The first part of the article titled ‘China’s OBOR and its implications – I’ was published in Rising Kashmir on June 29.
The ‘One Belt One Road’ mega development project that has had an impact on foreign relations from East to West and pushed China to the lead role, is still in its infancy, yet it has realigned the interests of Eastern, Middle Eastern and Western economies.
Major Powers, which have had their runs of success for centuries now, cannot impose their rule for ever. The hold on the world trade has been partly the outcome of the politics of the maritime powers (Great Britain and the USA) and the inability of the railway and road and air transport to become a real competitor of the sea transport. Railway and road transport remained significant on a regional level while for longer distances, sea transport remained the most effective way. The fast corridor comprising of network of roads may replace the conventional trade practice.
Meanwhile, China is in a delicate situation. In order to continue its emergence globally, China needs a stable government and no conflict with one of the most powerful nations and economies, the United States. Moreover, it needs a stronger fleet to curb the enhanced presence of the USA in its traditional East and Southeastern sphere of interest. For that, China has to seek new opportunities and handle the situation deftly.
One such opportunity is in the form of OBOR project. The project aims at shifting the axis of the world economy from the oceans back to the mainland and to restore the former economic, political and cultural role of Eurasia.
As per the definition of the International relations, the features of a hegemonic power include economic and military power exceeding competitors and the control over the interstate system via international institutions. China has undoubtedly met the first criterion with Asia and there is an attempt to transfer the international institutional system.
With a capital of 100 billion US dollars, the Beijing–based Asian Infrastructural Investment Bank has been operationalized. It is supplemented by the Silk Road Fund and the New Investment Bank of the BRICS group, which will have a currency fund of 100 billion US dollars by 2020. International collaborations supported by China such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Boao Forum, etc., are also playing a vital part.
However, the American influence is so deep and significant that it will be difficult to eliminate it in one go. It will happen gradually. In achieving that goal, China will be successful if it manages to have friends and allies on its side. Making alliances will depend on China’s ability to convince allies to comply with its foreign policy.
Examples from history show that earlier continental powers were not able to break the power of the maritime hegemonic powers for two main reasons: the politics of maritime powers and the level of technology -- technology that was inadequate to overcome the geographical factors.
What need not to be ignored is that OBOR attempts to feature China in regions including South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East where the influence of the US has weakened. In the past, the US had launched its own Silk Road scheme which was not of the scale of the Chinese project, and it is still not clear what answer the US has for the OBOR.
Meanwhile, China-Russia relations are improving mainly due to Russia’s isolation following the Crimean conflict. Now due to BRI by China, Russia is increasingly becoming dependent on China.
Although India is reluctant to enter OBOR due to China–Pakistan bonhomie and China’s potential domination of the India Ocean, it is still interested in becoming an active participant of the project. The reason being its lack of capital and infrastructure development.
Along the route of conceived OBOR, countries such as the central Asian states, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey could align more closely with China. Consequently, China will be in a stronger position to assert itself in global affairs. The establishment of the overland network will enable China to increase its influence in Central Asia and will enable it to secure an alternative route for its energy supplies.
Then the European Union is given an important role in the Chinese plans. The BRI could land China in a commanding position and win it the needed support in the global affairs. In fact, the international order could undergo a sea-change if countries come together and are led by China on the basis of economic interests.
Overall, OBOR is a sign of China’s desire to project power westwards across Eurasia and along the sea ways of the Indian Ocean as far as East Africa. The power projection through OBOR, in fact, represents China’s economic and foreign policy which is intended to guide the behavior of countries along China’s strategies and interests. How the countries that are benefited by the BRI will behave remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, it is of special mention that China will have to ensure that its ambitious project does not fall to political instability and uncertainty in several countries through which the road passes. For example, some Middle Eastern countries are caught in political crises. It will not be smooth sailing for China to operate OBOR amid the crisis in those countries.
Notwithstanding the apprehensions concerning the success of OBOR/ BRI, China appears well on its way to take the ambitious project to its successful completion.