Organization Culture- China's Silk Road versus the Washington Consensus

The American led system is based on a federated network of "hub-spoke" allies which are distributed across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Depending on American prerogatives in the past, whether it's anti-communism, American access to commodities, ability to access markets or to combat fundamentalist religious terrorism, these allies acted as beacons for American influence abroad.

As such the structure of this global system of tributary states depended on in-depth linkages with domestic American economic, security, diplomatic and governance institutions.
These linkages are still dependent on clear rules of engagement, access, lobbying and persuasion. Especially when the Americana domestic mood was against certain aspects of the global alliance system. For instance, industrial competition against the US auto-industry, aggressive M&A positions on US assets, upper-middle class migration threatening entrenched elites in the populous US states on the East Coast and California etc.
As such, this federated network or tributary states, needed to focus on the American domestic mood depending on the circumstances. Perhaps the 'high-noon' was in the late Cold War period, where stable competitive relationships with the Warsaw Pact were present and the US was in the clear economic lead. Tributary states in Asia, namely the market conservative regimes in ASEAN and East Asia: had to frequently abide by US domestic moods related to Vietnam, the War on Drugs, anti-Communist activities linked to the Soviet Union and China etc. As the 1990s rolled on and liberal capitalism became the new regime motto, there was a rapid institutionalization of access to mobile capital, investment and high-penetration by OECD MNCs. And following the War on Terror, this shifted back to security arrangements and in-depth military collaboration on US defense objectives related to anti-terror policies.
But this begs the question why the Asian elite is willing to accept and even embrace the American framework. Ostensibly, there is an element of path-dependency, acceptance of the international institutional values and a perception that the US system allows extensive lobbying on behalf of partner states. Essentially, this transaction system allows contractual stability and an established pattern of interaction.

China's new OBOR/Silk Road initiative is less than four years old, and unlike the American system, the US-educated Asian elite is yet unclear on how the Chinese system allows for transaction, arbitrage and dispute resolution. Especially when their interests are at odds with domestic Chinese mercantile policies.
Navigating China's domestic political mood, is a very different enterprise as opposed to global understanding of the American polity. Nearly a century of soft-power projection through education, media and policy advertisement has allowed American tributary states to form a sophisticated understanding of the US tripartite system of government. The wealthier East Asian states even have long-standing lobbying relationships in place within the beltway. This is not the case in China and its unlikely to Beijing would permit the permanent presence of foreign bodies within its decision-making process.
From the perspective of potential Chinese partners in the OBOR, this creates a deficit of understanding and reliance on Beijing. Even the OECD partners in China's new AIIB, namely the European Union, have begun to insist on institutionalized rules for governance, namely environmental and labor protection legislation, written into collaborative efforts with China along the Silk Road belt.
The historical context of the Silk Road, was very much a "bottom-up" initiative created through centuries of interaction between the Chinese mainland, Persia, India and the Western Roman Empire. The basis of this interaction was based on the availability of goods, services and ideas which allowed these multiple parties to tap on each other's areas of expertise, without real-time state-based interference. The modern era of globalized free-trade, with its complex systems of logistics, manufacturing and capital flows, is very different from the ancient Silk Road's mode of operation.
In order to facilitate these complex interactions, there has to almost instantaneous linkage and collaboration between the monolithic state bodies between New Delhi, Beijing, Tehran and stretching into Moscow, Ankara and Berlin. Almost five centuries of contract-based, Western free trade regimes have baked primarily Western legal premises and transaction institutions into the genetic make-up of modern industrial capitalism. And this is the direct challenge to Beijing, that the 'softer' institutional context which allows for industrial growth along the belt, might require a gradual relinquishing of central power over key economic institutions.

Dickson Yeo is Visiting Researcher at National Institute of Strategic Communication, Beijing University.