Tuesday August 20, 2019

China’s One Belt One Road Summit

May 15, 2017

This past weekend, Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted a two-day summit on his One Belt One Road initiative. One Belt One Road (OBOR), also referred to as the “New Silk Road,” is an ambitious infrastructure initiative first announced by Xi in 2013. The weekend summit was attended by 28 world leaders and more than 1,000 global representatives. The forum renewed Xi’s commitment to the OBOR and discussed plans for its development and progress.

The global implications of this trillion dollar enterprise are immense. The program plans to consist of roads, railways, and maritime routes connecting China to Asia and into both Europe and Africa. According to Chinese reports, agreements with 68 countries and international organizations have already been signed. Along with the huge turnout for the summit, this is clear evidence of the global reach and impact this plan already has. President Trump even sent his Asia consultant and National Security Council official, Matthew Pottinger, to attend the forum.

The rhetoric of the forum emphasized international cooperation, economic globalization, and mutual dialogue. It also spoke of joining together to increase connectivity, fight climate change, and strive towards a better world. It mentioned the importance of principles of peace, mutual benefit, equal consultation, harmony, transparency, inclusiveness, balance, and stability.

Beyond the obvious economic, infrastructure, and global trade elements of this massive undertaking, are its domestic motivations and geopolitical implications. Xi Jinping is clearly working to position China as a global leader, using a Marshall Plan style program to expand his global influence and clout. These efforts were originally seen as a reaction to President Obama’s Pivot to Asia policy and, more specifically, as a rival to his Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) plan to create an American defined trade structure in the region. With the new U.S. administration putting a stop to the TPP, Xi Jinping’s emphasis on the importance of globalization and international cooperation can now be seen as a stark contrast to President Trump’s new “America First” attitude.

Xi is striving to become the type of leader the U.S. was after World War II, when the U.S. adopted the role as a benevolent global hegemon helping the world repair itself through post-war aid efforts like the Marshall Plan while simultaneously working to restructure the global order. Now, China is using its own economic power to create a new version of globalization and international trade that will no longer center around the U.S. but on a new axis–China.

Domestically, as China grows in power and prestige in the eyes of the world, so too does China’s ruling Communist Party, and Xi Jinping in particular, in the eyes of the Chinese people. The timing of this summit is especially important for China’s upcoming 19th National Congress of the Communist Party.  Party legitimacy and domestic stability are perhaps the two most important considerations for the Chinese government when determining policy, foreign policy included. As can be seen by the fanfare and media coverage surrounding Xi’s forum, OBOR is being used by Xi Jinping to solidify his base at home and equate his leadership with China’s growing strength. The economic and infrastructure components of the plan are also tools to help boost China’s slowing economy and provide a market for China’s large oversupply of building materials, guaranteeing a future for a struggling sector of China’s economy.

Given how strongly linked OBOR is to China’s larger priorities and policy strategies, it is important for outside parties to take a close look at the details of the plan, especially since the project reaches over 60% of the global population. Currently, much of what is known of the plan is either the broad strokes of its main concept and intentions or the specifics of individual projects, rather than a comprehensive blueprint. The level of involvement of foreign countries and international organizations in the development of the details will be a vital factor determining international support and confidence in this plan and would go a long way to assuage fears and concerns about China’s leadership. The Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation is slated for 2019 where, hopefully, a clearer picture of One Belt One Road Initiative will take shape.

Full Texts:

 Joint communique of leaders roundtable of Belt and Road forum

List of deliverables of Belt and Road forum

Additional Reading:

LA Times, “China’s Belt and Road Forum lays groundwork for a new global order

Bloomberg, “One Belt, One Road, One Man

NY Times, “Behind China’s $1 Trillion Plan to Shake Up the Economic Order

Time, “China Says It’s Building the New Silk Road. Here Are Five Things to Know Ahead of a Key Summit

Compiled and edited by Ariane Rosen