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What is the One Belt One Road Initiative?

What is the One Belt One Road Initiative?

The One Belt, One Road initiative, which is known in its English as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a project begun by the current President of China, Xia Xinping.

It is modeled after the ancient “Silk Road” that China used to trade fabrics, goods, and metals:

Russo, August 2, 2019, Federica Russo is an Italian freelance writer focused on Chinese economic engagement in the global scene, as well as a consultant for Eagles Nest International, a Chinese company that supports individuals and organizations dealing with the difficulties of intercultural encounters. She is also an external contributor for Cultural Bridge, where she writes articles on organizational behavior, cross-cultural management, and leadership, Asia Times, A new chapter in the Sino-Italian relationship, https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/08/opinion/a-new-chapter-in-the-sino-italian-relationship/

During the Qing Dynasty, the West labeled China with the term “Serica” because of the silk (Latin serica) Rome imported along a meandering 8,000-kilometer passage called by the geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen “the Silk Road.” It is well known that the Road formed an overland umbilical that linked China and Europe, favoring those who wanted to trade fabrics, goods and metals, and promoting the diffusion of ideas and religions. Here merchants, missionaries, travelers and warriors met one another to give rise to conflicts, exchanges of knowledge, and the emergence of new worlds.

While scholars debate China’s motivations for developing the BRI, broadly speaking it is meant to expand China’s global influence through the promotion of development, trade, and diplomacy.

Madhuri Karak, August 2, 2019, https://daily.jstor.org/chinas-new-silk-road/, China’s New Silk Road

Tim Summers, a researcher at the British think tank Chatham House, points out that BRI has an illustrious historical predecessor: the Silk Route, which allowed goods and ideas to flow along a network of caravan routes that linked China through Central Asia to Europe by land and sea starting in the sixth century. Silk traveled west in exchange for wool, gold, and silver.

China’s “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) initiative—yi dai yi lu in Mandarin Chinese aims to connect seventy-one countries by land and sea. Highways and maritime routes will complement the “networks of connectivity” in trade, investment, finance, tourism, and even education between China and the world. OBOR is meant to be a form of diplomacy, development, and trade incentive all rolled into one. The initiative is constantly evolving in its scope; in fact, the Chinese government recently changed OBOR to “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) in English.

The physical components include six main corridors:

Cavanna, July 2019, https://tnsr.org/2019/07/unlocking-the-gates-of-eurasia-chinas-belt-and-road-initiative-and-its-implications-for-u-s-grand-strategy/, Thomas P. Cavanna is a visiting assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy in the Center for Strategic Studies. He writes on U.S. grand strategy and U.S. foreign policy toward China and South Asia. He holds a French “Agrégation” and a Master’s degree and doctorate in history from Sciences Po. He was also a Fox Fellow at Yale. Dr. Cavanna is currently working on a book on the Belt and Road Initiative and U.S. grand strategy., Unlocking the Gates of Eurasia: China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Its Implications for U.S. Grand Strategy

The Belt and Road Initiative was launched in the fall of 2013. At its core, it seeks to use trade and foreign direct investment, most of which emanate from state-owned banks, to build connectivity across Eurasia. Its two main branches, the Maritime Silk Road and the Silk Road Economic Belt, initially radiated in six directions: the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor, the China-Mongolia-Russia Corridor, the China-Central Asia-Western Asia Corridor, the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor, and the New Eurasian Land Bridge. As formalized in March 2015, Beijing intends to develop transport, energy, and telecommunication infrastructure to bolster commerce, financial integration, policy coordination, and “people-to-people bonds.”

More maps

There is also a maritime dimension:

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.), China and the Economic Integration of Europe and Asia, 2016, https://www.mepc.org/speeches/china-and-economic-integration-europe-and-asia

But the “one belt, one road” project is very much not limited to railroad construction. It aims at massive development of economic corridors traversing the entire Eurasian landmass and all its major peninsular extensions. It also has a large maritime dimension. China is in the process of becoming the world’s preeminent economy. The purpose of the “one belt, one road” project is to promote its economic integration with what has been called the “world island” – the conjoined continents of Asia and Europe. This is an area with a population of 4.4 billion and a current economic output of $21 trillion.

