One Belt, One Road (OBOR)/Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

Shahid H. Raja
7 min readSep 21, 2023

Introduction

Unveiled in 2013, “One Belt, One Road (OBOR), also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is a visionary economic development and commercial endeavour spearheaded by Chinese President Xi Jinping. This ambitious project centres on enhancing connectivity and cooperation among numerous countries spanning across different continents. The project aimed to revive the ancient Silk Route that historically connected Asia and Europe, encompassing new territories and a wide array of development initiatives.

Dubbed the “Project of the Century,” BRI currently spans approximately 150 countries, making it one of the most extensive international projects in history. The total Chinese investment in BRI is estimated to exceed $ 8 trillion, allocated through a combination of grants and loans, facilitating the construction of an extensive network of roadways, railways, maritime ports, power grids, oil and gas pipelines, and various other associated infrastructure projects.

OBOR/BRI Corridors

The ‘Belt’ component primarily focuses on the development of land-based routes connecting China to Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Western Europe. Conversely, the ‘Road’ pertains to sea routes linking China’s southern coast to the Mediterranean, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central Asia. It comprises six major economic corridors, each strategically designed to enhance regional connectivity and trade:

A. New Eurasian Land Bridge: Establishes a vital link between Western China and Western Russia.

B. China-Mongolia-Russia Corridor: Connects Northern China to Eastern Russia via Mongolia.

C. China-Central Asia-West Asia Corridor: Links Western China to Turkey through Central and Western Asia

D. China-Indochina Peninsula Corridor: Connects Southern China to Singapore via Indochina

E. China-Pakistan Corridor: Establishes a trade route from southwestern China through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea.

F. Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor: Enhances connectivity between South China and India via Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Chinese Objectives

For China, OBOR holds significant importance.

  1. Boosting Domestic Growth: OBOR serves as a catalyst for China’s domestic economic growth and aligns with the country’s strategy for economic diplomacy.
  2. Development of Border Regions: By linking less-developed border regions like Xinjiang with neighbouring nations, China expects to stimulate economic activity in these areas.
  3. Regional Leadership: China views OBOR as an opportunity to emerge as a regional leader with a significant global footprint.
  4. Internationalization of the Yuan: Part of China’s strategy is to promote the international usage of its currency, the Yuan, particularly within the OBOR region.
  5. Legacy of President Xi Jinping: It represents a personal initiative of President Xi Jinping, who aims to leave a lasting legacy in history.
  6. Signature Foreign Policy Project: BRI has been enshrined in the Communist Party’s constitution, solidifying its status as a signature foreign policy project.
  7. Global Ambitions: China aspires to reshape the current world order, based on the Washington Consensus, with its own global world order rooted in the Beijing Consensus, with BRI serving as a central pillar of this ambition.

Global Benefits of OBOR/BRI

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as One Belt, One Road (OBOR), is one of the most ambitious infrastructure and economic development projects in modern history. Launched by China in 2013, this initiative aims to connect countries across Asia, Europe, Africa, and beyond through a network of railways, highways, ports, and other infrastructure projects. While the BRI has garnered mixed reactions and generated some controversy, there are significant global benefits associated with this initiative. This essay explores these benefits, highlighting how OBOR has the potential to increase global connectivity, prosperity, economic equality, peace, and recognition of developing countries.

A. Increased Global Connectivity

One of the primary objectives of OBOR is to enhance global connectivity by improving transportation and communication networks. This entails the construction of roads, railways, ports, and digital infrastructure that will facilitate the movement of goods, people, and information across borders. This increased connectivity has several positive implications:

  1. Trade Expansion: By reducing transportation costs and transit times, OBOR facilitates international trade. This can stimulate economic growth by opening up new markets and increasing the efficiency of existing ones. As trade flourishes, it helps boost the global economy.
  2. Cultural Exchange: Enhanced connectivity through OBOR encourages cultural exchange and people-to-people interactions. Increased tourism, educational exchanges, and cross-cultural understanding contribute to a more interconnected world.
  3. Technological Transfer: The infrastructure development associated with OBOR often involves technology transfer and collaboration. This benefits developing nations by allowing them to access advanced technology and expertise.

B. Increased World Prosperity

OBOR has the potential to significantly contribute to global prosperity:

  1. Economic Growth: The construction and operation of infrastructure projects create jobs and stimulate economic activity. This boost in economic growth can lead to a rise in the standard of living for people in the regions involved.
  2. Investment Opportunities: OBOR provides investment opportunities for countries and businesses worldwide. As infrastructure development advances, it creates new markets for investments, which can result in financial gains for a diverse range of stakeholders.
  3. Poverty Alleviation: By fostering economic development in underdeveloped regions, OBOR helps alleviate poverty. This is achieved through increased trade, job creation, and improved access to education and healthcare.

