Friday, April 19, 2024
CommentaryGlobalization reinvented: China’s belt and road initiative

Globalization reinvented: China’s belt and road initiative

The One Belt, One Road (OBOR) global projects cannot be an easy task. Though endorsed by many and embraces billions of populations, it may lead to proxy conflicts as China rises and rises in its soft power. Security challenges along the OBOR line will be a bigger challenge and China will be forced to establish military bases in many parts of the world. Skirmishes and controversies related to environmental protection will be raised here and there, Melaku Mulualem and Leulseged Girma.

Globalization, as many try to authenticate, is not a 20th century innovation. It fairly goes back to the ancient Silk Road that joined Asia, Europe and Africa mainly for trade purposes. Owing to this history, the origin of globalization is definitely the East. But the West is highly credited for the 20th century model of globalization which is currently being challenged by so many initiatives including the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative that has been endorsed by so many country leaders, international organizations and corporations. 

Some view the current globalization as the manifestation of Western capitalism and modernization. Economists call it forced harmonization since it forces governments to be in the process by opening their economies. There were stringent economic criteria countries should follow. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) were the key instruments for the implementation of the 20th century globalization. Developed countries benefited a lot from globalization since they were rich in having the required infrastructure to facilitate and sustain development. Underdeveloped nations were segregated from the benefits of globalization due to the lack these basic infrastructure.

In its extremely ambitious economic initiative, China decided to reach and connect many developed and developing nations through land and maritime silk routes. It is undertaking this bold and colossal intercontinental project after it has accumulated its soft power to its peak. It is now projecting this power with Road and Belt Initiative with a more global scope covering areas such as Eastern Asia, Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Latin America. 

The OBOR has become one of the most important issues of the 21st century which most witnessed as the derivation of Chinese vision and wisdom. Currently, it is graded as second to none. As compared to the West-led globalization, the OBOR does not contain a set of forced harmonization strategies. Engines of the Western-led globalization are the Washington Consensus, WB, IMF and the like. In the new Silk Road globalization model, the engines are Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Brazil, Russia India China and South Africa (BRICS), New Development Bank, Shanghai Cooperation Organization financial institutions and the Silk Road Fund and related agencies. 

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The One Belt, One Road is the restoration of the ancient Silk Road with wider coverage that connects 65 countries through Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. This great initiative of China is in harmony with the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) number eight and nine that focuses on economic growth and infrastructure development.

The infrastructure is what countries need the most. Roads, railways, sea ports, air ports, power plants, oil and gas pipelines, refineries, telecoms and free trade zones and related information technology supports are some of the infrastructural necessities.    

The OBOR covers wide range of sectors including transport, energy, communication, investment, trade, industry, finance, education, tourism and technology sectors. China has unwaveringly decided to take on more responsibilities and obligations in financing these extremely large projects along the designed global project. It is believed that this initiative will fill the gaps and injustices which were part and parcel of globalization from the West. Unlike this, the OBOR embraces countries based on partnership and willingness only.      

China’s initiative includes as many countries as possible. Being a country and endorsing the OBOR are the only criteria required to work together. It is through this inclusive strategy that the world goes together and peace and prosperity can be ensured. The subjective treatment of the 20th century globalization has no place in the Silk Road Initiative.

Countries that are part of the OBOR can easily acquire support from the SRF. This is accompanied by no strings attached to it and China’s non-interference policy. This initiative of China will help governments to develop their infrastructure within a short period of time. Technology and related knowledge can be transferred from China to countries along the OBOR. Job creation will be ensured. The OBOR countries will strengthen their regional integration initiatives through the infrastructure envisaged in the global projects. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) will increase in the countries. China has also promised thousand of scholarship to students from the OBOR countries. This paves the way for an integrated globalization which is very open and inclusive. 

As Joseph S. Nye, Jr. defines it, soft power is the means to success in world politics. It is the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion. China is now excelling in projecting its soft power with the help of its construction companies and engineers at the forefront. China’s soft power will definitely on the rise. Its current initiative is also the result of an increase in its soft power. Soft power is “a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence”. It will also benefit from the engagement of its largest workforce, raw materials and big economic returns. Its friendly approach to the OBOR countries will result in effective bilateral and multilateral relations.

China will be the greatest trading partner to the OBOR countries. Its trading amount will be counted in trillions. Under this project, China is financing more than a third of the nuclear power plant in Britain. It covered 70 percent of the USD four billion Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway (the first Africa’s transnational electric railway). It is investing USD 46 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and it is leading a USD six billion investment in Laos to connect eight Asian countries.

An expert on China studies, Pieter Bottelier, said that he is concerned that OBOR’s significance is underrated in the US and in the West in general. China is now investing in developed, developing and least developing countries in the world. The main issue here is that China is doing all these through its own state-led initiatives.

