Anzhi
Jiang

Taiwan,
China, and Asian Regional Development

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Jan
13, 2018

The One Belt One Road Initiative and its implications

 

Introduction
and History

Launched in 2013, the One Belt One Road
Initiative (OBOR or BRI) is a Chinese foreign policy of a transnational
economic belt. The scale of the initiative is astonishing for it is so far the
largest of its kind launched by one single country. The OBOR is consisted of two
parts: The Silk Road Economic Belt, historically it was a route for ancient
China to communicate and trade with Central Asia and the Middle East over 2000
years ago, with the first record of the Silk Road can be dated from Han
dynasty, when emperor Wudi send Zhang Qian from west China to the Middle East.

Another segment is the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which is a maritime
route that goes around Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, and the Horn of
Africa. In summary, more than two thirds of world population and more than one
third of global economic output will be involved in the initiative, and could
involve Chinese investments that total up to $4 trillion.     

            For many in the region, the Silk Road
is a story of peaceful trade, and a rich history of religious and harmonious
cultural exchange. The Belt and Road seeks to directly build on this legacy. It
rests upon a historical narrative that connectivity — both cultural and
economic — reduces suspicion and promotes common prosperity, an idea that is
being eagerly taken up by states concerned about civil unrest, both within and
across their borders. In November 2015, Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of
Kazakhstan, chose UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris to announce the country’s new
Academy of Peace, stating that “we can best counter extremism through
inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.”1

            The other segment of the BRI, the marine
time silk road also plays an important role both historically and currently. One
of the most famous historic figures in Chinese history is Admiral Zheng He,
embodies China’s grand narrative of region-wide trade, encounter, and exchange.

A Muslim eunuch who led seven fleets across to South Asia, the Arabian
Peninsula, and West Africa between 1405 and 1433 during the Ming dynasty, Zheng
He is widely celebrated as a peaceful envoy in both China and by the overseas
Chinese living in Malaysia, Indonesia, and elsewhere. In addition to the
museums, mosques, and artefacts now appearing around the region celebrating his
voyages, China has given millions of dollars to Sri Lanka and Kenya to support
the search for remains of Zheng He’s fleet. Both countries are key nodes in the
modern-day Belt and Road infrastructure network, with China financing the
construction of deep water ports in Colombo and Hambantota in Sri Lanka, and
Lamu in Kenya.2

Source: Tim Winter

Goals
of the One Belt One Road Initiative

The One Belt, One Road initiative
consists of several economic and some non-economic elements3.

The initiative should promote five major goals which are: “policy coordination,
facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and
people-to-people bonds.” Among the five goals, “facilities” (infrastructure) is
perhaps the most significant, since it provides the necessary means for
attaining many of the other goals mentioned above. The most frequently
mentioned economic element is a Chinese commitment to invest heavily in a wide
variety of infrastructure projects in order to strengthen the economic capacity
and “connectivity” among the nations within the One Belt, One Road area and
with China’s western regions4.

For example,

There are several mechanisms designed
entirely or in part to support such infrastructure development, including the
Silk Road Fund and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

More
broadly, from the perspective of China’s overall development policies, the One
Belt, One Road concept is seen by many Chinese media as a major element of the
economic reform process.

Shortly after being announced, the
initiative was explicitly linked to Chinese reforms in a decision of the 18th
CCP Conference in November 2013. The decision stated that China would “set up
development-oriented financial institutions, accelerate the construction of infrastructure
connecting China with neighboring countries and regions, and work hard to build
a Silk Road Economic Belt and a Maritime Silk Road, so as to form a new pattern
of all-round opening.”5
In this official paper of the Chinese government, it was also declared that “Central
Asia, Russia, South Asia, and Southeast Asian countries will be given priority
consideration . . . while Middle Eastern and East African countries are in the
junction” linking the Asian with European countries.  

Another major feature of the One Belt,
One Road initiative is that it is intended to be as open and inclusive as
possible, apparently involving few if any requirements or restrictions, and to
exist in cooperation with, and not against, other international development initiatives.

In
stressing the open and cooperative nature of the One Belt, One Road initiative,
many Chinese media uses the metaphor of a “symphony,” involving the
participation of many countries, and not a “solo” effort by China alone.

 

Strategic
goals of the BRI

However, the initiative was described as
a “response” to the new geopolitical situation marked by the U.S. “rebalance to
Asia,” Japan’s accelerated “steps toward normalization,” India’s rapid economic
growth, and increasing worries toward a stronger China among China’s “neighboring
Asian countries.” From this geopolitical perspective, the One Belt, One Road
initiative can be seen as a new kind of “strategy” designed to support the
larger effort announced by Xi Jinping, to strengthen Beijing’s periphery
diplomacy and create a “new type of major country relations,” both of which are
based on intensive cooperation and a zero-sum (i.e., “win-win”) approach to
international politics and economics.

