PART II - Additional Section, Spring 2015  (Click here for published version PART I )

By Yasemin Dobra-Manço


In addition to the Silk Road, the Afro-Eurasian incense and spice routes have also been a source of enrichment as well as conflict. As future additions of Silk Road routes are added to the United Nations World Heritage List, a new understanding of crossroads may include sections of the “Spice Routes” and “Incense Routes” from where ancient commercial centers were linked to Africa, the Middle East and Eurasia. Therefore, any international definition of the Silk Road is incomplete without the inclusion of other segments of these trade routes, such as the western section that links the European and Asian continents through Turkey. Hence, various interpretations of the interconnectedness of these maritime and overland routes will continue to be debated and analyzed.


With the demise of the Silk Road and the fall of the Yuan dynasty, China's central role in international trade did not come to an end. As a matter of fact, Eurasian-Pacific-North American trade routes were responsible for the exchange of many goods and new discoveries. Trade with Ming China via the Philippines enabled a flow of goods between Asia and South America during the 16th century through the sea routes that spanned the Pacific from Mexico and Peru to China. Explorers and Europeans who navigated the west coast of North America also used trade routes of the Pacific and the Far East. One area that requires further scholarly examination is the triangular trade network that linked the U.S. Pacific Northwest Coast, China, and the Hawaiian Islands.

After the Vitus Bering expedition of 1741, explorers and fur trappers from the Russian Empire arrived on the Pacific coast of Alaska. With the establishment of settlements they expanded hunting and trading down the west coast of North America as far south as Fort Ross in California, from where the maritime fur trade routes extended to China from the coast of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The Russian colony, established north of San Francisco, was also involved in the above mentioned triangular trade network. It now serves as a cultural heritage site which is a successful example of U.S.-Russian public-private sector collaboration for heritage preservation.

The study of other trade routes offers new opportunities for international cooperation. One unfolding project involves heritage sites along the Mediterranean region. This international project was announced by Italy in 2014 and aims at exchanging knowledge on selected historic and archaeological sites. The countries that have joined the initiative, such as Italy, Lebanon and Tunisia, plan to focus on architectural heritage shared by countries around the Mediterranean and across three continents.

Another ongoing project involves the overland network known as the Andean Road System. Just as the segments of the eastern Silk Road have been included in the WHL, this transboundary network was also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. This extensive Inca communication, trade and defense network of roads leads thousands of miles down the Pacific Coast of South America. For 3,000 years these routes connected the peoples of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile.  The network passes through one of the world’s most extreme geographical terrains, and presents sites along the routes that highlight the social, political, architectural and engineering achievements of the network, along with its infrastructure for trade, accommodation and storage, and sites of religious significance. In contrast to the Silk Road network, experts have described the Andean Road System as the most expansive network of infrastructure relating to transportation in the New World.


All parties of these global efforts to build new bridges between societies and continents must focus on activities and events that evolve around intercultural dialogue so as to spread an understanding of diverse worldviews. Because societies around the world have different values, traditions, attitudes, and histories of development, the leaders of projects and initiatives must have vast knowledge of world heritage and appreciation for local cultures. They must, above all, have the ability to share ideas and to explore solutions together with a rainbow of nations in order to better understand the origin of their differences, and to appreciate the similarities they share.

With time, China’s cultural heritage involvement and its commitment to cultural exchange could make a noticeable contribution to advancing China’s image and foreign policy interests. China has emphasized that due to the complex political, cultural, security, and socio-economic conditions in Silk Road countries, aspirations need the support of feasibility studies and close engagement with these countries. Chinese entities will need to collaborate with numerous ministries of foreign affairs, antiquities, culture, education, and tourism.

Most importantly, in order to conserve important historical, cultural, and archaeological resources, heritage advocates must be able to follow local and national government initiatives, evaluate proposed laws, analyze management plans and results, and champion policies and practices that will ensure the responsible safeguarding of heritage resources. In order to gain the public’s support, heritage advocates also need to build coalitions with civil society representatives and to promote a wide range of activities to increase public appreciation of intangible cultural heritage and world heritage. Furthermore, by strengthening ties between communities and international bodies, the creation of multinational partnerships will be facilitated by interaction with local populations who share the same goals.

