One Belt One Road is an important topic for the UPSC exam. It has implications for Indian foreign policy and economy as well.
What is it? The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road, also known as The Belt and Road (abbreviated B&R), One Belt, One Road (abbreviated OBOR) is a development strategy and framework, proposed by People’s Republic of China that focuses on connectivity and cooperation among countries primarily in Eurasia, Africa and Europe. The OBOR covers about 40 to 60 countries consisting of about 65 percent of the world’s population, generating 30 percent of the world’s GDP. What constitutes OBOR? The land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB) and oceangoing “Maritime Silk Road” (MSR) are the two main components to realise this grand strategy.
- The 21st century maritime silk route connecting Fuzhou in far east China and Venice.
- The Silk Road Economic Belt, from Xian, finally converging at Venice.
- The “belt” refers to a network of overland corridors that China is developing.
- In essence, the belt is all about economic connectivity
- China and its neighbours will build a transportation corridor from the Pacific to the Baltic Sea and gradually develop an overland network that connects east Asia, the Middle East and the subcontinent.
- Importance given to-policy communication, trade facilitation at the borders, use of local currencies and people-to-people exchanges.
- Idea of a “21st century maritime silk road” that connects the Pacific and Indian Oceans, or more specifically, China’s coastline with Southeast Asia, the subcontinent, the Gulf and the east coast of Africa
- Under the “One Road” proposal, China wants to build hard and soft maritime infrastructure throughout the Indo-Pacific, including new ports and special economic zones around them.
- Beijing is eager to assist the countries in the littoral improve customs coordination, expand e-commerce and develop the necessary institutions.
- Many roads of the “belt” are inching towards India.
- These include the Pakistan economic corridor that connects Kashgar in Xinjiang with Karachi and Gwadar on the Arabian coast.
- This will run across the mighty Karakorams and through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
- China is extending its Tibet railway line from Lhasa to the Indian frontiers in the south.
- What is Beijing’s objective?
- There are important economic and geopolitical drivers of the initiative, though Beijing is likely more focused on the former at present given its domestic economic challenges.
- The infrastructure projects proposed as part of the Belt and Road—many of which would run through some of China’s poorest and least developed regions—could provide stimulus to help cushion the effects of this deepening slowdown.
- Beijing is also hoping that, by improving connectivity between its underdeveloped southern and its richer coast i.e. the western provinces, and the countries along its periphery, the Belt and Road will improve China’s internal economic integration and competitiveness and spur more regionally balanced growth.
- On the foreign policy front, the Belt and Road reflects many of the priorities.These include a heightened focus on improving diplomacy with neighboring states and more strategic use of economics as part of China’s overall diplomatic
- Over the medium to long-term, successful implementation of the initiative could help deepen regional economic integration, boost cross-border trade and financial flows between Eurasian countries and the outside world, and further entrench Sino-centric patterns of trade, investment, and infrastructure.
- Increased investment in energy and mineral resources, particularly in Central Asia, could also help reduce China’s reliance on commodities imported from overseas, including oil transiting the Strait of Malacca.
- It is often said that this strategy is framed to create free trade area or some kind of international institution. How true is it? No, this is clearly not a regional free trade area, and it involves no binding state-to-state agreements. Instead, it is use of economic resources and diplomatic skill to promote infrastructure investment and economic development that more closely links China to the rest of Asia and onward to Europe.
- It reflects China’s preference to avoid if possible formal treaties with measurable compliance requirements in favor of less formal arrangements that give it flexibility and allow it to maximize its economic and political skills.
- What could be Potential benefits to Asia
- Enhanced regional economic growth and development,
- Improved integration.
(According to the Asian Development Bank, there is an annual “gap” between the supply and demand for infrastructure spending in Asia on the order of $800 billion)
- It could lead to more sustainable and inclusive growth,
- It may strengthen the political institutions in the region and reduce the incentives and opportunities for terrorist movements.
- The “One Belt, One Road” has been referred to as China’s version of the Marshall Plan, a comparison which Beijing denies vehemently.
- Potential risks to Asia
- Implementing the Belt and Road will entail significant risks and challenges for China and its neighbors.
- Given Chinese construction companies’ poor track record operating in foreign countries (including frequent mistreatment of local workers), a major increase in the scale of their external activities increases the risk of damaging political blowback that could harm Beijing’s image or lead to instability in host countries.
- Another risk is that many countries in Asia and abroad (including the United States) are concerned about the geopolitical impact of the Belt and Road. Moscow is particularly concerned about the initiative translating into increased Chinese influence in Central Asia, an area it has long viewed as within its sphere of influence and where Sino-Russia competition has been noticeably intensifying of late.
- Meanwhile, India has been especially alarmed by Chinese investments in Sri Lanka, which New Delhi likewise views as part of its backyard.
- Hence, there is a clear risk that Beijing’s efforts—well-intentioned or not—will heighten geopolitical tensions in an already tense region. There are also direct security implications of the project. The Maritime Silk Road, in particular, will likely expand China’s capacity to project its growing naval power abroad, while increased Chinese involvement in building regional information technology infrastructure could create new channels for Beijing to exert its influence in the region.
What are the Expert views?
- Indian security establishment is deeply suspicious of China’s silk road initiatives.
