The OBOR (One Belt One Road) is China’s grandiose plan to recreate the ancient Silk Route. It was unveiled in 2013 by Chinese president, Xi Jinping and proposed to create the world’s largest platform for economic, social and cultural cooperation. The figures are mind- boggling too. The Plan is seven times larger than the erstwhile Marshall Plan (the US offer of aid to Europe after World War II). The proposed coverage area of OBOR encompasses 60 countries around Asia, Europe, Oceania and East Africa . It has a projected cumulative investment estimated at around US$ 5 Trillion, would serve a population of 4.4 billion and command a share a whopping 30 per cent of global economy.
The Silk Road was a network of trade routes, formally established during the Han Dynasty of China and was regularly used from 130 BCE to trade with the West. The first contact of China with the west however came much earlier around the year 200 CE when the Han dynasty made contact with Greco Bactrian kings (Greco Bactria is a confluence of Greek and Persian cultures after Alexander the Great conquered Persia). The Route stretched from China through India, Asia Minor, up throughout Mesopotamia, to Egypt, the African continent, Greece, Rome, and Britain.
The infatuation with silk continued even after the fall of the Roman Empire with its eastern half; the Byzantine Empire fuelling demand. It finally came to an end 1453 when the Turks invaded and the Ottoman Empire closed all routes to the West. The greatest value of the Silk Road was not only the commercial exchange of goods but the exchange of culture, art, religion, philosophy, technology, language, science, architecture etc that it brought along with it. The closing of the Silk Road forced merchants to take to the sea to ply their trade, thus initiating a positive world-wide interaction yet again.
OBOR Plan: Coming back to the OBOR, the action plan of 2015 has determined two main components: The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The Silk Road Economic Belt will offer three major routes connecting China to Europe (via Central Asia), the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean (through West Asia), and the Indian Ocean (via South Asia) while the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is planned to create connections among regional waterways. These corridors will be energy and industrial clusters comprising -rail, roads, waterways, airways, pipelines, and information highways to promote development in the areas. There are six main corridors:
New Eurasian Land Bridge, running from Western China to Western Russia
China–Mongolia–Russia Corridor, running from Northern China to Eastern Russia
China–Central Asia–West Asia Corridor, running from Western China to Turkey
China–Indochina Peninsula Corridor, running from Southern China to Singapore
Bangladesh-China-Myanmar Corridor, running from Southern China to Myanmar.
China–Pakistan Corridor, running from South-Western China to Pakistan
Besides the above Corridors, the Maritime Silk Road’s would run from the Chinese Coast through Singapore to the Mediterranean.
The OBOR is the outcome of the need to bridge the ‘infrastructure gap’ across the Asia-Pacific ,Central and Eastern Europe: Also China the ‘ World’s Manufacturer’ is seeking newer markets to absorb its excess production capacity. But its ultimate goal is to shift from low level manufacturing to higher level infrastructure goods i.e. high speed rail, energy generators and telecommunications equipment and markets which will find many takers in Asia and Europe rather than developed countries.
Nations fear that China is seeking regional hegemony in the name of leadership. The parameters of transparency, human rights and environmental standards they feel could perhaps be undermined with China calling the shots.
Poor countries would be heavily indebted to China, and this dependence could result in a compromise of their country’s national interests in the future.
Chinese bankers too are worried about the risks of investing such large sums of money. Many countries in the Plan have a sovereign credit rating below investment grade. Some countries are unstable, which poses security risks to Chinese companies and their workers
Conclusion : Like the Silk Route, China is confident that the OBOR too would be a grand success. And why not! The US is now following President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda and UK’s ‘Brexit’. Many smaller countries are therefore rushing to be part of China’s OBOR as American and UK markets will not perhaps welcome them anymore. ….There could not be a better time for OBOR.