Activities that increase public appreciation can foster cultural understanding through world literature, traditional music, song, language, handicrafts, folk art, and for example traveling exhibitions that honor Silk Road travelers. Cross-cultural exchanges and mutual appreciation can be cultivated among young people through various means, such as film, theatre, fashion, dance, the arts and gastronomy. Students can be encouraged to take part in Silk Road science and technology projects, museum studies, heritage education, and in international exchange programs. For professionals of diverse fields, the sharing of experience and expertise, dissemination of scientific data, and collaboration with educational institutions is valuable.

Efforts to promote heightened awareness of conservation issues can be carried out through heritage advocacy that can be supported by a wide audience, including universities, research institutes, educators, scholars, curators, conservationists, scientists, marine archaeologists, historians, economists, public officials, public relations and marketing professionals, public affairs specialists, mass communication experts, tour-operators, urban planners, cultural associations, lobbyists, artists, environmental groups, coalitions of local communities, non-governmental organizations, public-private sector entities, and business organizations that support socially responsible business practices.

One means for heritage sites along segments of the Silk Road to gain prestige and global attention is by inclusion in the WHL. These heritage sites tend to receive greater attention from the tourism sector, the public, the media and responsible authorities who usually closely monitor the safeguarding of sites. After a site has been designated a World Heritage Site, the resulting prestige helps raise awareness among citizens and governments for intensified heritage preservation, leads to greater heritage advocacy and education, and a general rise in the level of conservation. In some cases, a country may also receive financial assistance and expert advice from the World Heritage Committee to support activities for preservation needs.

Concerning inclusion of sites on the WHL, the means to identify and prioritize the needs of heritage sites is a complicated process, for which criteria and standards have been set by UNESCO. Taking this into account, nations themselves can and should create their own national heritage lists. By doing so, not only can communities and nations learn to develop a deeper appreciation of their own heritage, they can also find new ways to strengthen their economies, capitalize on tourism and formulate national heritage plans that bring international prestige and status to sites.

Lastly, for sites to be included in a national heritage preservation list, or to be nominated to the WHL, advocates must develop expertise and work closely with the media. In essence, they must learn to work effectively with those who support their cause and who can lobby legislators, decision-makers, policy-makers, relevant agencies and authorities for implementing appropriate legislation that supports their cause.

International cooperation will be vital for continuing to identify, protect and manage cultural heritage sites along the overland and maritime Silk Road. UNESCO will undoubtedly continue to play a primary role in heritage preservation by encouraging countries to protect their cultural and natural heritage, in addition to encouraging them to nominate sites for inclusion on its WHL. International partnerships can also inspire the world so that universal values can be cultivated so that greater appreciation of cultures can further unite people and nations.

These activities and methods can enhance China’s prestige, while the same methods and instruments can also be used by other nations in public diplomacy efforts to promote mutual understanding. A major goal of Silk Road initiatives can therefore be the promotion of prosperity and cooperation through intensified cultural diplomacy by a variety of countries.


In order for China’s initiatives to be better understood, China's media and publishing circles have an expanded role to play for making Chinese culture and China's new outlook accessible (or as some say “to export” China),  particularly to potential business travelers, educators, students and young people worldwide. The government has sought to build the China brand not only through international dialogue but also through libraries, media centers and information services that have been established internationally. Already, the Chinese government has made tremendous investments for improving the communication capabilities of its media outlets such as CCTV, the funding of Confucius Institutes, as well as by organizing the Olympic Games, Shanghai Expo, summits for world leaders, and by hosting other high-profile events.

The worldwide distribution and publication of multi-language versions of the book "Xi Jinping: The Governance of China” in 2014 demonstrates that the People's Republic is eager to engage with members of the international community. The overseas popularity of the book has also enabled the international community to acquire a better understanding of China's ideology, culture, history, social system, pattern of development, foreign policy, and values under the new leadership.

