China’s Belt And Road Initiative

 Kushal Pokharel

The ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ of China has created a buzz in contemporary international relations. With the global ambitions of raising its geo-political clout and to establish itself as a global superpower, China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) project is receiving unprecedented media attention and becoming a global political and economic debate.

 

New framework

The OBOR project intends to provide a new framework of international economic cooperation and global connectivity. A total of $40 billion for the Silk Road Fund to implement the OBOR has been allocated. Connecting a wide network of land and sea routes in Eurasia lies at the heart of the OBOR objectives.

The recent OBOR conference in China witnessed the participation of the leaders of the 29 countries, but failed to attract a large number of countries as anticipated. Countries like Japan, South Korea and India -- China’s major trading partners -- have refrained from the project.

Although India supported China’s initiative in the formation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a China-led international financial institution, it has been reluctant to continue its support for the OBOR. Ultimately, the revival of the ancient Silk Route project has received a cold response from India. Alleging that a part of the project passes through Kashmir in Pakistan, India boycotted the summit.

Meanwhile, India isn’t convinced that this initiative is in the larger interest of the participating countries, but thinks that the benefits accrue only to China. Furthermore, citing instances of bad debt where the OBOR projects have been undertaken so far, India is reluctant to lend support to China in its overarching goal of creating a network of railways, roads and ports between Asia, Africa and Europe.

Perhaps, India envies the stronghold that China can maintain in the international arena under this initiative. The OBOR is also being analysed in the light of China’s interest to counter the global hegemony of the United States. Investing in infrastructure projects throughout the world, China is keen to dramatically invest its foreign exchange reserves, which are stuck at the US securities at low interest rates.

Prospects for Nepal

Since the inception of this idea, Nepal has shown its interest in becoming a part of the OBOR. Sandwiched between two economic giants of the 21st century, reinvigorating Nepal’s foreign policy to maximise economic gains has become a debate of discussion in foreign policy circles. In the above context, there is a huge opportunity ahead for Nepal to tap the economic potentials offered by China in the days ahead. Particularly, receiving foreign direct investment and other development aid will increase with Nepal becoming a signatory of the OBOR.

As a transit route for China to penetrate into South Asia, including India, Nepal can reap benefits from the development of the transport infrastructure. Similarly, growth of industrial enterprises will help to foster our national economy. Not only from the economic point of view, but also from the cultural and religious side, Nepal-China relations will elevate to the next level after the OBOR.

The number of religious tourists for pilgrimage is likely to grow, resulting in strengthened socio-cultural ties. Needless to say, the promotion of tourism is also possible with the Tibetan and Chinese tourists getting improved access to Nepal’s rich and unique nature and topography.

Addressing some challenges will also be the key for Nepal’s success. Firstly, Nepal will require a quality pool of human resources to initiate and upgrade our infrastructures and convert the trade deficit scenario into a profitable one. Handling freight clearance and tax collection on Nepal’s route under the OBOR demands competency from our officials.

Having said this, a pragmatic leadership on the Nepalese side will eventually decide whether the OBOR can be in the interest of the country. While China might have its own interests, we need to operate smartly in grabbing opportunities for economic development through this project. To this extent, improving our diplomatic negotiating skills will be of significance. No less important will be our intensive homework on economic growth that we intend to achieve. Having a concrete plan of actions and asserting our ideas with the Chinese delegation will be vital.  Getting rid of the convention buffer mentality will also be crucial for Nepal’s foreign policymakers in the direction of reaping benefits from the OBOR.

China’s leadership

It is important for China to assure both Nepal and India that the OBOR project is in the interest of the Trans-Himalayan region. While China has removed the word ‘one’ from the original OBOR to disseminate the non-centrality of the project, other measures also need to be taken particularly to involve India as a major partner.

The Belt and Road Initiative could be a stepping stone in creating a new world order ending the hegemony of the United States. But it’s up to the Chinese leadership to handle it with tact and intelligence.

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