‘One Belt One Road’ initiative

Print edition : May 01, 2015

Labourers work on the Tangula section of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, in China's Qinghai province, on June 20, 2006. Photo: REUTERS

LAST month, China substantiated its integrated blueprint of the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR)—the twin initiatives covered by the conceptual umbrella of the “One Belt One Road”. China’s soaring vision envisages that the Silk Roads, once completed, would impact 4.4 billion people and, within a decade, generate trade above a jaw-dropping $2.5 trillion. Projects like these were the real reasons for backing the resurgence of Eurasia, marking a real paradigm shift in the global economy under President Xi.

A vision document jointly prepared by a composite team from the Ministries of Commerce, Foreign Affairs and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)—a top organisation that steers the Chinese economy—has, with precision, revealed the vast geographic parameters of China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative.

The “belt and road” run through the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa, connecting the vibrant East Asian economic circle at one end with the developed European economic circle at the other, says the government report. Specifically, the SREB focusses on bringing together China, Central Asia, Russia and Europe (the Baltic); linking China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea through Central Asia and West Asia; and connecting China with South-East Asia, South Asia and the Indian Ocean. The 21st-Century MSR, in turn, is designed to go from China’s coast to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean in one route, and from China’s coast through the South China Sea to the South Pacific in the other.

On land, the initiative will focus on jointly building a new Eurasian Land Bridge and developing China-Mongolia-Russia, China-Central Asia-West Asia and China-Indochina Peninsula economic corridors.

The document identifies specific gateways that will connect China with other Silk Road economies. Xinjiang province in the west will be the connecting hub for Central, South and West Asian countries. It would be one of the terminals of the Pakistan-China economic corridor.

Similarly, China’s province of Heilongjiang will become the gateway for Mongolia and Russia’s Far East. The area would be central for the development of the Eurasian high-speed transport corridor linking Beijing with Moscow.

China wishes to leverage Tibet’s geographic location to extend a Silk Road node to Nepal. It wants to connect with Nepal and South Asia through an extension of the Qinghai-Tibet railway.

The rail line from Lhasa has already been extended to Shigatse, Tibet’s second largest city. The Chinese plan to build two lines from Shigatse. One would lead to Kerung, the nearest Chinese town from Nepal, from where it would be extended to Rasuwagadhi in Nepal. The other line would head to Yadong on the India-Bhutan border.

The website ekantipur.com of Nepal has reported that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has urged Nepal to conduct a feasibility study so that the railway could be extended to Kathmandu and beyond.

Observers say that both sides visualise the extension of the line from the Nepalese capital to Lumbini, the starting point of a Buddhism tourist circuit.

Two areas in south-west China—Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and the Yunnan province—will establish links with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Yunnan, which borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, is ideal for connecting with the Greater Mekong Sub-region, and serve as a pivot to link China with South and South-East Asia. Yunnan’s provincial capital, Kunming, is the end point of the proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor, which starts in Kolkata.

China has plans to integrate and globalise its inland economies around specific, strategically located hubs, which will be located along the cross-border international Silk Road transportation network. Thus, Chongqing would be developed as “an important pivot” to open up the hinterland in the country’s western region.

A similar role is assigned to cities such as Chengdu and Wuhan, to open up and enmesh other inland areas with the belt and road economies.

The “belt and road” would be serviced by a network of roads, high-speed railways, fibre-optic lines, transcontinental submarine optical cable projects, and satellite information passageways.

Atul Aneja

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