Amidst these innovative developments, China is not neglecting to prepare the Chinese people for the effects of cultural openness. A Chinese television program on the Silk Road travels of one of China’s well-known motorless sailing navigators, Zhai Mo, and his team of sailors from different countries, presents China’s expanding outlook. In terms of a foreign audience, Chinese news reports have noted that through Zhai’s travels foreigners can see that China is now embracing the world and the future with an open mind. Although critics may view these attempts as a means to sway public and international opinion in favor of China’s policies, it can be seen as a reflection of China’s proactive strategy of opening-up and strengthening its interactions with the international community.

China watchers are eager to scrutinize how China welcomes cultural engagement internally, and in the regional and global mechanisms it supports. If China successfully merges economic and cultural initiatives in the interests of the international community, it can take credit for working to advance global diplomacy between cultures.

Taking all the above into consideration, heritage conservation and China’s cultural diplomacy will no doubt be a component in China’s public diplomacy strategies for positioning China in the current world order. The use of soft-power in contemporary Chinese international relations will therefore increasingly play a role in the development of geo-political and strategic interests of nations along these routes. For new heritage protection projects linked to the China-led initiatives to be launched in such a complex environment, China will need to coordinate with global efforts that are already underway and sustained by international, regional, multilateral, or other agreements. Furthermore, nations will need bilateral or multilateral frameworks to facilitate finding compromises and creative solutions that can address their needs and priorities, especially as heritage preservation issues lead to heightened public awareness within global civil society.

It should be reemphasized, that these international initiatives can also be beneficial for all parties, not just China. But how the ideological principles built into China’s political system will be intertwined into its new Silk Road and foreign policy initiatives is a subject of great interest, both for those who foresee opportunities for cooperation, and for those who anticipate obstacles to development.


The prospects for potential soft-power applications by China can be complicated by geo-politics, divergence between countries or financial institutions, competition for natural resources, and other strategic calculations. China must deal with complex regions that surround its vast territory, as well as foreign policy formulation at its borders which involves 14 adjacent countries and a coastline of approximately 14,500 km (9,010 miles). The regions where China faces diplomatic and security problems include: Northeast Asia, Oceania, continental Southeast Asia, maritime Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Central Asia. Rivalry with the U.S. and other major powers, such as Japan, could dim some prospects for implementation of its foreign policy aims according to diverse analysts. There is concern over how China and the U.S. can reconcile their competing strategic interests and build a cooperative relationship as the U.S. seeks to protect America's expanding commercial presence in Asia and the Western Pacific.

Although it has been observed that China’s approach to regional issues is being guided by mutual understanding based on economic pragmatism, international tension in the East and South China Sea, along with other factors, could hinder the region's ability to build on multilateral dialogue. Growing concerns over Chinese military capabilities, disputes over islands, and the U.S. interest in maintaining the freedom of navigation, have worried some observers. Additionally, the region has become an area of geo-strategic and geo-political value for major powers, and an area of struggle for supremacy.  

China’s far-reaching infrastructure initiatives face a wide-range of challenges along the land and sea routes, including risks of earthquakes and natural disasters, wars and crises, tribal and regional separatism, territorial conflicts, domestic unrest, political instability, acts of piracy, threats of terrorism, pro and anti-China sentiment, and competition for energy development. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, communities around the world have growing concerns about the negative effects that large construction projects have on their environment, such as encroaching urban development. In fact, many countries are becoming increasingly aware that tourism development is a double edged sword. Due to the concerns of environmental groups, China and other South East Asian nations could, for example, become entangled with international public opinion regarding marine environmental protection due to the potential negative impact of construction activities on islands and reefs. Although media attention has been focused on China regarding construction activities, several South East Asian nations occupy different islands, reefs and rocks. Four countries, not including China, have established airstrips and some islands have been built up by Vietnam and The Philippines. Despite overlapping claims from The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and China, nations are working to develop bilateral agreements and a South China Sea Code of Conduct that aims to cultivate peace and stability in the region. China will also need to engage in a communications campaign that helps build mutual understanding especially because China states that the Spratly Islands, also called the Nansha Islands, are historic lands within its own sovereign territory. In addition nations which have ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), will need to coordinate efforts with other nations in order to protect and preserve the marine environment and ecosystems. 

