Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (not pictured) during a bilateral meeting at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on May 16, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Wu Hong-Pool/Getty Images)
Wielding wealth and industrial might second only to the United States, the Chinese regime has employed imagery of the ancient Silk Road as part of a vision to take center stage in economic and political influence across Asia and Europe.
“One Belt, One Road” (OBOR), also known as the Belt and Road Initiative, has been a cornerstone of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s foreign policy since he became head of the Communist Party in 2013. In the last few years, Beijing has invested hundreds of billions of dollars, and has called to mobilize up to $5 trillion, in energy, transport, and port projects in partnerships with scores of countries over the next five years.
Covering over 60 nations, OBOR projects so far have had mixed results. On the one hand, pumping billions of dollars into developing (or struggling) economies has obvious diplomatic benefits.
But it is yet to be seen whether China will be able to collect payment for the massive loans it is offering across less affluent and potentially unstable states, and even Beijing’s close allies have been hesitant to fully commit to OBOR.
In November 2017, Pakistan withdrew from a $14 billion investment that government representatives said were “against our interests.” A few days earlier, Nepal cancelled a $2.5 billion hydroelectric plant being built by a Chinese state-run company as part of One Belt, One Road. Myanmar ended a similar plan, saying that it was no longer interested in hydroelectric dams.
OBOR consists of six proposed land-based economic corridors—collectively termed the Economic Silk Road—radiating out from China to central, south, and southeast Asia, as well as Siberia. It also includes a Maritime Silk Road that links Chinese ports with destinations on Indian Ocean coasts as far as eastern Africa.
International scrutiny of OBOR’s economic feasibility has been paired with concerns that its driver, the Chinese Communist Party, is attempting to buy political allegiances to consolidate its geostrategic position. In an era where the CCP professes to avoid exporting communist revolution, generous offers for ambitious projects like dams and high-speed rail lines seem geared to align the interests of local governments with Beijing’s long-term aims.
The Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy, released Dec. 18, called for the United States to recognize and check the efforts of China and Russia to whittle away at the post-Cold War international order traditionally maintained by U.S. economic strength, rule of law, and military supremacy.
“Our adversaries will not fight us on our terms. We will raise our competitive game to meet that challenge, to protect American interests, and to advance our values,” the paper said, while noting that “China and Russia target their investments in the developing world to expand influence and gain competitive advantages against the United States.”
In July 2016, an international court ruled that the Chinese regime’s territorial claims in the South China Sea were baseless. But in the Philippines, which has the greatest spatial disputes with China and introduced the arbitration three years prior, the election of president Rodrigo Duterte brought a shift in Manila’s stance.\
The Philippines is part of OBOR’s Maritime Silk Road and stands to benefit from the billions of dollars Chinese investment could bring to the island nation’s transport and energy grid.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and other delegation heads pose for a group photo as they attend the Belt and Road Forum at the Yanqi Lake venue on the outskirts of Beijing, China on May 15, 2017. (Damir Sagolj-Pool/Getty Images)