One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR)
In the year 2013, President Xi Jinping launched the One Belt One Road project. He called for the building of a Silk Road economic belt and a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, collectively named as One Belt One Road (OBOR). From its structure, it was proclaimed to be one of the biggest developmental projects of the 21st century.
It is a development strategy to connect China with Central Asia, Europe, and the countries around the Indo-Pacific region. This policy has two components:
- Belt– The “One Belt” here indicated the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt”. Where in China aims to connect the country’s underdeveloped rural areas to Europe through Central Asia.
- Road – The “One Road” pertains to the ocean-going “Maritime Silk Road”. The fast-growing South East Asian region is connected to China’s southern provinces through ports and railways.
With the help of this project, China is aiming at enhancing its soft maritime infrastructure. This infrastructural development includes the formation of new ports, facilitating E-commerce, creating SEZs, and creating trade policies. The geographical area that it covers makes it comparable to the Silk route that existed around 120 BCE. One Belt One Road can be seen as a multilateral economic regime which connects China to the rest of the world.
Background of OBOR
In accordance to the original silk route that was traversed by Admiral Zheng in the fifteenth century, the One Belt One Road initiative is being implemented. These network of routes included a variety of land and sea routes. Some of the important items traded through these routes included silk, spices, grains, precious stones. It’s important to note that the silk route was not only a medium of trade but it had a wide exchange of cultures. The route also became a means for the exchange of religious ideas. Trade of spices was mainly done with India. In the year 2013, the Silk Route Economic was introduced, a repackaging of the erstwhile silk route. In a joint effort by the Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of foreign affairs and National Development and Reform Commission Silk Route was established. It is based on the logic of using China’s huge economic leverage abroad and exporting its strong infrastructure developmental capabilities to other sectors. The project will have a lifespan of at least 30 to 40 years, if carried out on a full stage.
Features of OBOR
Under this initiative, there are 6 economic corridors and 1 maritime road:
- Eurasian Land Bridge (Connecting Western China with Western Russia)
- China – Central Asia and West Asia Corridor (Connecting West China with Turkey via West Asia)
- China – Mongolia – Russia (Connecting Northern China with Eastern part of Russia via Mongolia)
- China – Indochina (Connecting South China with Singapore)
- Bangladesh – China – India – Myanmar (connecting China with Myanmar)
- China – Pakistan- Economic Corridor (Connecting China with Pakistan)
- Maritime Sea route (Connecting the South China Sea with the Indian Ocean and South Pacific Ocean)
In addition to this, Russia and China have mutually agreed to develop an Ice Silk Road, which will be connecting China with Europe via the North Sea in the Arctic Ocean.
Infrastructure & Trade
- Through its proposed plan, OBOR will link three major continents- Asia, Europe, and Africa. Through this project the entire Indo-Pacific region will become more Sino-centric. A China- central Asia- west Asia corridor is to be constructed which will run from Western China to Turkey.
- The Vientiane- bot (Laos) will be China’s first overseas railway project that will be directly connected to China’s railway network.
- The one belt initiative will integrate with Central Asia through Kazakhstan’s Nurly Zol infrastructure programme.
- China- Indochina peninsula is being constructed. This corridor will have its expanse from southern China to Singapore.
- The project is envisioned with the idea to connect China with the rest of the world. It will open up markers and reconstruct global trends, especially since South Asia is the least connected region in the world.
- It is not a treaty-based system. For the operation of trans border trade and infrastructure bilateral trade agreements may be necessary but formal membership is not required.
- Through a network of pipelines, railways, and highways, the China Pakistan Economic corridor is envisioned to connect China’s far west with the port of Baluchistan. This will enable China to transport energy goods such as petroleum through a route in Pakistan. As a part of this, MOUs worth nearly 46 billion has been signed.
- A 24 billion USD worth of projects regarding construction of projects were sanctioned, during the Chinese president’s visit to the Maldives.
Given the lucrative rates of interest that have been promised various Institutional leaders from the west are keen to fund the project. China also plans to have free trade agreements with 65 countries in the six economic belts, accounting for 30 percent of the GDP.
Analysis of China’s decision
The unilateral decision by China to initiate the project as well as a lack of transparency in involving other countries in the decision making and shows a lack of sincerity in forging between the countries. Moreover, a huge magnitude, severe problems such as cooperation between countries.
Implementation of this project also has many hurdles. Being a project of such will be prevalent.
India’s stance on OBOR
India so far has not taken a position on the OBOR project. The most concerning point for India is the CPEC corridor of China- Pakistan, which passes through POK, an area of conflict for India and an area claimed by India as a part of its Union.
The route of CPEC passes through POK will make China an indirect stakeholder in Kashmir conflict between India and Pakistan.
Indian government stated that the connectivity cannot undermine the sovereignty of other nations. India has also repudiated to attend the 1st Belt and Road Summit.
OBOR is a biased ideational of China and there is a lack of transparency in its working.
China is developing ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan and is trying to expand its influence using its economic might in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, under Maritime Silk Route (MSR). Which makes the MSR nothing but an economic disguise to the “Strings of Pearls” idea. The countries in India’s neighbourhood tend to use China card against India, as China is investing a huge amount of money in India’s immediate neighbourhood.
What are the options India has?
If India does decide to participate in the project, it will help India’s border to develop better infrastructure. Better and improved connectivity with close neighbours will also be facilitated.
Project Mausam: Project Mausam can be seen as a soft power diplomacy by India. Under the Ministry of Culture the purpose of this project is to reconnect and re-establish communication links between countries of Indian Ocean and enhancing their cultural values.
SagarMala: It is a port led direct and indirect development with a focus on infrastructure and connectivity. The capacity of major and non-major ports will be enhanced with the help of this project and also to start their modernization process.
Chabahar Port: Besides Iran, Chabahar’s location give India access to Afghanistan, central Asia, and Europe, bypassing Pakistan altogether and prominently cutting down current travel distances and time. Another connectivity solution for India in Central Asia is the International North South Transport Corridor initiated by India, Russia, and Iran.
Naval Ports: India is developing naval ports in Indian Ocean regions in countries like Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles.
IORARC: India is involved in the Indian Ocean Rim Association grouping whose first summit took place in Jakarta in 2017.
Alliances: Alliance of India with like-minded countries like Japan can prove to be of great advantage. By developing and strengthening reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, Japan has agreed to promote India’s “Act East” policy that augments connectivity within India and between India and other countries in the region. This move of Japan is aimed at advancing Asian industrial networks and regional value chains with open, fair and transparent business environment in the region.
In conclusion, it can be stated that in a manner that is perhaps mutually beneficial, it’s reasonable to keep the doors of engagement open and carve out a niche for itself.
Theoretically, the initiative could be seen as workable, if India’s political and strategic concerns are met, particularly given that many of the projects envisaged under the BCIM (Bangladesh China India Myanmar) corridor and the Asian Highway project would accord into OBOR. Already all of India’s neighbours (with the exception of Bhutan) are a part of it, and India too is keen to increase connectivity with them. However, tense bilateral relations with China, deep mistrusts and ongoing standoffs and military conflicts keeps India on the edge. India’s growing concerns over Chinese hegemonic intentions in South Asia and Indo-Pacific region make it practically unlikely that India will ever consider joining this project.