The One Belt One Road (OBOR), now less popularly known as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a global infrastructure development project mostly credited to the People’s Republic of China. OBOR refers to a series of infrastructure development and serious investments stretching from East Asia to Europe. It plans to touch 65% of the entire population of the world and is drawing interest and investment from countries all around the world. The Chinese government calls the initiative “A bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future”.
According to its current official name, the “Belt” refers to overland corridors encompassing multitude of countries and maritime “road” of shipping lanes.
At large, OBOR is an amalgamation of different smaller initiatives which make up the biggerOBOR, these include but are not limited to:
- The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) : A US$62 billion collection of infrastructure projects throughout Pakistan which aims to rapidly modernize Pakistan’s transportation networks, energy infrastructure, and economy
- The Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor, which runs from southern China to Myanmar. However India’s interest in OBOR has been minimal and India has chosen to stay away from it due to a multitude of reasons.
- The China–Indochina Peninsula Corridor, which will run from Southern China to Singapore.
- The China–Central Asia–West Asia Corridor, which will run from Western China to Turkey.
- The China–Mongolia–Russia Corridor, which will run from Northern China to the Russian Far East.
- The New Eurasian Land Bridge, which runs from Western China to Western Russia through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany.
As China puts it, the stated objectives are “to construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets, through cultural exchange and integration, to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, ending up in an innovative pattern with capital inflows, talent pool and technology database.”
The initial focus has been infrastructure investment, education, construction materials, railway and highway, automobile, real estate, power grid, and iron and steel along the predefined paths from which the initiative will pass.
No man is an island; the Chinese government has realised that in order to develop this project, an initiative to form collaborations has to be taken at a global scale and in such a manner that both countries are benefited equally. In the recent past, China has conducted cooperation projects to promote Zimbabwe’s development, cultivate Pakistan’s technical talents and deepened cooperation with Azerbaijan under the Belt and Road Initiative. The Chinese government claims that the BRI is expected to create more opportunities for developing countries in terms of employment, infrastructure development, acceleration of the economic integration of countries along the routes of the historic Silk Road. China’s new reform and opening up measures will help expand foreign market access in a broader area, strengthen international cooperation on intellectual property rights protection, increase imports of goods and services on a larger scale, and effectively implement international macro-economic policies, the diplomat told reporters. This, in turn, will provide greater opportunities for Belt and Road cooperation and promote win-win prosperity for all countries.
China has signed cooperational documents on the belt and road initiative with 126 countries and 29 international organisations. Already, some estimates list the Belt and Road Initiative as one of the largest infrastructure and investment projects in history, covering more than 68 countries, including 65% of the world’s population and 40% of the global gross domestic product as of 2017.
The BRI is now an active initiative and its impacts on the world economy can already be seen.
China and the countries along the Belt and Road have carried out effective cooperation in ports, railways, highways, power stations, aviation and telecommunications. There has been significant development in the African Continent. The country of Djibouti has had its Doraleh Multi-purpose Port and the Hassan Gouled Aptidon international airport built. Ethiopia had its railway lines upgraded, same as Kenya and Nigeria. In Sudan, China has helped the country to establish its own oil industry, and provided agricultural assistance for the cotton industry. Future plans include developing railways, roads, ports, a nuclear power station, solar power farms and more dams for irrigation and electricity generation.
Europe on the other side has had its fair share of development too. Freight train services between China and Europe were initiated in March 2011.The China–Britain route was launched in January 2017
On 26 April 2019, the leaders of Russia and China called their countries “good friends” and vowed to work together in pursuing greater economic integration of Eurasia.
However, Asia had its infrastructure boosted the most. Laos and Indonesia have had their railways enhanced. Pakistan is the part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which will surely help boost it’s economy. China did some serious investments in Sri Lanka, it’s main investment was helping Sri Lanka build a sea port followed by investments in Colombo International Financial City which was built on reclaimed land from sea. In Thailand,Chinese companies have also opened solar, rubber, and industrial manufacturing plants in the zone, and the zone expects the number to increase to 500 by 2021.In December 2017, China and Thailand began the construction of a high-speed railway that links the cities of Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima.
The success of this initiative lies in the fact that it is not one dimensional in nature. The Chinese government has approached development as a whole; therefore, it is not just the transportation industry that is being developed but other industries that are flourishing too. To reduce the peace deficit, regional connectivity and innovative thinking must be promoted. The Belt and Road Initiative links the regions and sub-regions around China and extends to Latin America. It goes beyond transportation network connectivity, because it is set to enable wider access to the internet and information. China’s ambition to provide better availability and affordability of broadband networks and services to participating countries mirrors its unorthodox way of pursuing peace and development because better connectivity breeds better communication and a more compatible mechanism of cooperation helps tackle security problems and nurture cross-regional peace concepts.
This initiative has already sparked global interest and attention. Multiple media outlets have covered the topic both looking at it in a positive and negative light. Some say it signifies the global dominance of China over world-trade and it’s possible economic imperialism while also calling it a “marketing move” for Chinese investments around the world. While others point out the positives, the initiative promises to bring about a development in the lesser developed countries and areas while increasing the cultural and socio-economic integrations between the regions.
While there’s no denying that China does have both geopolitical and economic intentions behind this initiative Xi has promoted a vision of a more assertive China, while the new normal of slowing growth has put pressure on the country’s leadership to open new markets for its consumer goods and excess industrial capacity.
Under Xi, China now actively seeks to shape international norms and institutions and forcefully asserts its presence on the global stage and the manifestation of this is the Belt and Road Initiative. Although there have been major collaborations between China and USA in the field of trade, it is a well- known fact that since the time of Mao, these nations have been fierce rivals in terms of taking over the markets and dominating world trade. One could say, this idea was first proposed in October 2013 by Xi Jinping in order to revamp the silk route and reestablish China’s glory.
Guan said the second BRF is one of China’s most important diplomatic events this year with the significance of building an open world economy, building the Belt and Road from a strategic perspective.
In one of their white papers on the BRI, Chinese officials have quoted that “Big and small nations, the established and the emerging economies, have conflicting interests in wealth distribution, mechanism-building and development vision. Their divided political agendas have undermined the capacity to fend off risks.” In our opinion, the Chinese government aims to impose its visions of development on the rest of the world.This is one of the major reasons why India, along with several other countries, has backed out of the plan and has decided to play no role in developing the routes or actively participating in the BRI.
Stan Lee once said-”We live in a diverse society- in fact, a diverse world- and we must learn to live in peace and with respect for each other.”
Hopefully,with the opening up of markets- along with the flow of goods -culture, religion, knowledge and beliefs too will find a way to trickle through these routes like they did during the ancient times. This will make humans all over the world more accepting towards and aware of different ways of life. Thus making our race a more integrated one.
The path towards development of not just one nation but of Humanity as a whole is a rocky one. One may, without doubt, encounter questions at every step regarding one’s approach towards development. These are not just hiccups but necessary measures that must be taken in order to ensure the quality of development that one aims to achieve and to keep a check on the ones implementing such plans.
NOTE: Do not consider Kolkata as a part of the BRI initiative in the image.
Gunjan and Dweeja