China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ – The Economic Project That Might Reshape the World
In ancient times, the Silk Road was famous as the trading route along which China carried out extensive commerce with the rest of the world. This is now being revived as the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative or, as it is known in some quarters, as the New Silk Road. Passing across land and sea through around seventy countries, this initiative will reinvigorate their economies and bring about a considerable change in global trade. Also, most probably, it will cause a spectacular shift in political power from the West to the East.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, said Confucius a very long time ago.
His native country, China, has already taken that step and are now well on their way towards becoming an economic world power.
Bruno Macaes’ book ‘Road to China takes a look at what is most certainly the most interesting development of the present century—the implementation of China’s Belt and Road Strategy.
At home the initiative was not called the “New Silk Road,” but “One Belt, One Road.” Its scope was so large that the timeline for its realization had been fixed at more than thirty years, with the first phase of the project to be concluded in 2021 and the project as a whole realized by 2049.
Hardly a day has gone by in recent times, when the mainstream media as well as the alternative media hasn’t had something to say about China’s growing stature. Quite a bit of it is of the type purposely intended to set alarm bells ringing across the length and breadth of India. And, of course, the pealing is meant to scare everyone in the West as well.
Most of this scaremongering comes to us from the Western media and for obvious reasons. China is shaking up the Occident’s Tree of Accepted Tradition. From the way the geopolitical winds are shifting, it even looks like they might turn it into a Bonsai.
China’s long-term plan of economic cooperation
On March 8, 2015 Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed comparisons of the initiative to the US-sponsored Marshall Plan. For one, the Belt and Road was meant to usher in a new model of international relations, not to salvage or reconstruct a crumbling European civilization. Second, it would be “the product of inclusive cooperation, not a tool of geopolitics, and must not be viewed with an outdated Cold War mentality.”
The Chinese keep repeating “inclusive cooperation” and “economic cooperation”in regard to their mammoth project. They have been busy building diplomatic relations in countries across Asia, Africa and Europe that involve “building factories, roads, bridges, ports, airports and other infrastructure as well as electric power grids, telecommunications networks, oil and natural gas pipelines and related projects.”
As per their plan, the ‘One Belt, One Road’ project is going to pass over land and sea through over seventy countries. In all likelihood, it is going to change the economic landscapes of these countries.
“…it will affect every element of global society from shipping to agriculture, digital economy to tourism and politics to culture.”
A win-win situation for both them and China, according to many Chinese and the host country sources.
“Most importantly, it symbolizes a new phase in China’s ambitions as a superpower: to remake the world economy and crown Beijing as the new centre of capitalism and globalization.”
In Pakistan, for instance, the Chinese are constructing fertilizer plants, meat processing plants, and milk processing plants. They are also investing in agriculture with high yield seeds and high-tech irrigation. Furthermore, they mean to develop transport and storage facilities in major Pakistani cities.
Criticism of the One Belt, One Road plan
Detractors, however, point out that the greater focus on developing agriculture in Pakistan might turn out to be detrimental to the country’s industrial development.
Another matter of concern is that a completely market-based approach could undermine the state’s authority in making economic decisions for its citizens. This can hold true not just for Pakistan but also for all other countries involved in the project.
Also, many of these countries do not have the economic resources needed to shore up and sustain the ‘One Belt, One Road’ plan on their own. As a result, they will have to take out massive loans from China.The chances of repaying this kind of debt in entirety are likely to be slim or will take a great number of years.
In April 2018, Li Ruogu, the former president of the Export- Import Bank of China, argued publicly that most of the countries along the routes of the Belt and Road… are already heavily in debt and need sustainable finance and private investment, he said, adding that the countries’ average liability and debt ratios had reached 35 and 126 per cent, respectively, far above the globally recognized warning lines.
There are others in China that are not exactly happy with the way their foreign policy is shaping up.
On August 1, as he voiced his criticism of China’s ambitious foreign policy, a retired professor of physics at Shandong University, Sun Wenguang, was seen being taken away by police, while his voice trailed off: “Regular people are poor, let us not throw our money away in Africa. Throwing money around like this does not do any good for our country or our society.”
India’s concerns about the One Belt, One Road initiative
China’s neighbour, India, is not exactly cheering on their ambitions either. They refused to participate in the Belt and Road summit in May 2017that 30 other countries attended in Beijing.
The journalist Ashok Malik from the Times of India called the boycott the third most significant decision in the history of Indian foreign policy, after the 1971 decision to back the independence of Bangladesh and the 1998 nuclear tests.
The Chinese ambassador to India tried to convince the Indians to attend by suggesting that they were opening to renaming the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. India’s issue with this name is that it implicitly denies Indian claims on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. According to the Chinese ambassador, the renaming would remove this impression.
The Indian authorities didn’t take the bait and announced:
“…in its current form the Belt and Road will create unsustainable burdens of debt, while one of its segments, the economic corridor linking China and Pakistan, goes through the disputed areas of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and therefore ignores Indian core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
On 13 May 2017, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs released the following statement:
“We are of firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality. Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities; balanced eco- logical and environmental protection and preservation standards; transparent assessment of project costs; and skill and technology transfer to help long term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities.”
A month after the Belt and Road summit, China and India faced off in Doklam and the world watched with bemusement as well as amusement as soldiers from the two countries actually engaged in throwing rocks at each other. Of course, it is a bit more civilized than lobbing nuclear missiles at one another, but, still, not behaviour that is going to foster friendliness and goodwill.
This incident, of course, has done nothing to allay India’s concerns about the proliferation of Chinese naval bases in the Indian Ocean.
By investing in the Iranian port of Chabahar, India may hope to prevent an outcome where it finds itself isolated from the growing economies on its doorstep, but the limited scale of the project offers a vivid contrast to the mammoth scale of the Belt and Road.
While India does have many legitimate reasons to be wary of Chinese ambitions, it needs to take care that its foreign policy is ruled entirely by its own interests and is not manipulated by Western powers. It should particularly not allow itself to become a battleground in the economic competition between China and the United States.
In his book on the Belt and Road strategy, Bruno Macaes explores—“Will it herald a new set of universal political values, to rival those of the West?”
Despite all the issues and concerns raised by the “New Silk Road”, most people, in India as well as in other parts of the world, probably won’t have a problem if the “new set of universal political values” even entirely replace “those of the West”.
They might even think that its high time such a change happened.
For more details, read the book: