Dr Shabir Choudhry
“One Belt, One Road” is a mega project; and rather ambitious plan of China to influence the world politics through economic dominance. It is not simple and it may encounter many obstacles. The plan aims to integrate China’s trading partners in such a way that they all help China to advance its international agenda. The plan involves building infrastructure — ports, roads, airports, power plants, gas pipelines and railways in a way that complements Beijing’s own interests.
Chinese realised that their economic growth has slowed down and they desperately needed projects which can keep the Chinese economy performing well. So, they looked for economic projects with multiple objectives:
1/ Search for new markets; even if that means building their infrastructure and enabling them to become future clients of the Chinese goods;
2 Sustain and promote the Chinese economy; especially when demand from America and Europe slows down;
3/ On the back of these ‘economic projects’ advance the Chinese agenda of dominating the world politics;
4/ Under the cover of various economic projects establish military and economic pockets in strategically important areas – string of pearls; and find strategic allies to protect and advance the Chinese plan for world dominance.
Beijing Conference on OBOR
It remains to be seen if OBOR becomes a reality and produce the desired outcome; however, one can say the Chinese leadership has a great vision; and they do not lack ambitions. While embarking on these ambitious projects, China has to bear in mind that these projects could prove disastrous; and white elephants for some countries, because some countries which are part of the OBOR are prone to economic and political instability and corruption.
China is rightly regarded as an economic and military giant, with potential to call shots in the world politics. China is the second largest economy with GDP of 11 trillion dollars. Its economic strength could be measured by huge foreign exchange reserves – 3 trillion dollars, which is the largest in the world. With this kind of economic strength, they can initiate mega economic projects to help others and also boost Chinese economic, political and military domination. Military and economic muscle is prerequisite to any empire building.
Some people call OBOR a Capitalist expansion plan, even though China is a ‘Communist’ country. In name of economic projects, China is influencing politics, economics and social structure of ‘client’ states like Pakistan. Some countries have become under their influence by financial and economic help; and without sending any army. Pakistan, on the other hand, heavily relies on Chinese help in military equipment, economic, financial and strategic matters. They even rely on China’s Veto in the UN Security Council and support in international relations.
It is believed that the Chinese investment in OBOR related projects is more than $500 billion. Even the reputable international financial institutions like Asia Development Bank, IMF and the World Bank do not have this kind of amount at their disposal to spend. This fact explains China’s strength and clout in the world affairs. China’s ‘business diplomacy’; and ability to buy or neutralise other countries or threats from opponents has proved to be effective over the years. Because of the economic muscle, the Chinese President on the opening day of the OBOR Conference proudly said that China was ‘investing $124 billion on infrastructure projects in 60 countries’.
After the Second World War, America dominated the world affairs with combination of economic and military help; and at times, using its military muscle resulting in stationing troops, occupations, military interventions, building military alliances and overthrowing governments. China, on the other hand, avoid using military muscle and prefers to use economic muscle to win friends and advance its agenda of dominating world politics.
It is interesting that many countries now look towards Beijing for help and support rather than the Western dominated institutions like World Bank and IMF. Question arises, will America and the West remain quiet and let their dominance and influence fade away; and let China call the shots in the international arena.
To the Pakistani government and the military establishment, the CPEC is a national security matter. They feel when the Chinese are in Pakistan with all paraphernalia and military might, no country will dare to look towards Pakistan with evil eye. In other words, the CPEC will not only provide economic boost and build infrastructure for energy and transport, it will also act as an insurance policy whereby China will have to protect its investment and its much-needed the CPEC route and Gwadar.
No matter what the Pakistani government and the military elite think of the CPEC, people of Pakistan have a right to know what is going on; and why there is so much secrecy associated with these projects. People need to know why should they be paying billions of dollars in high interest rates for building roads which China needs to transport their goods to Gwadar and beyond? Infrastructure is important, if that is required to transport the domestic goods to the markets. Shouldn’t Pakistan be investing in education and technical institutes that people of Pakistan can alleviate poverty and meet the challenges of the 21st century?
