The new Silk Road

Nasim Ahmed


The One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit held last week in Beijing was
a mega event. Leaders from 29 countries, including Philippine President
Rodrigo Duterte and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, as well as the
heads of the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank, attended the OBOR forum. Pakistan's delegation was one of the biggest, consisting of 11 senior leaders including the prime minister and chief ministers of all four provinces, and five members of the cabinet. The OBOR
summit was an important event for Pakistan, whose participation was crucial
by virtue of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The huge One Belt One Road project, unveiled in 2013 and championed
by Chinese President Xi Jinping is an ambitious one, and the May
14-15 summit was designed to overcome doubts and questions about it.
Addressing the summit, President Xi Jinping urged major multilateral institutions
to join his new Belt and Road Initiative, stressing the importance
of rejecting protectionism in seeking global economic growth. He said it
was necessary to coordinate policies with the development goals of institutions,
including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), ASEAN,
African Union and the European Union. President Xi also pledged $124
billion for his new Silk Road which aims to bolster China's global leadership
ambitions by expanding links between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond. The Chinese president emphasised the need to improve policy coordination
and reject beggar-thy-neighbour practices. He rightly said that we need
to seek win-win results through greater openness and cooperation, avoid
fragmentation, refrain from setting inhibitive thresholds for cooperation or
pursuing exclusive arrangements and reject protectionism.
One Belt One Road is a developmental and an infrastructure-building
project which is truly a game changer. No wonder, it has frightened the US,
leader of the current global economic and political order. Washington interprets
OBOR as an attempt by China to redraw the global order. The
most puzzling in this regard has been the reaction of India which boycotted
the Beijing conclave. Even the US and Japan sent delegations to the summit
in Beijing but Delhi stayed away. Some time back India unfurled its own
Act East, Neighbourhood First and Go West policies and claimed that connectivity
is at the heart of its foreign policy. But, contradicting itself, Delhi
opted out of OBOR on the pretext of debt traps and financial responsibility.
New Delhi has also objected to CPEC on the ground that the Gilgit-
Baltistan region is integral to the Kashmir issue. CPEC is only a part of
OBOR, which has already drawn in virtually all of India's neighbours. It is
relevant to point out here that the growth of relations between China and
India itself has proved that trade and economic cooperation can reduce
political tensions and create enough incentives for long-term disputes to
not turn into open conflict. But as some analysts have rightly pointed out,
India sees itself as a global power to rival China and is loath to join any
venture initiated by the latter.
Pakistan took a leading part in the OBOR deliberations. Speaking at
the summit, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that the China-Pakistan Economic
Corridor (CPEC) had no geographical boundaries and, therefore, it
must not be politicised. He said that in implementing this corridor, "we are
not striving to merely leverage geography for economic prosperity; we are
also trying to build a peaceful, connected and caring neighbourhood". He
pointed out that peace and development go hand in hand and nothing
could pave the path for peace and security more than economic development
achieved through regional collaboration. He informed the gathering
that Pak-China joint infrastructure, energy and industrial projects were
moving as planned. Many of these will be completed by, or even before,
their timelines.
According to him, unprecedented economic, social and cultural benefits
will accrue from CPEC – not just for the people of Pakistan, but also for
the people of the entire region. CPEC makes Pakistan both a conduit and
destination for cross-regional investment and trade. CPEC is producing
new entrepreneurs, creating new jobs and businesses and attracting international
investment. It will build critical pathways in the years to come
for economic and financial cooperation, business-to-business collaboration,
and people-to-people contacts. A prime need in this connection is to
set up a monitoring mechanism to ensure expeditious completion of the
projects in the pipeline.
One Belt-One Road is an inter-continental mega-project that integrates
infrastructure, energy, trade, telecommunications, investment and industrial
development. OBOR embraces three continents Asia, Africa and Europe.
It covers half of the world population, half of its resources, and 65
countries. According to experts, it would help in eradicating poverty and
achieving Sustainable Development, leaving no one behind. OBOR is seen
as the dawn of a truly new era of synergetic intercontinental cooperation.
If OBOR succeeds in achieving its objectives, it would generate an endless
cycle of mutually beneficial trade and economic benefits for billions living
in the three continents.