China's Maritime Silk Road: Advancing Global Development? By Gerald Chan. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, Massachusetts: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020. Hardcover: 175pp.

This book is a companion volume to Chan's previous work on the land-centric elements (the "Belt") of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The "Road" refers to the maritime parts of the BRI, China's major foreign policy programme for international economic engagement and political influence building. The book's structure comprises two brief introductory chapters, a theoretical framework chapter, followed by three chapters addressing each of the three main routes planned for the "Road": the route to the west, linking China to Europe and Africa via the South China Sea and Indian Ocean; the route south via Southeast Asia to Oceania; and the route north to Europe and North America via the Arctic Ocean. This is followed by a chapter on how China protects its interests along the maritime silk road, and a conclusion. The latter is not really a conclusion at all, but instead introduces two new elements: the debate over China's alleged "debt-trap" diplomacy, and the technological aspects of strategic competition--Beijing's so-called "digital silk road". The latter elements seem out of place and, while valid aspects of the broader BRI debate, are not well situated or linked to the book's intended maritime focus.

Chapter Two establishes both that the "Road" is about building maritime connectivity and the book's focus is on port developments under the BRI. Curiously, although Chan notes two relevant Chinese policy documents, including one dealing specifically with maritime cooperation under the BRI, there is no extended treatment of them. The chapter sets out a broad overview of China's investments in foreign ports and logistics operations. In the framework chapter, Chan establishes his concept of "geo-developmentalism" as a means of "drawing more directly on Chinese perspectives and experiences" to better understand and explain the meaning of the BRI. In doing so, he argues that "geo-developmentalism" is in competition with Western "neo-liberalism" for political-economic influence and opportunities throughout the developing world (p. 27). He argues that this model of Chinese authoritarian state-directed capitalism--otherwise known as the so-called "Beijing consensus", a term not used in the book--not only challenges the neo-liberal model of economic development but also the...

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