Since 2013 China have been advertising the One Belt One Road initiative, a scheme to join a network of roads, ports, railways and other links from East China through Southeast and South Central Asia to Europe.
This belt of land based links is paired with the Maritime Silk Road, which stretches from Australia to Zanzibar. The initiative involves developing six economic “corridors”: 1. a China-Mongolia-Russia corridor; 2. a new Eurasian “Land Bridge”; 3. a corridor from China to Central Asia and Western Asia; 4. a China-Indochina peninsula corridor; 5. a China-Pakistan economic corridor; and 6. a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor.
Back in 2011, US President Barack Obama launched the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trading bloc across the Pacific region. The TPP is a trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States (until January 23, 2017) and Vietnam.
Now that Obama successor Donald Trump has carried out his pledge to withdraw from the TPP, the expectations are that Chinese-backed strategies like the OBOR will gain momentum. China experts say that this is a positive development, but there is scepticism over whether Beijing will follow through with the large amount of funding needed, whether big debt-financed projects bankrolled by China will benefit the recipient countries, and whether those projects will actually make sense in the long run.
China experts and economists say that the initiative makes sense and that it will accelerate as the U.S. turns more insular under Trump. “It is unfortunate that many U.S. diplomats and members of the previous administration worked for nearly a decade to push toward the TPP and now it is torn apart,” says Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics in Hong Kong. The U.S. is turning its back on the rest of the world at a time when the world needs an open and engaged America, he says. “It is very likely and understandable that China … will try to fill those gaps with this initiative, and that is very logical — it’s something the U.S. will later deeply regret,” Kuijs says.
One of the main factors driving the OBOR effort is the slowdown in China’s own economy. With this in mind the policies are seeing a drive to create new markets for Chinese goods, political influence in the region, and security for the country’s natural resources supply chain. The initiative is part of the larger plan to shift Chinese goods to markets and to create jobs for Chinese companies. The infrastructure also means that products can get from China to Europe in days rather than weeks – a significant reduction in cost and time.
It seems that moving forward without relying on trade from the US and other larger countries, and also Great Britain post Brexit, China is moving to become even more of a global trade super power. Realising that there has been a shift in the global trade agreements in recent years means that China is reacting proactively to an ever changing market. Forecasts show that the OBOR project may take half a century or more, but ultimately is more than likely to succeed.