World View: China Launches ‘One Belt One Road,’ Raising Objections and Violent Protests

Chinese President Xi Jinping's buttoned-up style will stand in marked contrast to tha

This morning’s key headlines from

  • China forum launches the decades-long ‘One Belt One Road’ project
  • Laborers on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) shot dead on Saturday

China forum launches the decades-long ‘One Belt One Road’ project

China's 'One Belt One Road' project will include overland and maritime trade routes between China and Europe (CNN)
China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ project will include overland and maritime trade routes between China and Europe (CNN)

On Sunday, 28 heads of state, 100 lower-level government officials, and 1,200 delegates from 110 countries will attend China’s “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) forum in Beijing. It is also called the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) summit.

The romantic appeal behind the Belt and Road project is that it is a modern-day version of the ancient “Silk Road,” a collection of trade routes regularly used between 100 BC to 1400 AD by traders carrying goods back and forth between China and Europe. The name comes from the popularity of Chinese silk in the Roman Empire.

However, as the map above shows, the new Silk Road is not simply an overland route. The Belt and Road project consists of two parts:

  • The Economic Belt is a collection of hugely ambitious land-based infrastructure projects, including a train line stretching from eastern China to London.
  • The Maritime Silk Road is a sea-based network of shipping lanes and port developments throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans to the Mediterranean Sea and Europe.

The OBOR includes infrastructure projects that have already been under development since the 1990s. China plans to invest hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 50 years or so to complete the project.

Whether the project will ever be completed is, of course, open to doubt. There is already been one large, spectacular failure. In 2009, China invested $1.2 billion in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota seaport. Sri Lanka had expected to repay the debt through profits earned by the port, but the slowdown in trade throughout the entire region in the last few years has meant that Sri Lanka has been unable to repay the debt, and now China has essentially taken over the port in lieu of repayment of the debt, resulting in violent protests by Sri Lanka’s Buddhist monks and anti-government protesters.

Because the project is so expensive, so long-term, and so unrealistic, many people are suspicious that China’s motives are more complex. The Sri Lanka port project shows what can happen – China invests a lot of money in an infrastructure project in a country, and thereby gains political influence or sovereignty in the country, or even ownership of the infrastructure. Even if the OBOR is never completed, a successful outcome for China would be a strong economic and military grip in countries throughout the region. South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and CNN and China Daily and Time

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Laborers on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) shot dead on Saturday

One part of the Belt and Road initiative is known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Over 10-20 years, at a cost of $46 billion, CPEC will supposedly build a network of roads, railways and energy pipelines aiming to connect western Chinese cities, starting from China’s easternmost city Kashgar in Xinjiang province, to the sea port in Gwadar on the Indian Ocean in Balochistan province in southern Pakistan. It will have both economic and military components. Power generation, transport, commerce, R&D and the defense of Pakistan all will be increasingly tied to Chinese investment, supplies and interests.

(The CNN map above does not depict the CPEC project. Nor does it depict the “Caspian Trade Corridor” which is also part of OBOR.)

On Saturday, ten laborers working in southern Balochistan province on the CPEC infrastructure were shot dead at close range. Pakistan’s marginalized Baloch ethnic group has been opposed to CPEC from the beginning, as they see it as incorporating the worst of China’s investment practices.

As we reported in March, some Pakistani analysts concluded that China will charge Pakistan exorbitant interest rates for the debt that it incurs. Balochs are opposed because the project will result in an inflow of more than 600,000 Chinese people – Chinese workers and their families – diluting that Baloch population. Baloch activists claim that whatever economic benefits the CPEC project will bring to Pakistan, most of the benefits will go to the favored Punjab province. The CPEC project will use up all of Balochistan’s natural resources, and the Baloch people will get nothing from it.

The killing of CPEC workers on Saturday highlights the massive security concerns that will accompany the project. There will be 600,000 Chinese workers entering Pakistan every year, and they will be targets of jihadist terror groups. These will include Afghan Uzbeks affiliated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

India is boycotting Sunday’s forum in China to express its objections to the CPEC plan, since it includes massive infrastructure projects in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir that will affect India-controlled Kashmir as well. According to an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman, “The international community is well aware of India’s position. No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Reuters and The Nation (Pakistan) and The Hindu and India Today

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, China, One Belt One Road, OBOR, Belt and Road Initiative, BRI, Silk Road, Economic Belt, Maritime Silk Road, Sri Lanka, Hambantota seaport, Pakistan, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, CPEC, Caspian Trade Corridor, Gwadar, Balochistan, India, Kashmir, East Turkestan Islamic Movement, ETIM, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU
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