In light of the above, other problematic areas for overland and maritime Silk Road initiatives can arise between international aims in relation to the conservation of cultural heritage sites, and the over-riding concepts of national sovereignty and the non-interference in the internal affairs of a state. 


China’s worldview, which it presented at the Boao Forum, made it clear that China will more visibly work for global peace and pursuing common development based on its foreign policy objectives for the 21st century. In the spirit of the forum’s theme, "Asia's New Future: Towards a Community of Common Destiny," China underlined the importance it gives to non-interventionist principles, supporting a win-win approach, consensus building, equality among nations, mutual respect, and attention to core interests and major concerns regarding the pursuit of common security. These perspectives indicate that China is seeking to contribute to a world order that operates with fair rules, where no group of countries are disadvantaged.

In terms of building a new world order, it appears that China views itself as part of the existing world order which needs to evolve in the 21st century. The statements by President Xi Jinping further elaborate on a vision of cooperation where China “has to follow the world trend and seek progress and development in tandem with that of the world.” These statements beckon the question: In which direction are global developments and changes headed, and which pillars of the foundations of world order need to be strengthened or reconstructed? 

Present-day pillars, which provide order to the world's civilizations, are indebted to  both ancient Chinese and Western inventions, and to all peoples who promoted the intermingling of cultures that enabled the transmission of knowledge and ideas.  But because the foundations of our world order are being re-evaluated as the world undergoes a transformation stirred by the process of globalization, many European and American-led institutions, which have served as foundation stones for world development, are also under examination to determine how coordinated world development can better serve future global interests.

For seven decades, U.S.-led institutions have been the cornerstone of the global economic order, beginning with the Bretton Woods system in 1944 which established a global monetary order after the end of World War II that paved the way for institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and later, regional institutions such as the Asian Development Bank. For the reconstruction of Europe, the Marshall Plan was the most overwhelming economic development initiative ever undertaken by a government outside its national borders. The plan was also intended to provide U.S. support for European countries so that they could exercise self-determination and resist what was called a Communist takeover, as democratic systems and alliances evolved. All these systems have contributed to the advancement of international law, human rights, democracy, modernization and paths of industrialization.

Nonetheless, the frequency and increasing intensity of financial crises have given rise to demands to reform the existing international commercial and financial system, and to calls for a new international order to replace “outdated” or “obsolete” rules, and those dictated by the West. Concerns and discussions have revived debate on Western hegemony, imperialism, struggles against colonial empires, Cold War spheres of influence, historic demands of the Non-Aligned Movement, and reform of the U.N. Security Council. The Asian-African Summit in Indonesia, held in April 2015, was a recent manifestation of such a call for new global leadership.

These debates indicate that there is a need for more effective international bodies and monetary systems which can better cope with contemporary challenges. The debates also make it evident that present day institutions must evolve new functions, if they are to maintain and enhance their legitimacy, while new institutions are created in order to find solutions to contemporary problems. The recent establishment of China’s AIIB, appears to be a response to the need to reform the global financial system, with an aim to more objectively reflect the interests of developing countries.

The arising uncertainty over what role China will play in influencing and reshaping world affairs has resulted in tensions between some Asian nations, and in Sino-American relations, for a variety of financial, geo-political and military reasons. During this period, a U.S. foreign policy objective has become the “pivot to Asia,” or a “rebalancing” of U.S. interests from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region, together with the development of a U.S. maritime strategy in the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region.

Concerning the debate over the future of U.S.-China relations, for more than a century numerous American geo-strategists, such as Alfred Thayer Mahan and George Kennan, have made predictions about Asia and naval supremacy. In his recent book, “World Order,” Henry Kissinger views China’s emergence on the world stage as a threat to the Westcentric world order, yet Kissinger encourages incorporating China in a system based on Western values and principles which reflects the values and worldview of diverse civilizations.

