OBOR is a red rag to Indian foreign policy planners. What is OBOR and how will it affect China-India ties? Is this treaty designed by the Chinese to push their products into the outside market? Or, is OBOR an instrument of colonialism?
What is OBOR?
These four letters will probably redefine Asia’s destiny. They stand for One Belt One Road. While this abbreviation sounds very straight and simple, there are a lot of hidden meanings in these four letters.
Several years ago, Xi Jinping, a leading Chinese expert had proposed that China rebuild the Old Silk Route and create a Maritime Silk Route. The operative words are ” create” and “rebuild”.
Several hundred years ago, the Silk Route had connected China with many Central Asian countries, the Middle East and Europe. If you are a student of history, then you will remember Marco Polo and his description of Silk Route.
The Maritime Silk Route is the ocean version of the land-based Silk Route and would link China with countries like Sri Lanka that are surrounded by seas.
Is OBOR really about trade?
Many people see this as a strategy by China to build markets in far-off countries like Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Eastern and Western Russia, West Asia, Turkey and even Singapore are also connected by OBOR.
There will be six trade routes that will connect China with other countries:
- New Eurasian Land Bridge that will connect Western China with Western Russia
- Northern China- Eastern Russia Corridor which will link pass through Mongolia
- Western China-West Asia Corridor that will go through Turkey
- China-Indochina Peninsula Corridor that will connect Singapore
- China -Pakistan Economic Corridor
- Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor
The Maritime Silk Route will connect Coastal China, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the Mediterranean Countries.
Isn’t this strategy huge and truly global in nature?
Who is Xi Jinping?
Xi is the Supreme Leader of China. He is the President of the Chinese Republic and the head of the ruling Communist Party of China. Xi is also the Chairman of the Central Miltary Commission of that country. That is why he is also called the Paramount Leader of China.
Xi is trying to bring in many changes in the Chinese polity. He has launched a war on corruption and is also trying to bring in several reforms within the Chinese society. According to many political observers, Xi wants to liberalize the internet and also aims to help the common citizen achieve his dreams. He has embarked upon three reforms- military, economic and political.
Much like Narendra Modi in India, Xi has also risen through the ranks and achieved the top position in China.
Xi has adopted a tough posture in foreign policy and has asserted Chinese rights over the South China Sea. He wants to liberalize trade and open new relationships with other countries on the basis of trade.
The Chinese Dream
Xi became the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012. Upon assuming office, he articulated his dream of encouraging every young Chinese to “dare to dream” for the benefit of China, socialism and the country’s prosperity. The OBOR project is closely related to his Chinese Dream.
Many people think that the Chinese Dream is the collective hope of the Chinese people to achieve past greatness. Some commentators think that it is an echo of the American Dream. However, the idea of the Chinese Dream predates its American counterpart by several years.
It is simplistic to say that the Chinese Dream alone has encouraged the idea of the seven Silk Routes. Many people do not realize that this idea has the backing of 60 other countries in Asia, Europe, and North East Africa. The benefits of this concept are too attractive to ignore. It is expected that cumulative investment because of the OBOR initiative will be between $3 trillion to $8 trillion.
There is a huge gap between demand and supply of infrastructure related products and services in Asia, Eastern Europe, and North Africa. Asia, excluding China, will need more than $900 billion in investments in the next 10 years. Currently, there is a shortfall of 50 % in this sector. This is the reason why many countries in Asia, East, and Central Europe are actively participating in the China led OBOR.
The association with Silk Route
OBOR is not just an economic program, it is much more than that. China is suggesting that these corridors will help in exchanging cultural ideas apart from helping trade and investment. Marco Polo mentions all these countries in his account of the Silk Road.
But some countries suggest that OBOR will be a tool to force the Chinese culture upon the local populations.
The Indian Stand
India opposes the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor for many reasons. A section of this corridor passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which India considers an infringement of its territory. This part of Kashmir is illegally occupied by Pakistan. A small part of this territory was ceded by Pakistan to China several years ago. India considers the whole of Kashmir as its own territory.
The other major reason why India opposes the CPEC and OBOR is also because of its economic consequences. This treaty will burden many countries with high debt.It will also lead to social unrest and civil strife. However, this reason is minor and masks India’s real intention.
India also opposes CPEC because indirectly, this infrastructure framework surrounds India with Chinese interests. We have a long-standing feud with China militarily. India is also a competitor to China on the global stage. With CPEC and OBOR around, India fears that China will gain an unfair advantage in Asia.
Trouble in Pakistan
Not every Pakistani is happy with CPEC. A few days back, there were violent protests in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir through which the CPEC will pass. There have been severe disturbances in Balochistan too. This part of Pakistan is very close to the Gwadar port which is an important town in the CPEC route.
The inherent threat of CPEC
IF CPEC was limited to trade and commerce, India would not have worried much. But, CPEC -which is a part of OBOR-has global perspectives. Many Indians think that the Chinese want to dominate the world with this One Belt One Road strategy. Other international experts agree with the Indians.
The main objective of OBOR is to dominate Asia by 2049 which marks the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Republic. This the most important threat that Indians perceive in the CPEC initiative.
India is not alone in opposing CPEC. Smaller countries like Sri Lanka and Bhutan too have supported India on this issue. Sri Lankan minister, Amunagama, told reporters that his country shares India’s concerns on this issue as it involves Kashmir. This is a major victory for India.
The Sri Lankan experience
There is a reason why the Lankan support India on CPEC. Sri Lanka faces a debt burden of $8billion today because of the inefficiencies in the Hambantota port. The Chinese want to manage the port but the Lankans have given them its limited control. The latter believe that the Chinese want a back door entry into Lanka. While the Sri Lankans want to be a part of the Maritime Silk Route, they are also aware of its long-term security consequences.
OBOR and Chinese economy
It is no secret that the Chinese economy is in shambles. The is an over-supply of Chinese steel and other finished products in the domestic market. Because of this glut, the local economy is not growing quickly enough. A few years ago, India overtook China in terms of GDP growth. Unless China finds new markets, its economy will continue to slide, many experts say.
According to them, the main objective of OBOR is to dump Chinese products abroad.
Is there a final No from India to OBOR?
No, India has not shut its doors to China on this issue. All that it wants is that the CPEC corridor should not pass through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. There is another forum, BRICS, that is another platform for international trade which comprises Russia, Brazil, India, China and South Africa.OBOR is not the only platform for doing business with China.
OBOR, therefore, is not the only platform for doing business with China.
However, India says that OBOR is not a very good idea to conduct business because it puts China in the center of this framework. Unstable economic situations in that country will unnecessarily stress the economies of other member nations, according to India.
Let us see how this transnational framework pans out in the next few years.