- Delhi’s strategic community has long objected to China’s road construction on land frontiers and port-building in the Indian Ocean as “strategic encirclement”
- However, optimists feel India needs to take a fresh look. Ducking the issue will be paving the way for India’s marginalisation from the unfolding geo-economic transformation in Asia and the Indo-Pacific.
Options for India
- Fundamentally, New Delhi needs to resolve for itself whether OBOR represents a threat or an opportunity.
- while making use of the opportunities that become available from the other, will largely depend on the institutional agency and strategic imagination India is able to bring to the table.
- India needs to match ambition with commensurate augmentation of its capacities that allows it to be a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region.
- This will require New Delhi to not only overcome its chronic inability to take speedy decisions with respect to defence partnerships and procurement, but will also necessitate a sustained period of predictable economic growth; OBOR can assist in the latter.
- Three urgent imperatives:
- Upgrade India’s own frontier connectivity,
- Modernise border management, build new ports and
- Develop better coordination between the government and Indian corporate entities on taking up infrastructure projects abroad.
- Chinese railways, highways, ports and other capacities can serve as catalysts and platforms for sustained Indian double-digit growth. Simultaneously, India can focus on developing last-mile connectivity in its own backyard linking to the OBOR — the slip roads to the highways, the sidetracks to the Iron Silk Roads.
- Arguably, OBOR offers India another political opportunity. There seems to be a degree of Chinese eagerness to solicit Indian partnership. Can India seek reworking of the CPEC by Beijing in return for its active participation?
- Furthermore, for the stability of the South Asian arm of OBOR, can Beijing be motivated to become a meaningful interlocutor prompting rational behaviour from Islamabad? OBOR could potentially allow India a new track to its own attempt to integrate South Asia.
- Probing further, we will find China is not the only option on connectivity; Japan and America are eager to collaborate with India.
- With a policy for achieving these objectives in place, India can cooperate, collaborate and compete with China on regional connectivity. It is a win-win situation for both.
- The core of this strategy is Eurasia and its instrumentality is the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.
- With an economically dynamic China as its nucleus and in partnership with resource-rich Russia, Beijing has decided to knit the rest of Eurasia with roads, railways, cyber-connected hubs, smart cities, and industrial parks.
- Through the $40-billion Silk Road fund and the 57-nation Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), China has begun the journey to generate “new growth engines” along all the flanks of the new Silk Road.
- So far, the European, Central Asian, and African integration with China is on a fast track.
Obstacles in the Asia-Pacific:
- The crises in the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea, where the interests of China and the U.S. collide, are emblematic of a tense geopolitical tug of war in the Pacific.
- The Chinese are not the first to recognise Eurasia as the gateway to achieve global influence. The historical insights prove that the area from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Himalayas to the Arctic is the “heartland”, those who ruled the heartland commanded the “World Island” comprising Asia, Europe and Africa.
- In his book The Grand Chessboard, Mr. Brzezinski describes Eurasia as “the centre of world power”, and says that the U.S. must not neglect this area despite the Soviet Union’s collapse.
- Instead of pursuing the blood and iron path of former colonial powers, chinese are trying to achieve a great power status through a cooperative and collegiate approach by combining financial and economic heft with eastern soft power attributes.
- They will abide by the purposes and principles of the UN charter; and China will not engage in zero sum games.
- Rather, it will pursue win-win cooperation with all the countries of the world.
- Growing ties with Europe
- The OBOR initiative has provided China significant manoeuvring space to permeate and shake up Europe’s post-war architecture premised on the U.S.-led Atlantic Alliance.
- The Chinese managed to draw Europe, which has been unable to extricate itself from the pitfalls of the 2008 financial crisis, into the OBOR paradigm through the formation of the AIIB.
- Britain, defying exhortations from Washington, jumped onto the AIIB bandwagon, and others including Germany and France followed soon after.
- Cracks in the post-war alliance system, led by Washington, only widened after Australia, New Zealand and South Korea also signed up to the AIIB.
- China is already a member of the European bank for reconstruction and development
- This is the symbol of an emerging multipolar world.
- The Asian flank that remains the weakest link. It is in the Asia-Pacific that China confronts the U.S., which is reinforcing six decades of “Pax Pacifica” through President Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia”.
- Consequently, the Chinese are engaged in feverish diplomacy to undermine the Pivot, which is being reinforced by two vectors: the nuclear tensions in the Korean peninsula and the crisis in the South China Sea. On the Korean Peninsula, the Chinese are unequivocal in advocating denuclearisation, but also insist that Pyongyang’s nuclear disarmament must be tied up with the signing of a formal peace treaty between North and South Korea. If this happens, it would remove a major rationale for the U.S. Pivot.
- Simultaneously, a formal peace treaty could premise the rapid integration of the Korean peninsula in the OBOR initiative.
- Significantly, the Chinese focus on denuclearisation follows two major outcomes of international diplomacy that have benefited.
- China fully backed Russia in disarming Syria of chemical weapons. This proved critical in averting a likely “regime change” in Damascus.
- The nuclear deal with Iran, in which both Russia and China played a major part, not only removed the chances of a military attack but also opened the door for Iran’s integration with the Eurasian core through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the OBOR initiative.
- South China Sea is also an open competition for hegemony. OBOR needs to be viewed in this context.
(Students should also read about the String of pearls theory, Asia’s Security diamond, Necklace of Diamonds, TPP, TTIP, Project Mausam to have broader appreciation of the geopolitical developments)