One Belt One Road

…woven in global legal order
One Belt One Road
File Photo

One Belt One Road (OBOR) Chinese flagship project also known as belt road initiative (BRI) is being woven in global legal order, albeit a changing one. Given the dynamics of change, inherent in one epoch after another, China is gradually working it out subtly, as per studies emerging on the subject in various academic quarters.

Of late, OBOR has faced censor on various aspects, notably the debt trap the countries taking Chinese investments are likely to fall into, on account of inability to service the loans. Last month, mid-March, Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff– General Joseph Dunford paraded a series of instances, while testifying before Senate Armed Services Committee.

He pointed to Sri Lanka granting China a 99-year lease and70 per cent stake in its deep-water port, Pakistan owing China at least USD 10 billion in debt for theconstruction of Gwadar Port and other projects, and Maldives being USD 1.5billion in debt for construction costs, about 30 per cent of its GDP. Dunfordconcluded that "China is diligently building an international network ofcoercion through predatory economics to expand its sphere of influence."Hard words! However in spite of warnings, one country after another in direneed of investment for growth is lining up to join OBOR.

OBOR—the mega project seeks to improve connectivity and cooperation among countries spread across Africa, Asia and Europe. There are some catchy slogans for the developing and underdeveloped states, such as right to development.

The right to development could be taken as a legal corollary to other rights such as human rights and self-determination. China in spite of being an economic power of considerable standing, second only to USA, prefers to call itself developing. Being the world's most populous country (around 1.404 billion) with a wide land mass (9.597 million kms2) it might still be short on infrastructural laydown to be branded developed. It could be said though that the country is not short on means to plug the infrastructural loopholes.

 The brand of a developing country helps China to identify itself with many other countries carrying the same signpost. China however is treading carefully, taking all the precautions needed to keep intact the existent global order.

Despite its running friction with USA on tariffs, it is sticking by terms and conditions of World Trade Organization (WTO). By sticking to the system and playing by its rules, China has made immense gains. China does not want to upset the global applecart. While as USA is distancing itself from Paris agreement on climate changes, China stays with the deal, and also abides by the Denmark accord.  While getting on with the existent global legal order, China is working to put its own stamp on the subtle change. 

OBOR initiative is attributed to President Xi Jinping. He presented the concept in 2013. XI proposed a road connectivity scheme for more or less 70 percent of global population, with the objective of doing away with trade barriers.

In sheer magnitude, it is way ahead of Marshall Plan, the US initiative for post Second World War recovery of West Europe. Initiated in 1948, it was 12 billion dollar plan (100 billion dollar plus in present count). In contrast, while present estimates for OBOR amount to USD 340 billion, it is expected to stretch to more or less USD 800 billion over next five years.

 It has set the alarm bells ringing. Mike Pompeo told a Washington audience recently that China poses security threat to the US, its friends and allies. Washington has reasons to feel concerned, as the global order worked out post Second World War is facing a challenge, though China is not inclined to make it pronounced, at least not in near future.

However, the long term outfall is bound to cause jitters. On global legal order, China is facing criticism on human rights. The criticism is on several counts, such as authoritarian one party rule, treatment of minority ethnic groups like Tibetans, Uyghurs Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang.

China subtly takes finesse on legal order, by highlighting right to development, which is its strong suit. In keeping up with its emphasis on connectivity, China is stressing on right to movement.  

Chinese foreign policy is carefully designed to keep abreast with its OBOR initiative. It has its foundations in Panchsheel pronounced in 1950s. Based on five principles of mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and cooperation for mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence, it was initially conceived by India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and China's first premier, Zhou Enlai, in 1954. These five principles were highlighted in Bandung Conference in 1955. The conference set the stage of non-aligned movement, Nehru became one of its principal actors.

There is stress on peace building in Chinese foreign policy document. The document lies down that Peoples Republic of China should establish diplomatic relations with foreign countries on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect for territorial sovereignty. It was subsequently incorporated in first constitution of the country. 

China is projecting herself as the voice of voiceless, inlieu of its foreign policy goals. It is taken to justify its voting record inUnited Nations Security Council, where it condemns the intervention of westernpowers. Even while taking this line, China takes care to act as a team player,without hurting its long-term interests. It is yet again the subtlety it exercises,while trying to paint the global future in its own colours. 

 Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

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