Since the rising of China, most countries
in the Asia-Pacific region followed the option of trying to integrate China
into existing and new regional and global institutions such as the RCEP, or
ASEAN plus. The US under Trump administration has been explicitly rebalancing
its international posture toward Asia and China by returning to a bilateral
approach to both diplomatic and economic policies. In early 2017, shortly after
President Trump’s inauguration, the US declared to withdraw from the TPP
(Transpacific Partnership), which had been a foreign policy priority of the
Obama administration to strengthen leadership of the US in the Asia-Pacific
area. Trump’s bilateral approach to foreign relations is predicted to lead to
decreasing influence of the US in Asia, for the ASEAN-China leading RCEP, and
the One Belt One Road Initiative launched by China seemed to declare a new era
of globalization, without the US participation. o China founded a series of
institutions — the New Development Bank, or BRICS Bank? the Asian
Infrastructure Investment Bank? the Silk Road Fund? and a reorganized China
Development Bank that cumulatively will have more lending power than the
Bretton Woods institutions which was led by the US.

 

Cultural
factors

            Culture has become an important
pillar within China’s strategy to secure influence internationally, as was laid
out at the 2011 plenary session of the 17th Central Committee of the CCP.

Nowhere is this effort more important than within the region itself, where
there are deep seated suspicions about China’s economic and military rise. I
would suggest that it is within this wider context that we need to situate the
Belt and Road strategy of fostering people-to-people connections.6

One Belt, One Road has been described as
“the most significant and far-reaching initiative that China has ever put
forward.” However, for both China and many of the countries involved, in
cultural and historical terms, much is at stake in this project. As Xi Jinping
indicated in his speech, the Belt and Road will “promote inter-civilization exchanges
to build bridges of friendship for our people, drive human development and
safeguard peace of the world.”

Dozens of countries have already
supported the initiative to varying degrees, even if their enthusiasm often
varies depending on whether they are speaking publicly or privately. For most
Asian countries, the interest in BRI is motivated less by some ideological
shift towards China and more by a practical recognition of its relevance for
advancing their own economic goals.

But we also need to also look to the ways
in which a historical narrative of silk, seafaring, and cultural and religious
encounters opens up a space for other countries to draw on their own deep
histories in the crafting of contemporary trade and political relations. Iran,
Turkey, and the Arab States of the Persian Gulf are among those looking to the
Belt and Road as an expedient platform for not only securing international
recognition for their culture and civilizations, but also using that sense of
history to create political and economic loyalty in a region characterized by
unequal and competing powers. The now conventional idea of soft power focuses
on how states and countries secure influence through the export of their own
social and cultural goods. But this idea only partially captures what is at
stake in One Belt, One Road. Reviving the idea of the silk roads, on both land
and sea, gives vitality to histories of transnational, even transcontinental,
trade and people-people encounters as a shared heritage. Crucially, it is a
narrative that can be activated for diplomatic purposes.

 

Prospective
development and concerns

While the One Belt, One Road initiative
offers considerable potential in several

economic,
political, cultural, and strategic realms, it also presents many uncertainties
and

potential
concerns. It has clearly become a major foreign and economic policy hallmark

of
the Xi Jinping government and is consistently supported as such by all manner
of

Chinese
observers. While it is generally not depicted as a means of enhancing Beijing’s

influence
across Eurasia, there is little doubt that it will be measured in large part in
those

terms,
and in its development impact on the region.

Due to the OBOR funding arrangements,
China benefits from both the financing and construction of infrastructure
projects, while the recipient countries must bear the financial risk.  When trade volumes are high the arrangement
will be mutually beneficial, and that may not matter, but when it is not, it
could become a source of concern for the recipient country. Ultimately, the
success or failure of the One Belt, One Road concept will depend in no small
measure on the resources that Beijing is willing and able to devote to it, the adroitness
of China’s leaders and entrepreneurs in applying those resources to local conditions,
and the benefits that it produces not only for China but perhaps more importantly
for the recipient nations.

On the other hand,

To summarize, the OBOR is positive for
developing countries, and it is an opportunity to improve their infrastructure.

 

Reference:

1.     Swaine, Michael D. “Chinese views
and commentary on the ‘One Belt, One Road ‘initiative.” China Leadership
Monitor 47.2 (2015): 3.

2.    
Winter,
Tim. “One Belt, One Road, One Heritage: Cultural Diplomacy and the Silk Road.”
The Diplomat, March 29, 2016

3.     The Decision on Major Issues Concerning
Comprehensively Deepening Reforms in brief. http://www.china.org.cn/china/third_plenary_session/2013-11/16/content_30620736.htm

1 Winter, Tim. “One Belt, One Road, One
Heritage: Cultural Diplomacy and the Silk Road.” The Diplomat, March 29, 2016

2 Ibid

3 Swaine, Michael D. “Chinese views
and commentary on the ‘One Belt, One Road ‘initiative.” China Leadership
Monitor 47.2 (2015): 3.

4 Ibid

5 The Decision on Major Issues
Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms in brief.

http://www.china.org.cn/china/third_plenary_session/2013-11/16/content_30620736.htm

6 Winter, Tim. “One Belt, One Road, One
Heritage: Cultural Diplomacy and the Silk Road.” The Diplomat, March 29, 2016