Political scientists Alan Chong and Quang Min Pham bring with their edited volume, Critical Reflections on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (Palgrave MacMillan, 2020), originality as well as dimensions and perspectives to the discussion about the Belt and Road that are highly relevant but often either unrecognized or underemphasized.
The book is about much more than the material aspects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In fact, various chapter authors use the Belt and Road to look at perhaps the most fundamental issue of our times: how does one build a global world order and societies that are inclusive, cohesive and capable of managing interests of all stakeholders as well as political, cultural, ethnic and religious differences in ways that all are recognized without prejudice and/or discrimination?
In doing so, the book introduces a moral category into policy and policy analysis. That is an important and commendable effort even if it may be a hard sell in an increasingly polarized world in which prejudice and bias and policies that flow from it have gained new legitimacy and become mainstream in various parts of the world.
Nonetheless, it allows for the introduction of considerations that are fundamental to managing multiple current crises.
One just has to look at the pandemic the world is trying to come to grips with, the need for a global health care governance that can confront future pandemics, and the world’s environmental crisis to realize the relevance of former Singaporean diplomat and public intellectual Kishore Mahbubani’s description of the nation state system as a boat with 193 cabins and cabin administrators but no captain at the helm.
In his contributions to the book, Chong looks for answers in the experience of ancient Silk Road travellers. That may be a standard that a Belt and Road managed by an autocratic Chinese leadership that is anything but inclusive would at best struggle to meet.
That does not detract from the book being an invaluable and unique contribution to a vast literature on the Belt and Road.
Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. He is also a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, a globally syndicated column and blog.
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