China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project can help offset the global trade challenges and provide better connectivity and greater economic opportunities. China’s fast economic growth in the past 30 years has dramatically transformed the global landscape. This transformation is expected to continue under the “One Belt, One Road” initiative set out by President Xi Jinping.
What is One Belt, One Road initiative?
The One Belt One Road initiative is the centrepiece of China’s foreign policy and domestic economic strategy. It aims to rejuvenate ancient trade routes–Silk Routes–which will open up markets within and beyond the region.
- Through this initiative, China’s plan is to construct roads, railways, ports, and other infrastructure across Asia and beyond to bind its economy more tightly to the rest of the world.
Challenges before this initiative:
There are several structural challenges that confront the Chinese OBOR proposal-
- First, the perception, process and implementation to date do not inspire trust in OBOR as a participatory and collaborative venture. The unilateral ideation and declaration — and the simultaneous lack of transparency — further weaken any sincerity towards an Asian entity and economic unity. However, China says that it is committed to pursue wide-ranging consultations with the 60-plus nations on this issue. An ‘OBOR Think Tank’ is also being established to engage scholars from these countries.
- It is widely accepted that through this initiative China is projecting its military and political presence along OBOR. China is also willing to underwrite security through a collaborative framework. Hence, few countries including India have wholeheartedly not welcomed this initiative.
- Another challenge deals with the success of the ‘whole’ scheme, given that the Chinese vision document lays out five layers of connectivity: policy, physical, economic, financial and human. While no developing country will turn away infrastructure development opportunities financed by the Chinese, they may not necessarily welcome a rules regime built on a Chinese ethos.
- This belt runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Hence, a formal nod to the project will serve as a de-facto legitimisation to Pakistan’s rights on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is closely related to OBOR.
Is OBOR a threat or an opportunity for India?
The answer undoubtedly ticks both boxes. Chinese political expansion and economic ambitions, packaged as OBOR, are two sides of the same coin. To be firm while responding to one facet, 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.
Way ahead for India:
India now 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 the government 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.
- 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.
- Currently, India has neither the resources nor the political and economic weight to put in place competitive and alternative connectivity networks on a global scale. Therefore, for the time being, it may be worthwhile to carefully evaluate those components of the OBOR which may, in fact, improve India’s own connectivity to major markets and resource supplies and become participants in them just as we have chosen to do with the AIIB and the NDB.
It is fair to say that China, in deploying the OBOR initiative, has demonstrated a level of ambition and imagination which is mostly absent in India’s national discourse. India has so far been suspicious of the strategic implications of this initiative. If India sheds its inhibitions and participates actively in its implementation, it stands to gain substantially in terms of trade. Arguably, OBOR offers India another political opportunity. There seems to be a degree of Chinese eagerness to solicit Indian partnership. OBOR could potentially allow India a new track to its own attempt to integrate South Asia. However, India should act strategically on issues such as OBOR which will have a significant impact on India’s vital interests.