At the Second Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum in Beijing, Xi Jinping described the “new silk road” as a model for international win-win progress through cooperation. Official China claims that the concept is neither “a geopolitical strategy” nor “a China-dominated geo-economic scheme”. A closer look, however, reveals that China’s BRI discourses differ immensely depending on the audience. In multilateral arenas, China proclaims the establishment of a “human community with a shared future” as the sacred purpose of its initiative; yet on bilateral occasions, Beijing chooses narratives in line with the expectations of the respective listeners, thus offering each country and region a different version of the silk road. In sharp contrast to Beijing’s external communication, within China commentators lay the focus primarily on China’s - and not other countries' - national interests, including economic, geopolitical, and even military and hegemonic ambitions. Against this background - and based on the “strategic narrative theory” - the paper systematically compares existing Chinese BRI narratives and asks: What different BRI narratives exist within China - and why? What are, thus, the aims of China’s initiative? How does China’s external propaganda work in this context? And what actors exert influence on these processes? This study is based on a qualitative content analysis and a critical interpretation of Chinese state media articles, official Chinese documents, official statements by Chinese politicians, official publications on BRI, as well as of Chinese language research conducted in China.
Carsten Schäfer, University of Cologne, Germany