‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR)– an infrastructural initiative by China – is the largest international transportation project after the Panama Canal, and aims to link 4 billion people and more than 65 countries on completion. Costing 4 trillion US dollars, this trade route is the ‘incarnation of the historic Silk Road’, according to President Xi Jinping; it will not only retrace the original Silk Route, but will also expand it through several new corridors, forming a vast trade ‘belt’. It will also consist of a complementary ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’- a trade ‘road’ passing through the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea.
Albeit it is being hailed as ‘a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future’’ by the Chinese government, it forebodes the advent of neo-colonialism wearing the sheepskin of free capitalism, according to me. For instance, the OBOR can be used as a strategic tool to shift its surplus industrial production of cement and steel, to neighbouring developing countries, thus becoming an exporter of capital goods, along with an exporter of consumer goods. Moreover, as the country’s economic interests expand abroad, the Chinese government will possibly attempt to legalize the posting of soldier along the route for security reasons, giving its military direct access to other countries, and increasing its regional influence exponentially.
A very brief look into China’s recent history can show us the real reason for this development. The country is facing severe economic imbalance due to and excess industrial production, falling consumption, and public debt caused by state funding of all its industries. Since its initial attempt of utilising extra capital goods through developmental projects resulted in ‘ghost cities’, OBOR can be viewed as China’s new geographic strategy to save itself. It will be able to do so by transferring its debt to unsuspecting developing countries in the form of infrastructural development while simultaneously providing work to its unemployed, manual workers.
This is not the first time China has cast this bait of apparent progress, either. Sri Lanka had to sell its port Hambantota because it could not repay China’s debt in time. In Pakistan,) only port construction is being implemented under CPEC (China, Pakistan Economic Corridor), for which Pakistan has to pay 91% of 40 years of its revenue from its Khambata port, to China. Moreover, China is charging an interest rate of 6.3% while the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) charge 0.25-0.3% on soft loans, and India gives credit to the neighbouring countries at an interest rate of 1% only. Due to this, eight countries are already under a debt risk that threatens their sovereignty: Pakistan, Laos, Maldives, and Bangladesh, to name a few.
The BRI (Belt Road Initiative- another name for OBOR) does not have a people-centric approach to its credit either-the local population is being marginalized, and agriculture getting disturbed, which even led to a protest in Gilgit when a BRI summit was being conducted.
Considering all these factors, UN has raised also a red flag for the safety of the countries participating in China’s pet project, since almost all of them have a smaller economy compared to that of China’s.
The OBOR has a plethora of geo-political implications for South Asia. India sees it as an initiative devised to serve China’s national interest, owing to a lack of discussions on international or regional levels, among other things. Another concern of India is the naval logistic facilities being developed, dubbed the ‘String of Pearls’. These sea lines and ports can be put to dual use of military bases as well. China is already notorious for the South China Sea debacle, where it had started using the islands for military purposes.
Thus, despite being a founding member of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), it has not formally endorsed OBOR. As Subrahmanyam Jaishankat, our foreign secretary said, “Connectivity should diffuse national rivalries not add to regional tensions”.
Though India seems to be the only country reacting to the obvious red flags of China’s seemingly friendly actions, I believe, or at least hope, that this issue will soon become a bone of contention between our neighbour and the rest of the sovereign, democratic world.
photo credits: swarajya.com