Sweden’s approach to China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Still a glass half-empty

New paper on Sweden and the Belt and Road Initiative just out: Sweden’s approach to China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Still a glass half-empty (UI Paper, No.1 2017 with Elin Rappe).

Executive summary
In 2013 China’s President Xi Jinping launched the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative, later renamed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which involves China undertaking to make infrastructure investments worth billions of US dollars in the countries along the old Silk Road connecting China with Europe. While commonly seen as an infrastructure initiative aimed at strengthening the Chinese economy, it is also a political project with far-reaching strategic aims.

This UI Brief outlines how China has approached the BRI with Sweden, how Sweden has responded and the perceptions of major Swedish stakeholders. It finds that Swedish officials are often highly cautious, maintaining a wait-and see policy. While also cautious, members of the business community are cautiously optimistic and have been more actively following BRIrelated developments, seeking out avenues for potential business. The actual impact of BRI in Sweden, however, is so far very limited.

The Brief concludes that Sweden’s approach to BRI has been too reactive and too passive. It argues that both the government and the business community need to engage more actively with the BRI in order to maximize its possible benefits. To this end, a national strategy is needed that includes the government and the business sector. Better coordination is also needed between government agencies and to link existing intra-governmental cooperation with the business community. Their importance cannot be overemphasized as the BRI is a political project, not an idealistic free-market endeavour.

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DN Debatt – ”Allt bör göras för att bygga relationer med Nordkorea”

Today Prof, Linus Hagström, Dr. Ulv Hansen and myself contribute with an op-ed on North Korea in Sweden’s biggest newspaper (DN Debatt).

”Allt bör göras för att bygga relationer med Nordkorea”  http://www.dn.se/debatt/allt-bor-goras-for-att-bygga-relationer-med-nordkorea/

We address the question about how to understand North Korea and how to handle the threat it poses. Our interpretation is that the North Korean leadership aims to gain international recognition and status, thus to focus on nuclear weapons are not surprising as they are a hallmark of most “great powers”. It is clear from history what might happen without nuclear capability (think Libya and Iraq).

Thus, for diplomatic initiatives to be successful they need to address the North Korean feeling of insecurity. Until this is done, the most realistic “solution” is for us to learn to live with a certain level of uncertainty in the case of North Korea, in the same way as we have learned to live with other nuclear powers with many more nuclear weapons.

A fundamental question here is why do we perceive the threat from North Korea so different and so much larger than that of the others? We think this that a key difference is that there is a lack of relations and interactions with North Korea. There is a need to build such relations, in particular on the unofficial level. We should put a lot of effort into supporting the emerging middle class in North Korea, both by supplying their black markets that do exist with foreign goods and to actively spread information about life in other countries, in particular in South Korea. While there are moral issues with enhancing relations with a country as North Korea, we believe that such relations are a necessary step to enhance the living conditions of the North Korean people.

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