One Belt, One Road: Behold China's Marshall Plan

China is moving into a new phase of both political and economic power that will test both its skills and ambitions far beyond the factory walls.

Chinese President Xi Jinping with President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev in May 2014


BEIJING — It was 2013 when Chinese President Xi Jinping first spoke about his vision of global trade as the “One Belt, One Road” plan. Merging the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” Xi's is essentially a vision of international cooperation that spans across the fast-developing East Asia to the heart of the already well-developed European continent, passing through the vast hinterland composed of numerous developing countries in south and western Asia and eastern Europe.

This vast strategic plan involves more than 60 countries making up one-third of the world’s total economy and covering more than half of the global population. As such, certain people refer it as China’s “Marshall Plan.” Xi is driven in part by China’s realistic domestic needs in creating an entry point into the world's leading economies. But it is also an expression of Chinese aspirations to play a more active role in the readjustment and reconstruction of the global political and economic landscape.

After 30 years of reform and a gradual opening-up to the world, China has upgraded from a poor agricultural country to a manufacturing power. Thanks to the existing international economic order driven by the troika of "investment, exports and consumption," China has grown to be the world's second largest economy.

However, since the outbreak of the international financial crisis, the existing economic order in which China was so comfortably rising has been broken. Not only has the sluggish external demand become a burden for China's huge production capacity, but the pressure of overcapacity has also further limited domestic investment growth.

Workers in an electronics factory in Shenzhen — Photo: Steve Jurvetson

Almost all emerging economies share the same predicament. To sustain a continuously developing dynamic, China has to shift its strategy and find a new outlet for its appetite for growth. We should recall that the Marshall Plan carried out by the United States after World War II, and the Archipelago Transformation Plan introduced by Japan in the 1970s, were based on the same logic.

How China will break through in the face of a similar dilemma will not only affect its own development, but is also a test to see whether China can assume greater global responsibility as it rises. China's leaders have chosen to bank part of their future on responding to their neighbors' huge development needs. Compared with China's overcapacity and huge capital that urgently needs investment channels, its neighbors still have rapidly rising demand. According to data from the Asian Development Bank, there exists a capital gap of $8 trillion between 2011 to 2020 for Asia's infrastructure construction alone.

Beyond the factory

In order to work with its neighbors, China is trying to drive a new set of economic cycles outside the existing global status quo. Instead of "investing and producing at home and exporting to developed markets," it now seeks to redirect its domestic production capacity and capital as a way to help feed the developing Asian economies.This is no longer just about simple manufacturing and export productivity, but also about services, capital and the sharing of development experience.

Railway crossing from China to Kazakhstan — Photo: Yaohua2000

The China-Kazakhstan "productivity partnership" is an example of Beijing demonstrating that its relationships with neighboring countries are entering a new phase. Signed at the end of March, the partnership boasts 33 individual deals worth some $23 billion, which count a wide range of projects including steel, cement, and engineering machinery. China has also vowed to help Kazakhstan in establishing industrial parks, and in extending its manufacturing and value chains.

Such new partnership models also hold the potential to be China's new diplomatic card. Beyond exporting China's capital, the "One Belt, One Road" strategy is an important opportunity for the Asian superpower to express a brand new vision of global interests in the spirit of what Chinese leaders refer to as a “community of destiny.”

It will be interesting to see what the impact of the free trade zones will be back home. Will this further opening to the world force China to reform internally? As a rising power, China should grasp this moment as a historic opportunity.

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Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

Japanese cover of a Dolly Parton album

PARIS — To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

Tokyo Sexwale, a fellow freedom fighter in the cell next to Mandela, told the podcast "Dolly Parton's America" that the choice was somehow perfectly natural: "We are all human beings. The jailed and the jailer. But we all come from one country, but we all don't want to lose. Whether it's a man or your country, nobody wants to be hurt. Don't hurt me."

With this theme of art's ability to transcend geographic boundaries in mind (and to mark International Country Music Day, here's a swinging tour of country music's worldwide influence.

Africa: Classic Country Imports And Kenya's Own Elvis

Nigerian country music singer-songwriter Ogak Jay Oke — Photo: Mgbo
  • Back in 2007, NPR reported about the popularity of country music in Nairobi, Kenya — particularly Dolly Parton and Texan singer-songwriter Kenny Rogers, who received extensive television and radio play. Reporter Gwen Thompkins highlighted how, despite cultural differences, Kenyans found strength and a common ground in songs about agriculture-based economies facing societal and political challenges. As Henry Makhoka, the head of programming at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, told Thompkins: "Most of the country music we play talks about country life, talks about the farm life and so on. That kind of environment was abundantly available where I was born."
  • In fact, country music has been popular in Africa since the 1950s, with local artists across the continent interpreting the genre's musical and thematic elements (see Ivory Coast duo Jess Sah Bi & Peter One and Nigerian country-disco pioneer Emma Ogosi). Many harken back to country music's roots; the banjo was in fact an instrument brought to the Americas by African slaves.
  • Currently, one of the biggest country stars is Elvis Othieno (a.k.a. Sir Elvis), who grew up in a country music-loving household and was inspired by Garth Brooks and Hank Williams. Originally from Kenya, Sir Levis has performed around the world — he started his first country band while living in Norway — and is part of a generation of African country stars that also includes newcomers Esther Konkara and Ogak Jay Oke, who hails from Nigeria.

Asia: A John Denver Classic Hits Home

John Denver in 1975 — Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is known for its rich depictions of Japanese culture and mythology, so it's somewhat surprising that the 1995 animated film Whisper of the Heart centers around a country song: John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Denver's ode to West Virginia is a unique fit in the coming of age story about the stress of urban life in Tokyo, but Studio Ghibli is far from the first to adapt "Country Roads" to a foreign audience.
  • The song has been covered by over 150 artists (from Olivia Newton-John to Hiwain singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole) in at least 19 different languages, from Hindi to Greek to Hebrew, often changing the lyrics to be about the singer's homeland. Researchers in 2009 found that it was the most popular American song among college students in China. (Denver was in fact one of the first American artists to tour modern China in 1985 and his music was played widely on Armed Forces Radio in countries like Philippines, Korea and Vietnam where the U.S. had an important military presence.)
  • This ode to the Appalachian Mountains also has a special meaning for many who came to the U.S. searching for the American Dream. As Jason Jeong wrote in the Atlantic, many Asian-American immigrants see the song as both "an ode to an uncomplicated vision of the United States" and "a melancholic reminder of leaving a place they called home, and everything lost to the promise of a better life."

France: Translating Country Sounds — And Dance Moves

Linedancing in France — Photo: Country-France Facebook page
  • France, a country proud of both its language and cultural output, has a long history of rock stars pillaging country standards, often completely changing the songs' meanings: from American-French singer Joe Dassin changing "City of New Orleans" into "Salut les amoureux" ("Hello Lovers") to "Five Hundred Miles Away From Home" by Bobby Bare somehow becaming Richard Anthony's "J'entends siffler le train" ("I Hear the Train Whistle").
  • Whether it's creative liberty or cross-cultural miscommunication, this trend has been popular since the days of big '60s household names like Johnny Hallyday to Eddy Mitchell to Hugues Aufray. The result usually infuses the French ennui of the "everyday man" into these American classics.
  • Line dancing has also become somewhat of a phenomenon in France, with clubs around the country (especially in more rural areas) featuring dancers who dress the part in cowboy hats and boots. According to weekly news magazine L'Express, some 4 million people — nearly 9% of the French population over 18 — have tried country-style dances.

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