When I tried to explain to my mom the topic of my PhD research project, she thought that I would literally deal with silk trade. However, the One Belt One Road Initiative or as it is also called predominantly in the Western media – the New Silk Road – will lead to more than just boosting sales of the Chinese silk. Since the Initiative was first introduced by the Chinese President Xi Jinpin in 2013, it has already taken some shape (more on the OBOR origins you can read in my previous post).
Its framework got further developed in the OBOR’s broadly sketched roadmap “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21-st-Century Maritime Silk Road” that was jointly issued by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, with the State authorization in March 2015. The Initiative aims to create the world’s largest platform for economic cooperation, including policy coordination, connectivity, trade and financing collaboration, and social and cultural cooperation.
According to the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), the OBOR contrasts sharply with existing treaty-based integration concepts where the geographical scope, partner countries, strategy, principles and rules are clearly defined at the outset. The initiative could be perceived as “a strategic framework allowing the Chinese Government to manage its infrastructure projects scattered across Asia, Africa and Europe in a more coherent manner”. It combines different foreign and domestic policies with existing and new political and financial cooperation mechanisms in a new geographical format (EPRS 2016: 1-5).
The OBOR Initiative is a foreign policy and an economic strategy of the People’s Republic of China. Theresa Fallon lists three major drivers for the OBOR Initiative: energy, security, markets (2015, 140). Min Ye categorized the articles on the OBOR in the CNKI database into three areas: economics, regional politics, and security (2015, 218). The OBOR Initiative has also been conceptualized under the wider frameworks of China’s new economic and partnership diplomacy, overarching China Dream and “Going out” policy, Chinese soft power strategy, public goods provision, etc. It is scrutinized vis-a-vis its various partner countries and regions: Europe, Africa, Russia and Central Asia, Western Balkans, Afghanistan and DPRK, etc. The OBOR Initiative is, therefore, indeed a major undertaking that can be interpreted and analyzed from various angles.
However, officially the OBOR is framed as a regional development initiative. According to the above-mentioned “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road” (2015), “the Belt and Road Initiative is a way for win-win cooperation that promotes common development and prosperity and a road towards peace and friendship by enhancing mutual understanding and trust, and strengthening all-round exchanges”. It should be “jointly built through consultation to meet the interests of all, and efforts should be made to integrate the development strategies of the countries along the Belt and Road” (NDRC 2015).
Moreover, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reports that the OBOR can be closely aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), since they both seek to build solid infrastructure, promote inclusive growth, foster sustainable industrialization, spur innovation and increase spending on rural infrastructure. Furthermore, linking the OBOR and SDGs will ensure that relevant programs contribute to the medium- and long-term development of the countries along the route (UNDP China 2015). Against this backdrop, in September 2016, the UNDP and the People’s Republic of China signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on cooperation on the OBOR Initiative. In November 2016, UNDP High-Level Policy Forum on Global Governance was held in Beijing to explore the modalities of the OBOR and its synergies with the existing global governance system, in particular the potential linkages between the OBOR, the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.