To truly understand the nature of world orders, two International Relations Theories can be used to explain why the Belton Road initiative and past powers have created economic links to maximise their influence.
Understanding this requires the rationalisation to accept that the international political order is an archaic world order. This means states have their own agency in a global system where there is no 999 for states to call for help which means states have the possibility of being destroyed by other more powerful states.
The International relations theorist Kenneth waltz put forward the theory in 1979 called Defensive Realism. This theory explains that states do not wish to become the global hegemony but purely wish to survive in a system where nations could be destroyed by their more powerful neighbours (Quinn & Gibson, 2017).
This fear can explain the Belton Road Initiative and why past powers who created their own international trade networks did not strive to become the global hegemony but became the most powerful state in the international. There has traditionally been a multipolar international framework during different periods of human history.
This means there is more than one great power in the international world system. For example, in the 13th and 14th centuries, Europe was dominated by the hegemony of France and its rivals, England and the Holy Rome Empire (Hallam & West, 2019); in the 16th and 17th centuries, global power was dominated by the kingdom of France and the Habsburg dynasty, and in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a bipolar system with Great Britain, France and Prussia that became Germany competing for global power.
This relates to Defensive Realism because it may give answers to what China may be doing with the belt and road initiative that the Chinese are not trying to dominate the world but just trying to survive in an archaic international system that could see outside actors destroy the Chinese communist state.
The second theory of international relations which can explain what China’s action could mean for the future is by looking at john Mearsheimer’s theory of international relations called Offensive Realism.
In this theory, the great powers do not just seek to maintain their existing power but to expand their power by becoming the global hegemony. This can be understood by quoting the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who stated that “restoring the Kingdom of Poland in any shape or form is tantamount to creating an ally for any enemy that chooses to attack us” this led to Otto von Bismarck advocating that Prussia should “smash those Poles till losing all hope losing and lie-down and die, I have every sympathy for their situation, but if we wish to survive, we have no choice but to wipe them out.”
What we can infer about China’s Belton Road Initiative and its economic and political expansion through the traditional trade networks of the British Empire is that China could potentially be making a bid to become the new global hegemony, thereby displacing the United States.
Applying the theory of offensive realism could mean a potential conflict with the United States and possibly the other regional powers in East Asia. It remains to be seen whether China is looking to remove American influence from East Asia or if China is looking to become the global economy.
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