The land component is referred to as the Belt and the maritime dimension is referred to as the Road.

It also now includes internet infrastructure:

C Conrad, July 18, 2019, Chris Conrad is a 2019 summer intern at the Independent Institute, currently majoring in Political Science at Haverford College with a concentration in Peace, Justice, and Human Rights. His interests include terrorism and the intelligence community, national and international security, international human rights law, and environmental policy, China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Boon for Growth or Threat to Civil Liberties?, https://blog.independent.org/2019/07/18/chinas-belt-and-road-initiative-boon-for-growth-or-threat-to-civil-liberties/ NOTE: Chris Conrad is a former recent Nueva PF Debater.

China’s BRI (also known as the New Silk Road), as reporters with the Council on Foreign Relations put it, “is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived,” aiming to build everything from railways, to energy pipelines, to internet infrastructure across Asia, Europe, and parts of Africa.

And even potentially outer space.

Nadage Rolland, April 11, 2019, A Concise Guide to the Belt and Road Initiative, https://www.nbr.org/publication/a-guide-to-the-belt-and-road-initiative/

Formerly centered on the broader Eurasian continent, BRI has since 2017 expanded to include the African continent, portions of Latin America, Oceania, and the Arctic Ocean. In addition to geographic regions, it also includes a digital Silk Road and a Silk Road in outer space. The initiative is thus pushing China’s outlook well beyond its traditional periphery.

Although it was conceived of as an infrastructure project, it has become much more than that.

Elizabeth Economy, Council on Foreign Relations, 2018, The Third Revolution:: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State,

The new BRI included sixty nations in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe,27 encompassing up to 70 percent of the global population and 55 percent of the world’s GDP28 (see figure 7.1.). By 2017, the BRI invited participation from all the countries in the world. The project design expands well beyond infrastructure to include connectivity through telecommunications and culture, the development of financial and free trade accords, and the opportunity for China to increase the use of its currency in global trade and investment. Economy, Elizabeth C.. The Third Revolution (p. 191). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

As discussed, the idea for the BRI cam fro Xi Xinping, who was elected the President of China in 2012. He presented the idea in Kazkhhastan in 2013 and China has worked to grow and develop the idea ever since.

Support in China for the BRI has grown so significantly that it is even now enshrined in China’s constitution. The goal is for the project to be fully developed by 2049, the 100th year anniversary of the founding of Communist China.

Since term limits have now been removed and Xi will likely be President for life, the goal is for him to live to see it to completion. It is his legacy project and it is great significant to China.

Although this previous discussion paints a pretty general picture of what the BRI is, one of the things that makes the topic difficult to debate is that there is official document that represents the BRI.

Joshua Eisman, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, January 15, 2018, U.S.-CHINA ECONOMIC AND SECURITY REVIEW COMMISSION HOLDS A HEARING TO ASSESS THE STATUS OF CHINA’S BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE FIVE YEARS ON, https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/transcripts/Hearing%20Transcript%20-%20January%2025%2C%202018_0.pdf

Furthermore, the BRI is vague and non-committal – the opposite of a formal bilateral trade agreement, which will set out tariff schedules and dispute-resolution mechanisms. In the Italy-China case, it obligates neither country to sign cheques for anything. In reality, the standard BRI agreement is non-binding boilerplate. But the ceremonies surrounding BRI signings would have you think that they come with pots of Chinese gold. Still, BRI carries enormous symbolic significance, especially in Italy’s case. Italy is a founding member of the EU, the secondbiggest maker of industrial products in Europe behind Germany, a member of both the G7 and G20 and a key player in NATO.

As this card suggests, this makes it difficult to determine what it means to “join” it, which will be discussed more later.

It also makes it difficult to quantify its costs and benefits, and this lack of quantification will bother PF debaters who love stats a lot.

Carolyn Bartholomew, Chairman, U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission, June 12, 2019, China’s Belt and Road Initiative https://www.finance.senate.gov/download/06122019-bartholomew-testimony

It is difficult to quantify the full impact of BRI on U.S. companies and workers because there is no official definition of a BRI project, there is a lack of information about projects and it may be too early for impacts to be observable