Home > 2017 > Highlights of the OBOR Forum: An Analysis

Mainstream, VOL LV No 22 New Delhi May 20, 2017

Highlights of the OBOR Forum: An Analysis

Saturday 20 May 2017

by Jajati K. Pattnaik

The OBOR (One Belt One Road) Forum for International Cooperation was held at Beijing on May 14-15, 2017 to build the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. New Delhi boycotted the meeting because the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India. As Gopal Baglay, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said, “Regarding the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is being projected as the flagship project of the OBOR, the international community is well aware of India’s position. No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He also added: “Connectivity projects must be pursued in a manner that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The top leaders from the US and Europe did not participate in the summit; they sent their low-level key official representatives to the OBOR meet. However, a few world leaders like Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the Forum meet. Hence, the success of OBOR as a global forum remains uncertain at this stage. The following are some of the highlights of the OBOR Forum on various aspects of this transnational project.

Reinventing Civilisational Linkages

During the opening ceremony, Chinese President Xi Jinping traced back the early civilisations and highlighted the role of ancient cities that strengthened cross-country trade and cultural linkages flourishing the free flow of knowledge, religion and philosophy beyond the geospatial boundaries. He said: “The ancient silk routes spanned the valleys of the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus and Ganges and the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. They connected the birthplaces of the Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian and Chinese civilisations as well as the lands of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam and homes of people of different nationalities and races. These routes enabled people of various civilisations, religions and races to interact with and embrace each other with open mind. In the course of exchange, they fostered a spirit of mutual respect and were engaged in a common endeavor to pursue prosperity. Today, the ancient cities of Jiuquan, Dunhuang, Tulufan, Kashi, Samarkand, Baghdad and Constantinople as well as the ancient ports of Ningbo, Quanzhou, Guangzhou, Beihai, Colombo, Jeddah and Alexandria stand as living monuments to these past interactions. This part of history shows that civilisation thrives with openness and nations prosper through exchange.”

 He further said: “The ancient silk routes were not for trade only, they boosted flow of knowledge as well. Through these routes, Chinese silk, porcelain, lacquer work and ironware were shipped to the West, while pepper, flax, spices, grape and pomegranate entered China. Through these routes, Buddhism, Islam and Arab astronomy, calendar and medicine found their way to China, while China’s four great inventions and silkworm breeding spread to other parts of the world. More importantly, the exchange of goods and know-how spurred new ideas. For example, Buddhism originated in India, blossomed in China and was enriched in South-East Asia. Confucianism, which was born in China, gained appreciation by European thinkers such as Leibniz and Voltaire. Herein lies the appeal of mutual learning.”

But in practice it is to be seen how far this religious syncretism, spelt out by the Chinese President, would pay off in securing free flow of trade and culture etc. given the nature of religio-cultural differences in the contemporary international relations.

Reminding Panchsheel

President Jinping recalled the Panchsheel to cement a good and stable neighbourhood. As he mentioned, “China will enhance friendship and cooperation with all countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. We are ready to share practices of development with other countries, but we have no intention to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, export our own social system and model of development, or impose our own will on others. In pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, we will not resort to outdated geopolitical manoeuvring. What we hope to achieve is a new model of win-win cooperation. We have no intention to form a small group detrimental to stability, what we hope to create is a big family of harmonious co-existence.”

His idea is fine. But the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), that legally belongs to India, contradicts Xi’s reintroduced thesis of peaceful co-existence.

Pakistan: A Key Partner

Pakistan has extended strong support to the OBOR project. Participating in the forum Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif remarked: “The OBOR signifies that geo-economics must take precedence over geo-politics and that the centre of gravity should shift from conflict to cooperation. We stand at the cusp of a geo-economic revolution. In fact, this is the dawn of a truly new era of synergetic intercontinental cooperation.”

