InternationalVolume 12 Issue # 20

The new Silk Road

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.