The question arises whether the call for international cooperation along the new Silk Road can overcome the difficulties of establishing order in a world with rivalries and varying conceptions of international norms, legal regimes and rules? If developing and non-Western nations feel a need to reject the “universal standards” and rules they believe have been dictated by the West, how can these nations reconstruct the international system upon new pillars, or upon established foundations, in cooperation with the West in the interest of international stability? The answer may also depend on whether rivals are motivated to help China lead in these developments.

Despite 35 years of bilateral progress since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China, the prospects for progress on regional challenges are unclear. The question of how the U.S. and China can work together to refashion the existing world order also remains unanswered. If the American-dominated global system is challenged, is a China-led international system next? Due to a strategic policy review, some Chinese scholars maintain that China will increasingly focus on economic interests in external ties on its periphery. This shift to multilateral engagement may mean that China will be less focused on bilateral relations with America. On the other hand, the U.S. is anxious to implement a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, however, the 12-nation trade pact does not include China.

Yet, as China desires to play a more decisive role in international affairs, and in the institutions of global governance, it must simultaneously deal with a United States who seeks economic and political influence over the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region. The TPP, which aims to expand economic opportunities for Americans, boost U.S. economic growth, and provide new market access for American products and services, is striving to become the cornerstone of U.S. economic policy in the Asia Pacific, and reflects the United States’ current economic priorities and values.

It remains to be seen how China will employ its diplomatic and soft-power influence in an increasingly interdependent and interconnected world in order to realize its land and maritime Silk Road cooperative development plans. Its engagement with the world may induce a re-evaluation of the current world system and security pacts, while shifting alliances and regional groupings adjust as China establishes a global presence.


While a transformed world is in the making, it also remains to be seen if China can transform itself into a global actor who has a leading voice in restructuring international relations and global financial systems. For reasons that are sometimes unclear, many people remain suspicious, or even fearful of the rise of China – often using the stigmatizing phrase “the threat of China.” The fears of Chinese economic, political, military and cultural influence have been evident in a variety of ways, and include misgivings about the AIIB’s potential conflict with existing institutions, fears of China as an expansionist power, and perceptions of China’s cultural influence as a threatening type of “infiltration.” As China emerges as a major influential global power, overcoming the fears of Chinese economic and demographic domination, will to some extent be the responsibility of China. China will need to be convincing that its increasing power in world affairs will be beneficial for global progress. In terms of misconceptions about China’s intentions, the situation calls for China analysts around the world to better determine how changes and developments in our world pose real and specific threats to peaceful coexistence, versus scenarios that might be unfounded or exaggerated.

Herein lies the challenge to China. Chinese officials have already been working to assure other countries that a stronger China will not be a threat to their autonomy or security, but how effectively will China’s public diplomacy counter fears of pro-Beijing dominated institutions and regional systems?  Chinese officials must be willing to make far-reaching efforts to understand the mind-set of potential non-China partners, their interests and sensitivities, in addition to why China has been misunderstood. China can also develop new approaches to better respond to international concerns so that cooperation can counter rivalry, and misconceptions are replaced with a better understanding of the realities of China’s rise.

A commonly portrayed negative image of China in the West presents a nation that fears non-Chinese value systems and differing worldviews that may clash with Chinese cultural traditions (this perception can be compared to Western perceptions of China’s influence as threatening, or European Union perceptions that view non-Western influences as destabilizing). Such a generalized perception of China creates bias, and serves as an obstacle to opportunities that promote engagement in a broad set of debates and discussions that can lead to finding creative solutions. Although generalizations should be avoided, and surveys of global attitudes and trends may not be an accurate reflection of reality, it is fair to assume that international public opinion is perplexed by China because until a few decades ago it was considered one of the most isolated nations of the world. Yet China has managed to enter the world spotlight as a high-profile actor, and thus deserves greater attention and objective study from the international community.

