CHENNAI, India, 20 May 2017
In yet another attempt to establish itself as the dominating world force, China is now organizing the One Belt One Road (OBOR) Forum meeting in Beijing on 14-15 May.
The OBOR project involves a land route running from inner China to southern Europe via The Netherlands. It also involves a sea route connecting Shanghai port with the end point of the land-based route in Venice via India and Africa.
The project would involve an expenditure of about 5 trillion US dollars. The assets planned include ports, roads, and airports, and infrastructure for IT, telecom, etc. The project is supposed to connect 65 countries, half of the world population of 4.4 billion, and 30% of the global economy. Implementation of the project could take around 40 years.
OBOR is a very ambitious project and even can be termed an unrealistic project. China knows this too well, as do as several other countries who would participate in the meeting.
What is particularly significant for China about the OBOR project is that 16 of China’s 27 provinces are covered in the vision.
Apart from providing huge economic and trade opportunities for China, the OBOR project will enable China to become the nerve centre of the world economic and business activities, which will inevitably lead to its political dominance in the world.
China claims that OBOR is all about trade, and that it has no political objective. However, this view will have no takers.
Why are other countries participating?
Obviously, several countries including the United States and Western countries, are participating in the OBOR forum more as a matter of curiosity rather than any hope or faith in the ultimate objective of the forum.
Apart from curiosity, another reason that several countries in the world are participating in the meeting is to explore the trade opportunities that they can exploit in China. They want to ensure that they would not be left out, and at the present time they lose nothing by attending the meeting.
The main point of concern for several countries in the world is that this OBOR concept has been initiated by China and not by a neutral or world body such as the United Nations.
The proceedings of this forum cannot be viewed in the same manner as one would view the recent Paris climate conference where the United Nations took the initiative. Even the well-meaning Paris climate conference does not have a smooth way forward, as the Trump administration in the US is now objecting to decisions of the Paris climate conference, which threatens to derail the plans and objectives. Will the China-initiated OBOR project have better prospects?
Concerns about China
The world knows that the present government in China is highly ambitious and self-centred, and wants to dominate the world both economically and politically. Certainly China would desire that the OBOR project should move on in the way that it wants, and with China being the most important part of it with the most significant role.
China’s expansionist policies have already caused huge concern to the neighbouring countries, which are watching China’s actions with considerable anxiety. Countries like Japan and South Korea have military differences with China. Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries have disputes with China over the South China Sea. India has serious objection to the fact that the Belt and Road plan violates India’s sovereignty, as it passes through the disputed Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. China‘s economic corridor project now being implemented by it in Pakistan is being viewed by India with great anxiety due to the military implications.
Even while attending the forum meeting, the underlying fact that China has been occupying Tibet forcibly and is ruthlessly suppressing the local people cannot be ignored by the countries attending it. In the case of Tibet, China has ignored world opinion and gives the impression that it believes that force will always triumph.
The question that would be uppermost in the minds of the attending countries is whether China would become more transparent about its plans, and whether it would follow internationally-accepted standards on the environment, labour, and trade and political relationships in future.
All said and done, the Chinese government is a dictatorial one with one party ruling the country with no permission for any other party to even exist. Personal liberty for the Chinese citizens remains a big question mark in China. The ruling clique in the Communist party has also differences, and power struggle amongst the politburo members is not unknown. Therefore, stability of leadership in China may also be a matter of speculation.
The world today is full of conflicts, with every country acting in its own interests without a world view. Is the world going to become so different in the next forty years to become conflict-free, which would be a pre-condition for the One Belt One Road project mooted by China to succeed?
In short, the OBOR meeting in Beijing would be used as an opportunity by China to make it clear to the world that it is already a leader or would be a leader very soon amongst the world countries. China will be satisfied with the proceedings of the meeting if this objective would be achieved, while other countries attending the conference will leave Beijing wondering what they have achieved.
About the author
NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as a social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden, and working for probity in public life.