C. Greater Economic Equality

OBOR aims to reduce economic disparities between countries and regions:

  1. Development of Underserved Areas: Infrastructure development under OBOR targets less-developed areas, boosting their economic potential and reducing regional disparities.
  2. Inclusive Growth: The initiative promotes inclusive growth by creating opportunities for marginalized communities and ensuring that the benefits of economic development are more equitably distributed.
  3. Human Capital Development: OBOR often includes investments in education and healthcare, which are crucial for human capital development. This helps bridge the economic gap by providing people in developing countries with the skills and health needed to participate in a globalized economy.

D. Greater Peace

A less explored but critical benefit of OBOR is its potential to contribute to global peace.

  1. Conflict Mitigation: Economic development and reduced poverty resulting from OBOR can mitigate the conditions that often fuel conflicts and terrorism. Stable and prosperous societies are less likely to resort to violence.
  2. Interconnected Economies: As economies become more interconnected through OBOR, countries have a vested interest in maintaining peace and stability. This economic interdependence can act as a deterrent to conflict.
  3. Diplomatic Engagement: OBOR fosters diplomatic engagement and cooperation between countries, reducing the likelihood of disputes escalating into wars. It promotes dialogue and negotiation as preferred methods of conflict resolution.

E. Recognition of Developing Countries

OBOR emphasizes the importance of developing countries in global affairs:

  1. Empowering Developing Nations: Through infrastructure development and economic cooperation, OBOR empowers developing countries to play a more significant role in shaping global agendas. It strengthens their bargaining power and influence in international forums.
  2. Recognition of Cultural Diversity: The cultural exchange and collaboration fostered by OBOR underscore the rich diversity of developing countries’ cultures and histories, promoting a more inclusive and respectful global perspective.

Western Objections to the Belt and Road Initiative (OBOR)

While OBOR has garnered significant attention and support from many nations, it has also faced criticism and objections, particularly from Western countries. In this essay, we will explore the American and Western objections to OBOR, focusing on concerns related to debt burdens, environmental impacts, market dynamics, and geopolitical influence.

A. Increased Debt Burdens

One of the most prominent objections to OBOR is the concern that participating countries may face unsustainable levels of debt as a result of the initiative. Critics argue that BRI projects often require massive investments, which some developing nations may struggle to repay. This concern has several dimensions:

  1. Debt Dependency: Western nations worry that OBOR may lead to debt dependency, where participating countries become heavily indebted to China, potentially compromising their economic sovereignty.
  2. Opaque Financing: There are concerns about the lack of transparency in OBOR project financing. Critics argue that the terms of loans and contracts are often not disclosed publicly, raising suspicions about hidden obligations.
  3. Debt-for-Asset Swaps: There have been instances where countries unable to repay their debts to China have been compelled to hand over strategic assets or grant China greater influence in their domestic affairs.

B. Carbon-Intensive Futures

Environmental sustainability is another critical concern raised by Western countries regarding OBOR. Some argue that the initiative could lock countries into carbon-intensive development paths, exacerbating global environmental issues.

  1. Lack of Environmental Safeguards: Critics contend that many OBOR projects lack proper environmental safeguards, leading to deforestation, pollution, and other adverse ecological impacts.
  2. Emphasis on Fossil Fuels: Some Western nations are troubled by the focus on fossil fuel projects, such as coal-fired power plants, as part of OBOR. This could contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions and hinder global efforts to combat climate change.
  3. Missed Opportunities for Green Development: There is concern that OBOR could divert resources away from green and sustainable development initiatives, hindering progress toward a more environmentally friendly future.

C. Market Tilt Towards China

Western objections to OBOR also encompass concerns about market dynamics.

  1. Favouring Chinese Companies: Critics argue that BRI projects often give preferential treatment to Chinese companies, potentially limiting opportunities for international firms in major markets.
  2. Lack of Competitive Bidding: Some Western countries express concerns about the lack of competitive bidding in OBOR projects, which they see as undermining fair competition and transparency in global markets.
  3. Monopoly in Critical Industries: There are fears that OBOR could allow China to establish a near-monopoly in certain industries critical to infrastructure development, which could limit other nations’ economic influence.

D. Tighter Economic and Political Relationships

One of the most significant objections to OBOR from Western countries is the potential for the initiative to draw participant nations into deeper economic and political ties with China.

  1. Geopolitical Influence: Critics argue that as countries become more economically reliant on China through OBOR, they may be more susceptible to Beijing’s political influence and agenda.
  2. Loss of Sovereignty: Western nations worry that OBOR could lead to a loss of national sovereignty, as China gains greater leverage over the internal affairs of participant countries.
  3. Impact on Western Alliances: There are concerns that the deepening of economic and political ties between participant nations and China through OBOR could weaken existing Western alliances and security partnerships.

Conclusion

The Belt and Road Initiative (OBOR) holds the promise of delivering a range of global benefits. These include increased global connectivity, greater prosperity, economic equality, peace, and recognition of developing countries. While challenges and controversies exist, the potential positive impacts on the world cannot be underestimated. It is essential for all stakeholders to work together to maximize these benefits and address any concerns to ensure that OBOR contributes to a more interconnected, prosperous, and peaceful world.

From the book “International Relations: Basic Concepts and Global Issues”, published by Amazon and available at

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