In order to draw the attention of India, he said: “Let me make it very clear that CPEC is an economic undertaking open to all countries in the region. It has no geographical boundaries. It must not be politicised. It is time we transcend our differences, resolve conflicts through dialogue and diplomacy, and leave a legacy of peace for future generations.”

The contradiction herein is that Sharif’s call for greater economic cooperation in the region is not matched by his actions. It is pertinent to mention here is that the cross-border terror emanating from Pakistan has hindered the prospects of any economic cooperation in the region. So, the onus of responsibility lies how effectively Islamabad counters terror networks for the resumption of dialogue and diplomacy for the success of any kind of economic venture.

Free Trade and Inclusive Development

Beijing focused on free trade, technology-driven development, financial investment, equity and inclusive development in the OBR meet. President Jinping said: “Trade is an important engine driving growth. We should embrace the outside world with an open mind, uphold the multilateral trading regime, advance the building of free trade areas and promote liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment. Of course, we should also focus on resolving issues such as imbalances in development, difficulties in governance, digital divide and income disparity and make economic globalization open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial to all.”

He observed: “We should build the Belt and Road into a road of innovation. Innovation is an important force powering development. The Belt and Road Initiative is new by nature and we need to encourage innovation in pursuing this initiative.

“We should pursue innovation-driven development and intensify cooperation in frontier areas such as digital economy, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and quantum computing, and advance the development of big data, cloud computing and smart cities so as to turn them into a digital silk road of the 21st century. We should spur the full integration of science and technology into industries and finance, improve the environment for innovation and pool resources for innovation. We should create space and build workshops for young people of various countries to cultivate entrepreneurship in this age of the internet and help realise their dreams.”

He further added: “China will scale up financing support for the Belt and Road Initiative by contributing an additional RMB 100 billion to the Silk Road Fund, and we encourage financial institutions to conduct overseas RMB fund business with an estimated amount of about RMB 300 billion. The China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China will set up special lending schemes respectively worth RMB 250 billion equivalent and RMB 130 billion equivalent to support Belt and Road cooperation on infrastructure, industrial capacity and financing. We will also work with the AIIB, the BRICS New Development Bank, the World Bank and other multilateral development institutions to support Belt and Road related projects. We will work with other parties concerned to jointly formulate guidelines for financing the Belt and Road related development projects. China will endeavor to build a win-win business partnership with other countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, enhance trade and investment facilitation with them, and build a Belt and Road free trade network.”

But the ground-reality is quite different. Most of the African and Asian countries, clubbed in the OBOR project, are not at par with China in terms of socio-economic development. Even some of them are grappling with deep economic divides and huge social disparities. The question arises here: would they be able to repay the loans lent by those profiteering financial institutions? The answer is certainly ‘No’. As a consequence, the OBOR project would create space for market imperialism often forcing them to fall into a debt-trap situation. In that case, China may use its geo-economic strategy for larger geo-political interests, even in terms of intervening in their domestic affairs in the long-run perspective.

References

Atul Aneja, “Xi Jinping Evokes Panchsheel as India Skips Belt and Road Meet”, The Hindu (New Delhi), May 14, 2017, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/all-countries-should-respect-each-others-sovereignty-xi/article18451019.ece?homepage=true

The Global Times (Beijing), taken from Xinhua, May 14, 2017, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1046925.shtml

“India Boycotts China’s Belt and Road Meet, Mounts Diplomatic Pressure against CPEC”, Financial Express, May 14, 2017, http://www.financialexpress.com/world-news/india-boycotts-chinas-belt-and-road-meet-mounts-diplomatic-pressure-against-cpec/668237/

The Nation (Lahore), May 15, 2017, http://nation.com.pk/national/15-May-2017/cpec-open-to-all-must-not-be-politicised-pm

Dr Jajati K. Pattnaik is an Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Jomin Tayeng Government Model Degree College, Roing, Arunachal Pradesh. He was formerly a Visiting Scholar at the Gulf Studies Programme, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62