The people of China, like any nation, have the right to decide what is best for them, and how they will engage in modernization and "Westernization." However, partners of China need to feel assured that China’ s outward-looking worldview will encourage it to lead in the areas of mutual understanding. As institutions are reformed and created, China’s outward-looking economic drives, foreign policy and cultural initiatives will hopefully embrace the hands which the West, and others, need to extend. This will help counter “fears of China,” and enable China's initiatives to win acceptance, while its cultural diplomacy efforts work to build on diplomatic synergies across different continents.

As details unfold of how China proposes financing projects and integration, China will need to address these and other misgivings concerning its overland and maritime initiatives. Although global opinions about China are mixed, with favorable and unfavorable attitudes, the same can be said for many countries. Despite the difficulties of overcoming doubts and fears regarding China, there are developments that favor China, as positive global views of China emerge. According to the research results of the Pew Research Center, statistics in 2014 indicate that within the last decade China has seen its stature grow in the eyes of the global public.  

While the post-Cold War era is in search for a balance of power, a revised international system of norms and rules, a reordering of values, and the development of international law, the Belt and Road initiatives could serve to fuel new ways of thinking about present-day conflicts. If China will be making vast investments for infrastructure projects to bring prosperity and improve people’s lives, the vulnerable and newborn OBOR initiatives should be welcomed and are a cause for universal celebration. What is worrying to potential partners however, are not China’s benevolent aspirations, but unknown political intentions and conditions, or rather “strings attached” to China’s current foreign policy initiatives. 

The question remains how China will find a balance in its foreign policy between asserting its own interests, and in promoting and maintaining global peace and pursuing common development across the world. It is inevitable that nation-states will use both soft and hard-power to further their geo-political goals, especially due to clashes over spheres-of-influence in the contemporary international system. As China becomes the dominant economic power in Asia, it may increasingly seek to apply its power through an activist foreign policy in order to have an impact on geo-political centers and in the international arena.

With this in mind, it is of primary importance that the initiatives of the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road proceed to strengthen global connectivity by recognizing the fact that global trade now links nations from all corners of the world, and any disruptions in the tightly interconnected world economy can quickly lead to instability. For the sake of stability, countries of the world must be willing to commit to many years of negotiation and serious discussion and to pursue the formulation of new policy approaches in order to overcome barriers that could lead to constructive international cooperation. Perhaps then, the newborn OBOR initiatives will be defined as having encouraged the forces of 21st century competition to foster stability, and outweigh violent geo-political rivalry.

Though China has raised eyebrows due to its ambitious policies, some observers have noted that China envisions a multipolar world based on continuity with the core concept of peaceful development, and that in the past it has sought to pursue defensive foreign policy goals. In addition, observers have described China as “a reform-minded status-quo power.” In terms of the U.S.-China relationship, China has said it will not provoke confrontation and that it seeks to find converging interests with the United States amidst the profound changes the world is undergoing. China has maintained that in this period of change the U.S. and China share more extensive common interests and broader prospects of cooperation on a wide range of issues that are vital to peace and development.

If the seeds of China’s cultural diplomacy flourish, these new networks of exchange may help create new paths for cultural, political, commercial, financial, technological, military and security collaboration in a world that is vulnerable to conflict. While China builds its East-West relationships, along with North-South dialogue and cooperation, nations of the world can also devise complimentary or alternative strategies. Because the fates of all nations are now more closely  interlinked, maintaining international order by implementing new strategies that encourage prosperity and peaceful coexistence can be based on economic and cultural diplomacy, described above, that is founded on sound pillars on which present-day civilizations rest.

Now that China has ignited this new era of soft-power competition, it is not clear whether major power rivalries have an increased risk of an escalating competition of hard-power. As the inventor of the magnetic compass, China has a central role to play in helping the world find direction. And, as the inventor of gunpowder and fireworks, with centuries of experience in illuminating the skies, China’s forward-looking policies could help deter modern versions of flaming arrows and rockets from being used as components of hard-power for guiding the foreign policy direction of nations. If so, in the interests of humanity, soft-power synergy spurred by global cultural diplomacy can perhaps focus on inventing new ways to illuminate our vision and brighten our future.

(Click here for published version PART I )