Also, it is not clear what is the strategy or contingency plan, if a Chinese funded project or projects fail. Won’t that have a serious negative impact on the CPEC and OBOR, as most of the projects are interlinked and rely on each other. Furthermore, China’s overseas investment record is not brilliant, especially in Sri Lanka, Mynamar, Venezuela and Africa. One economic expert warned that OBOR may leave “huge white elephant that left an enormous amount of wasted resources strewn along its path.” 1
Tom Miller, author of “China’s Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road,” said OBOR is part of Chinese plan to restore ‘its historical status as Asia’s dominant power. China’s new ’empire’ will be an informal and largely economic one, posited on cash and held together by hard infrastructure’. 2
Another expert, Christopher Balding, said the project is “more like a diplomatic effort for China to win friends and influence people,” rather than a strictly economic program.
Nick Marro, an analyst with Economist Intelligence Unit says: “China is looking to use OBOR as a way to ship its own domestic overproduction offshore.” The Chinese State media claims that ‘some $1 trillion has already been invested in OBOR, with another several trillion due to be invested over the next decade. There are two main benefits for Beijing from this: economic, and political – both with their own significant risks’. 3
It is intriguing to many people that very little is known about OBOR projects, which is ‘a collection of interlinking trade deals and infrastructure projects throughout Eurasia and the Pacific, but the definition of what exactly qualifies as an OBOR project or which countries are even involved in the initiative is incredibly fuzzy’. 4
In reality it means, “everything and it means nothing at the same time,” asserted Christopher Balding, a professor of economics at Peking University. This means projects could be added or taken out as the situation demands; and strategies could be planned to resolve issue and obstacles. This vagueness allows China to ‘bundle anything it wants into it’. Around 50 leading state – owned companies have invested in nearly 1700 OBOR projects since 2013.
World leaders and their representatives from various countries attended the Beijing Conference to hear details of China’s One Belt One Road initiative. The next gathering on this topic will be in 2019; however, at the end of the Conference on 15 May 2017, many participants and the OBOR or the CPEC watchers note with dismay that still there is insufficient information given out about these projects. During his speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged 113 billion dollars extra funding; and urged countries across the globe to join hands with him in pursuit of globalization. He said:
“We have no intention to form a small group detrimental to stability. What we hope to create is a big family of harmonious co-existence.” 5
China claims that more than 65 countries may join the OBOR; and that it is open to everyone. China and other 64 countries identified for the project have aggregate population of 62% of the world population. They also produce 30% of the economic output. It is interesting to note that only 20 Heads of these countries participated in the Conference; and most of them were small Asian countries which are heavily dependent on the Chinese support. However, in total 52 countries had some level of participation in the Beijing Conference; and that included representatives from America and North Korea. Compared to the US and North Korea, Britain, Germany and France sent lower level representatives.
After the successful conference on One Belt One Road – OBOR, China presented itself as a country at the heart of the world with a New World Order. However, a big question is, can China afford all the economic ventures they have announced or those which or already on the way?
China claims that 900 billion dollars’ worth of projects are already underway, and with 4 to 8 trillion more to be spent according to some estimates. The Chinese President Xi Jipping announced another 78 billion to be spent on infrastructure to link China to Europe via Asia, Middle East and Africa. 6
As mentioned earlier, the CPEC and OBOR are designed to assert China’s influence in the world politics. In other words, China wants to start a new era of globalisation and a New World Order; and write new rules that can help China to dictate its terms, especially to future client states.
It must be remembered that Malacca Straits is important sea route through which 80 percent of Chinese energy needs pass through. It is also China’s route to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Over the years, Chinese strategic experts felt that this route is vulnerable due to activities of America and their allies. In the event of hostilities, the Chinese economy could be paralysed.
This fear resulted in China desperately looking for an alternative route; and the CPEC brings China to the Arabian Sea, which is strategically important as it provides safe route for trade to the Indian Ocean, Pacific, Atlantic and the Gulf. It also enables the Chinese navy to block or endanger supplies from Gulf of Oman, if and when needed.
The CPEC route to Gwadar is around 3,000 Kilometres long. The Sea route which China is currently using is around 12,000 Kilometres. So apart from many other benefits for China, they also see this as a short and safer route. It provides China an opportunity to avoid problems of the Malacca Straits, and if the situation warrants, to strike back at the enemies by disrupting the sea transport. So, one can see, for China, it is a big game changer.
To be Contd…
- Express Tribune, 25 May 2017