The OBOR global projects cannot be an easy task. Though endorsed by many and embraces billions of populations, it may lead to proxy conflicts as China rises and rises in its soft power. Security challenges along the OBOR line will be a bigger challenge and China will be forced to establish military bases in many parts of the world. Skirmishes and controversies related to environmental protection will be raised here and there. China will be the sole provider of skilled manpower to OBOR countries for some time to come. There will be a fierce competition among Chinese companies and companies of the OBOR countries. Language barrier is also another obstacle but may result in an increase in Chinese speakers in OBOR countries. On the other hand Chinese are required to study different languages of countries alongside the OBOR.

To reduce the negative feelings and skepticism and possible proxy conflicts from the non-OBOR countries, China has to open a trilateral project execution on some of the projects. Corporations from the Western world should be invited and provided with opportunities of engagement in the OBOR. The security challenges will be reduced significantly if China works with OBOR countries and regional organizations closely. Continuous and transparent environmental impact assessment is very important especially before the commencement of any infrastructure building. OBOR countries should fully understand the concept of Chinese global initiative so that they can explore maximum benefit from the initiative and they will be able to retain the knowledge that makes them pursue sustainable development. Successive researches and forums should be organized if the BRI is to be achieved. Think tanks from China and OBOR countries should work together to influence policy and decision-making in each country.

Pools of country leaders, UN agencies and international organizations endorsed the OBOR. Many of them labeled it a brand initiative. The OBOR is something rooted in a shared vision says UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and called on the international community to join and support it. He is certain that China is continually increasing its contribution to UN peacekeeping, growth, stability and prosperity. He associated the OBOR with sustainable development goals and assured UN’s support for the initiative. He sees the global initiative as Chinese political wisdom and courage to seize the momentum that echoes with UN’s Sustainable development Goals (SDGs).

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet described OBOR as the biggest economic cooperation project in place today. Czech President Milos Zeman perceived the OBOR as the most significant project in all our modern history. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia said that OBOR is the largest and non-conflicting economic cooperation of the 21st century. We highly value the importance of this initiative for people-to-people contact, cultural exchanges and tourism, and we see the great opportunities in the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made clear that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an economic undertaking, is open to all countries in the region. Special envoy of British Prime Minister Theresa May, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond expressed his belief that Britain, locating at the western end of the Belt and Road, is a natural partner in this endeavor.

As Special envoy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Minister of Economic Affairs Brigitte Zypries described the OBOR aims to improve infrastructure between Asia and Europe. Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly described the global project as something that brings enormous benefits to all involved and serves as a main driver of the global transformation emerged by the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said that the initiative of China is the most remarkable for just the size of the aspiration. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde applauded it as something with the aim of connecting cultures, communities, economies, and people, and about adding new economic flavors by creating infrastructure projects that are based on 21st-century expertise and governance standards. World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevedo emphasized the importance of infrastructure and praised the initiative of China for its huge importance in responding to this need. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum says the OBOR is a pioneering and international framework which does not need a leader, but a curator who acts as a catalyst and coordinator for ensuring win-win outcomes.

The mastermind behind the OBOR, President Xi Jinping of China, said that the OBOR is the pursuit of peace and stable environment while reinventing the wheel of the old Silk Road. According to him it is a new type of international relation with strong friendship and no confrontation and without violating each country’s sovereignty, dignity and territorial integrity, own development paths and social systems, core interests and major concerns. The president emphasized that the OBOR is meant to change the state of affairs of places that are often associated with conflict, turbulence, crisis and challenge through fostering the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, and creating a security environment built and shared by all. President Xi gives priority to formation of a bigger and harmonious family that coexists rather than alliances or small groups detrimental to stability. He underlined that there is no geopolitical maneuvering in the OBOR rather a new model of win-win cooperation prevails.

China is today a global economic power house. As many agree, if everybody behaves the same way, the world would have been better. It has created a win-win situation with many beneficiaries in the global project framework. China has determined to invest heavily to make itself and OBOR countries richer. This is the 21st century promising and true model of globalization.

In 1970, the US was responsible for 21.2 percent of the total global economic output. In the same year, China was responsible only for 4.1 percent. In 2015, US’s share of responsibility declined to 16.7 percent and China’s output contribution became 15.6 percent in the same year. US’s contribution is continually falling and it will become 16.7 percent by 2025. China is rising and it will have a 17.2 percent contribution of world output by 2025.

The initiative is about connectivity and cooperation with the aim of shared responsibility. As Ethiopia’s Premier articulated, it will increase OBOR countries competitiveness in the international market. The goals of the Silk Road economic belt are acceleration of policy communication, improvement of road connectivity, promotion of unimpeded trade, enhancement of monetary integration and people to people bond. 

While the United States has continued in Trump’s “America First” futile ambition, China is building its silk road to connect more than 60 percent of the world with the aim of fostering trade and cultural ties. The leadership of globalization is coming back to its birth place. This is hugely witnessed by Brexit, America First, migration policy, xenophobia and preconditions from IMF and the WB. China’s approaches are win-win strategies and they are friendly, inclusive and sustainable.

Ed’s Note: Melaku Mulualem and Leulseged Girma are researchers in international relations and geopolitics. The views expressed in this article are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter or other institutions they are affiliated with. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.

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