Probing China’s Twenty-First-Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI): An Examination of MSRI Narratives

Jean-Marc F. Blanchard
Publication Date: 
April 1st, 2017

This article reviews the literature on China’s twenty-first-century Maritime Silk Road initiative (MSRI) to highlight the narratives surrounding it, its central features, its potential objectives, and the challenges affecting its implementation. It demonstrates that there are numerous political and economic narratives about the MSRI. It further indicates Beijing’s aims to use the MSRI to achieve manifold economic and political ends. Distinct from other analyses, it stresses how Beijing sees the MSRI advancing diverse objectives at the sub-national level. It also makes clear that economics and politics are intimately related regarding the MSRI within China, in the Asia-Pacific Region, and outside the region. Another contribution of this review is to underscore the multi-scalar, multi-actor, and multi-dimensional challenges Beijing’s grand scheme faces. From a policy vantage point, this review suggests that some of the alarm about, and some of the more negative interpretations of, the MSRI are, at this point, misplaced or unwarranted. As far as China is concerned, the central policy implication is that China must actively manage the project to implement it fully. In terms of theoretical contribution, this piece shows the value of using political-economic lenses to reflect about what is transpiring as well as the MSRI’s potential political and economic consequences. This article appeared as Jean-Marc F. Blanchard, "Probing China’s Twenty-First-Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI): An Examination of MSRI Narratives," Geopolitics, Vol. 22, No. 2 (April 2017), pp. 246-268.