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TheViewFromAsia

China's Belt and Road plan a bid to build new world order

Asia News Network commentators share their views on Chinese President Xi Jinping's One Belt, One Road initiative to link Asia and Europe. Here are excerpts.

China's hegemonic advances

Editorial The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

Even if China makes strategic preparations to build a world order on its own initiative, the country will not be able to dispel the distrust harboured by Japan, the United States and other nations unless it rectifies its self-serving behaviour.

In an address at the Belt and Road Forum's opening ceremony in Beijing, President Xi Jinping said his nation would "foster a new type of international relations" based on mutual cooperation, co-existence and co-prosperity, thereby attempting to place a check on the existing order that is centred on the US. He unveiled a plan to extend about 1.64 trillion yen (S$20 billion) in additional contributions to the Silk Road Fund, which would cover funding for such schemes as infrastructure investment.

Does he want to describe himself as the "locomotive of the world economy", bearing in mind the fact that US President Donald Trump has withdrawn his country from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact?

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The problem is that the maritime Silk Road scheme is inseparably linked to China's efforts to secure footholds for its navy through harbour improvement projects.

Progress is being made in large-scale investments in harbours and other places in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, both situated in areas around the Indian Ocean. Although China emphasises the economic benefits to be yielded there, there is no doubt that the harbour improvement projects are supporting China's hegemonic maritime advances aimed at excluding the US from the region.


Unease mounts in parts of the region

Editorial The Nation, Thailand

The Beijing Belt and Road Forum's focus on Central Asia leaves other parts of the region wondering if they will be left behind.


The set-up at Beijing's Belt and Road Forum welcome banquet this week included food sculptures of camels that plied the Silk Road. At the forum, President Xi Jinping said China would "foster a new type of international relations" based on mutual cooperation, co-existence and co-prosperity. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

While President Xi Jinping foresaw the project connecting much of the world when he initiated it in 2013, the countries to be traversed are not merely waiting for China to pour money into it. They also want to have some say in how the project proceeds.

China's grand geopolitical strategy to reshape the international landscape would be more palatable if Beijing showed greater affinity for multilateralism and the fostering of mutual interests.

The Belt and Road scheme could provide crucial economic respite for nations across the region and inspire communal cooperation that would benefit all. While many regional leaders regard the initiative as little more than a series of giant infrastructure projects aimed at extending China's power, Beijing has always touted the plan as a means to economic security.

What was ignored at the forum, however, was a mechanism for the affected countries to participate proportionally. The conference highlighted only the Silk Road project, which will connect China with countries to the west, extending as far as Europe.

Countries outside this western sphere, including those in East and South-east Asia, had reason for concern. Once economic corridors in Central Asia are completed, China will have alternative channels for transporting goods to and from the Middle East and Africa. With the need to cooperate with Asian nations elsewhere reduced, there is a possibility that China could become more aggressive in its push to control contended territories in the East and South China seas.

On the other hand, the leaders of Vietnam and the Philippines were among those invited to the Beijing conference - surely a good sign. But they and their counterparts in Japan, South Korea and elsewhere, as well as key financial institutions such as the Asian Development Bank, will be hoping for further assurance.


No harm in turning to China for infrastructure

Editorial The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

Indonesia should not be paranoid about the inflow of Chinese money and workers for the infrastructure projects.

Even though China's One Belt, One Road (Obor) initiative is still in the process of developing as a coherent blueprint of an interconnected international infrastructure programme, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's participation in the first Obor summit still augurs well for our national interests.

Of more strategic importance is that the Obor agenda of boosting connectivity between mainland China and 65 countries in Asia and Europe by building infrastructure ties (rail, roads and seaports) fits well with the ambitious infrastructure development that has become the top priority programme of the Jokowi government.

Since President Xi Jinping launched the Obor initiative in late 2013, the Chinese government has put its money where its mouth is, committing more than US$200 billion (S$278 billion) in financing resources through China's state banks, US$100 billion through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and US$50 billion through the Silk Road Infrastructure Fund.

A survey by the Economist Corporate Network early last year concluded that from a geographic point of view, Indonesia stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries among Asean economies.

But even though Obor is expected to help draw the region together by creating infrastructure-related investment opportunities, China needs to nurture a better understanding of its intentions and its vision for the Obor initiative while it tries to flex its economic muscle as a regional and global power, to prevent unnecessary suspicions about its geopolitical ambition.

As China, the world's second-largest economy, is vying for influence, it has become the largest trading partner and largest foreign investor in Indonesia, South-east Asia's largest economy.

We badly need the huge infrastructure spending that China is bringing. The China Development Bank in late 2015 committed US$3 billion in 10-year loans to three state banks - Mandiri, BNI and BRI - mostly for financing infrastructure projects such as power generation, light-rail transportation and airport expansion. In addition, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, one of the world's largest banks, has also pledged US$30 billion in loan commitments to Indonesia's infrastructure sector.

Such long-term loans have certain conditions: The loans should be extended to Indonesian state companies, which tie up with China's firms to build infrastructure; and about 30 per cent of total loans should be extended in yuan to strengthen the internationalisation of the renminbi.

We do not see any problems with such loans as long as the engineering, procurement and construction works are all supervised by capable, independent engineering consultants.

We should not be inordinately paranoid about the inflow of China's highly trained and skilled workers.


Game plan to increase influence

Gurmeet Kanwal The Statesman, India

India has wisely decided to stay away from the summit and the One Belt, One Road (Obor).

First articulated in 2013, Obor is designed to boost China's strategic outreach and, consequently, extend its sphere of influence well beyond its borders. It is also expected to give a fillip to the stagnating Chinese economy by utilising available cash reserves as capital and idle construction capacity. By creating new infrastructure and jobs in the countries through which it runs, Obor will ostensibly aid socio-economic development and, in the bargain, also create new markets for Chinese manufacturers.

Obor is a carefully calculated initiative to increase Chinese influence. China will give soft loans to the participating countries to help them pay for the infrastructure that will be created. The source of funding will probably be the China-sponsored and dominated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. As many of the participating countries will find it difficult to repay the loans on time, they will be dependent on China for staggering repayments or postponing them. In either case, they will be indebted to China.

In military terms too, Obor will result in a win-win situation for China as it will lead to an increase in the number of People's Liberation Army troops in the countries on China's periphery, much like what has already happened in Gilgit-Baltistan. The leadership of the Communist Party of China hopes Obor will make a significant contribution towards the achievement of China's goal of becoming the unchallenged numero uno economic and military power in the Indo-Pacific region by 2049, a century after it won its independence.


Part of new geo-economic reality

Zahid Hussain Dawn, Pakistan

President Xi Jinping's ambition of propelling China to the centre stage of the global power game represents a sharp departure from the approach of previous Chinese leaders who adhered strictly to Deng Xiaoping's tenet to "hide our capabilities and bide our time, never try to take the lead".

It is not surprising that the One Belt, One Road (Obor) initiative is being embraced by a wide range of countries, from Asia and Africa to Europe and even South America, notwithstanding some serious concerns about the cost and benefits of the enormously ambitious project.

It is evident that Obor is not just about infrastructure development; one of its major objectives is to turn Eurasia into an economic and trading centre, breaking the domination of the American-led transatlantic regime. It is also a manifestation of the changing geopolitics and the realignment of forces, reflecting a move to shift the centre of gravity of trade to the East and establish China's predominance in global politics.

Obor is a new geo-economic reality representing an emerging world order. The process cannot be reversed.

•The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media entities. For more, see www.asianews.network

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2017, with the headline 'China's Belt and Road plan a bid to build new world order'. Print Edition | Subscribe