|Photo from The Economist|
Commentary of an Academic
(Copyright @ 2019 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).
Tales of the expedition of Venetian merchant spy Marco Polo to the Far East, as he marveled at Kublai Khan’s summer palace in Shangdu, illustriously enthralled curiosity of Caucasians about the wonders of Chinese 4500 kilometer silk route, the oldest trading network of caravan tracks, connecting present day city of Xi’an in China and ancient Rome of the western world.
It is not surprising though, when Italy, the first of the elite G7 developed countries signed 2.5 billion euros investment deals with a potential value of 20 billion with China on March 23, 2019. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte flamboyantly pulled out the red carpet for Chinese President Xi Jinping and fanfare serenade by Andrea Bocelli, describing Xi by paparazzi as “the Godfather of Rome” complete with greetings from guards on horseback fit for a postmodern Chinese emperor, the same privilege usually given to monarchs and popes.
President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy embedded through his fresh state visits to European big cities in Rome and Paris simultaneously led to Italy’s participation (aside from Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Portugal’s Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa) to the second three-day multilateral meetings during the Belt Road Forum for International Cooperation last April 27, 2019 which began two years ago to rebuild ancient routes across Eurasia aimed at paving a way for a Silk Road-styled global trade network.
Starting from 29 heads of state in May 2017 that increased to a gathering of 37 world leaders across the globe this year, a joint communiqué inscribes its importance to, “[The ancient Silk Road contributed to the] strengthening of the connectivity and the expansion of the world economy in the spirit of promoting peace and cooperation, openness, inclusiveness, equality, mutual learning and mutual benefit.”
The complete attendance of Southeast Asian leaders except for reelected Indonesian president Joko Widodo; the big support of Central Asia minus Turkmenistan; five African leaders from Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Mozambique were present in Beijing, in spite of Zimbabwe’s plan to adopt the Chinese yuan as legal tender in return for debt cancellation worth about $40 million. While Chile represented alone South America as these small-state attendees came out as Chinese vassal states to hail new global power with a powerful emperor clothed with military achievements, financial contributions and historical feats to the world.
Since the invention of the world’s first magnetic compass as early as the Han dynasty (placing China ahead as a superior culture) but was succinctly used during the Song dynasty by Chinese navy for navigational orienteering, it was emperor Ming Chengzu of the Ming dynasty who ordered his favorite eunuch Admiral Zheng He (Asia’s greatest explorer) to launch major voyages or exploration with a fleet consisting of 317 ships with almost 28,000 mariners, bigger than the Spanish armada and galleons, from South Pacific to the Indian Oceans as far as Arabia and the coast of Africa.
The Han and Tang dynasties impacted the territorial vision of Xi Jingping while the Song and Ming dynasties would have compressed the maritime prophecy of China’s strongest and current president since Mao Zedong to achieve a formidable continental nation, crossing the path to a superpower status. Mirroring Han emperors Qin Shi Huang, known for ending the long-running wars as he unified China under a centralized authority for the first time launching the start of more than two-millennium of imperial rule.
While Tang Taizong of Tang dynasty made China the largest and the strongest nation in the world. Song emperors like Sui Wendi began the construction of the first Grand Canal and Song Taizu reunified again warring China by strengthening the central administration and simultaneously weakening local warlords’ powers. It was during that period when China became global economic and technological power while Ming Taizu of the Ming dynasty stepped up the effort to fight against corruption by strengthening the rule of law.
The Chinese dream, a Sino-centric world order, was first mentioned by Xi during his tour of an exhibit at the National Museum of China in November 2012, shortly after he became the president of the Communist Party of China. That exhibit is called the ‘Road to National Rejuvenation’, and Xi Jinping reiterated the Chinese dream is the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The Chinese dream includes having a powerful country, a good education, a happy family, or a bountiful harvest. The China dream also aims at modernizing the People’s Liberation Army Navy since it has yet to achieve national reunification (including all of the islands in the Southeast China Sea and renegade province Taiwan). These are all factors which have placed Chinese armed forces under heavy pressure in securing the country and its border areas.
Xi Jinping’s success (with undefined term limit as president) is closely viewed from the frames of western historical successes and lessons learned from Chinese fallen and risen empires. He once asked, “Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? And replied to own self-examinations by saying, “it happened because their ideals and beliefs had been shaken.” Mad leader he can become when provoked, “prepare for war,” he commanded his troops in October 2018 when he made a visit to the Southern Theatre Command, and calmly uttered with confidence, “China must take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly.” Known for his calculated and erudite execution of strategic thinking, timing plays a big chunk to Xi Jinping’s eloquent words and firm actions.