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Opinion News
May 08,2017

Prospects for connectivity

Mudassir Hussain

China is going to host a two-day belt and road conference in Beijing on May 14 and May 15, which will be attended nearly by 30 heads of state, heads of government and heads from the global financing sector.

Pakistan will also send a high-profile delegation to the Beijing summit and PM Nawaz Sharif might lead the delegation. According to China’s ministry of foreign affairs, six countries from the G20 group, one G7 leader and the Italian prime minister has confirmed that they will be present for the round table summit hosted by President Xi Jinping.

China has invited everyone to the table. Apparently Washington and its allies, including the leaders of France and Germany, will skip the event. During the two-day conference, leaders from different countries will talk about the ways to improve trade ties, with a special emphasis on exploring opportunities offered by China’s Silk Route vision. The Silk Road is a network of ancient overland trade routes that extended across the Asian continent and connected China to the Mediterranean Sea.

For centuries, the Silk Road also enabled the transmission of knowledge and ideas between the Eastern and Western worlds. The Chinese media and government officials are extensively projecting the upcoming forum to build support for the Maritime and Road initiative – a Chinese solution to global economic blues. Under its Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century’s Maritime Silk Route, China has sought to build a network of infrastructure projects across Eurasia to ensure trade and regional connectivity.

The approximately 1.4 trillion projects potentially cover 55 percent of the world’s GNP, 70 percent of the global population and 75 percent of the earth’s known energy reserves. China also claims to be willing to make a huge financial commitment in infrastructure financing and connectivity projects. The initiative has the potential to bend borders, alter geostrategic dynamics and the status quo in China’s extended neighbourhood. Its completion is planned in year 2049, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the communist revolution in the People’s Republic of China.

The ambitious One Belt, One Road (OBOR) has various sub-parts in the form of CPEC and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM). Both CPEC and BCIM projects are central to China’s South Asia policy. Projects under CPEC are rapidly moving ahead while the BCIM is moving at a snail’s pace due to Indo-China territorial disputes in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. This mistrust between the two countries and India’s objections to CPEC are also hindering the path to regional integration.

Apart from regional tensions, the entire concept of OBOR has captured attention worldwide for the sheer range and audacity of the concept, the extraordinary ambition that lies at its base and the significant technological, human, natural and financial resources that will need to be garnered globally to realise China’s vision of the 21st century silk route. The OBOR initiative has changed the international order. The OBOR initiative, which in a paternalist embrace, takes in almost all European countries, is presented as China’s alternative to the Western model that dominated the world until now.

The US has been replaced as the world’s leading economy and is gradually losing its political hegemony to Chinese domination. This is shown by the reaction of Washington’s most loyal allies in Europe – London, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Budapest and Madrid – all signing up to the OBOR initiative even though the US is opposing it through the regional encirclement of China and by meddling in the dispute of South China Sea between Beijing and Pacific countries.

On the economic front, US-backed think tanks are constantly criticising China for using its massive financial assets to dominate small economies through the long-term control of infrastructure, natural resources and associated land assets and by offering less than desirable credit terms for infrastructure loans.

Furthermore, the production capacity and cooperation which China presents as an integral part of the plan – which involves the transfer of production to countries where labour and other costs are cheaper – is also under criticism. Despite China’s claims about OBOR as an initiative that will accelerate trade and economic activities, critics see the project as a programme of economic and strategic dominance. Both New Delhi and Washington are wary of CPEC and OBOR owing to the perceived role of these projects in increasing China’s influence in the region.

Broader concern relate to China’s long-term aims. There are concerns that the OBOR agenda is aimed at creating a China-led bloc backed by Russia to counter the US. Despite this criticism and the anti-Silk Route propaganda, OBOR is a unique effort by China to reunite the region and has the capacity to change many things, including the current challenges to peace and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

OBOR, by its very nature, requires stability and China will actively work on the multiple dimensions of the peace-building process to restore stability in the region. More economic and trade connectivity could result in fewer chances of direct conflict and wars.

The writer works at Khyber News.


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