Over the last 2,000 years, China has acquired significant recognition for its innovation and also for its ability to move forward with its ideas.
In 2013, this evolving scenario within the international paradigm was reflected in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s introduction of the Belt and Road Initiative.
This attracted attention among institutions, both domestic and international and set forth a revolutionary concept pertaining to development and inter-regional cooperation among Asian, African, and European countries.
The Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road idea juxtaposed within its matrix the possibility of a constructive engagement in facets like infrastructure, industrial parks, ports, economic zones, and port logistics networking.
The idea was to create connectivity among the countries of the three continents so that there could be promotion and free flow of goods and services, capital, personnel, and technology.
As explained by the Chinese leadership in the subsequent years, it was believed that this would facilitate developmental momentum and strategic integration not only within China but also among other countries within this One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.
One may assume that it was this scenario that eventually led the Chinese leadership to think of the bigger picture.
It was believed that if the OBOR initiative could be introduced successfully, then the emerging connectivity that would link China overland with Central Asia, Middle East, Russia, and Europe and by sea through Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean to Africa would not only generate economic growth engines and development through coordination and cooperation but would also be mutually beneficial for China and other countries.
Economists within this paradigm are also focused on another important factor -- developing a common bond market and establishing new financial institutions that could strengthen the evolving process of connectivity among the stakeholders.
This has led to the creation of new financial institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Interbank Consortium of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Since 2015, a consensus has gradually emerged among the interested parties that the OBOR exercise was quite complex and definitely needed in-depth discussion and exchange of views not only among the political leadership but also the bureaucratic structures within different countries.
It is agreed that this exercise will be required in the context of infrastructure growth, legal alignment and acceptability in terms of uniform rules and technical standards.
Xi Jinping delivers
Within this perspective, nations are now being urged to merge their own development efforts within the relevant bigger regional cooperation network. This, it is agreed, will help to remove limitations and at the same time create superior logistic networks.
Such a step, it is believed, will be particularly helpful for developing countries whose economies not only have a per capita GDP measured at less than half of the world’s average but also require long-term investment support and cooperation from public funds and financial institutions. It is considered that the AIIB’s role would be particularly useful in this regard.
Chinese President Xi in his remarks during the OBOR Forum held in Beijing on May 14, 2017 has pointed out that the “Belt and Road development does not shut out, nor is it directed against any party.” He acknowledged that there are a myriad challenges the world faces right now -- sluggish trade and investment, wobbling economic globalisation, increasingly unbalanced development, impact from large-scale migration of refugees and immigrants, as well as wars, conflicts and acts of terrorism.
At the same time, he drew the attention of the audience to the principle of inter-dependence between nations. Other speakers also underlined that there was a need for countries to align their policies and to integrate economic factors and resources in a global scale to help create synergy to promote world peace, stability, and shared development.
China has already committed $124 billion for the OBOR project. Under this circumstance, it was correctly reiterated during the OBOR meeting in Beijing that this Chinese initiative could play an important part in future international economic development.
However, it was also underlined that there was need for participants to undertake required measures by -- (a) drawing a development blueprint through joint consultation, (b) achieving connectivity through common development and (c) by sharing development opportunities and results.
The OBOR discussions in Beijing agreed that constructive cooperation will help to increase the potential to translate consensus into action directed towards building of bridges between people and also help to raise less developed countries out of the poverty-trap.
The door has been opened for us and we need to walk through it. We need to have confidence in ourselves
One aspect however drew the attention of all the participants -- India’s boycott of the OBOR meeting. India’s main objection to the OBOR plan was that a segment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) considered as part of the OBOR equation passed through parts of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State that India claims as its territory.
Observers indicated that this approach did not find general support. In fact, a columnist, Girish Shahane pointed out that India should stop deluding itself that Gilgit-Baltistan was part of India. Instead, Shahane urged India to understand that China had helped build the Karakorum Highway with the agreement of Pakistan decades ago. Consequently, the current on-going upgrade of the CPEC as part of the OBOR initiative should not have to suffer because of “narrow-mindedness.”
The other aspect that put a slight dent on the OBOR proceedings in Beijing was the refusal on the part of Germany, Estonia, and Hungary, all members of the European Union, to sign the document on trade prepared by the OBOR Forum. They apparently did so because according to them, the text of the document does not sufficiently address European concerns on transparency of public procurement, social and environmental standards.
Bangladesh has shown great interest in both sub-regional and regional connectivity in the form of BICM Economic Corridor as well as through BIMSTEC. Consequently, during its participation in Beijing, its delegation tried to identify areas of potential involvement within the OBOR equation. They did so knowing fully well that the near future will see China being able to move forward in this exercise.
Bangladesh, for obvious reasons, does not want to be left behind. China today is her biggest trading partner and a potential source of foreign direct investment. Bangladesh also wants to be included in the wider circle of friends of China who are going to be included by China for sharing of space related technologies. China, it may be noted is taking the OBOR paradigm forward and is accelerating the construction and application of the Space Information Corridor in terms of earth observation, communications and broadcast, navigation and positioning.
The potential within the OBOR is immense. We were requested to join this stream by the Chinese President when he came to Bangladesh in October last year.
The door has been opened for us and we need to walk through it. We need to have confidence in ourselves.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance, can be reached at [email protected]