China’s “mind-boggling” One Belt One Road initiative poses a serious strategic challenge to America, a top US expert said today, calling for a comprehensive examination of the ambitious project. “The US must take more seriously the strategic challenges posed by China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative,” Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing organised by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
To date, he said, Washington has addressed this effort only absentmindedly, given its preoccupation until recently with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“The scale of the OBOR program is indeed mind-boggling: the China Development Bank alone is expected to underwrite some 900 components of the initiative at a cost of close to a trillion dollars; other funders, such as the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China will commit additional resources, with the anticipated cumulative investment eventually reaching anywhere from USD 4 to 8 trillion,” Tellis said.
Even if the project ultimately falls short of these ambitions, there is little doubt that the enhanced connectivity it proposes – linking China with greater Eurasia through new road, rail and shipping connections – has significant strategic implications for Beijing’s power projection in the widest sense, he said.
Tellis said thus far, the economic dimensions – and the political daring – underlying this effort have received great attention to the relative neglect of its geostrategic consequences for China’s rise as a global power, political competition within Asia, the impact on America’s regional friends and allies, and US military operations in and around Eurasia.
The US Congress should remedy this lacuna by tasking the Department of Defence to undertake a comprehensive examination of China’s OBOR initiative with an eye to examining its impact on the economies and politics of key participating states, China’s ability to expand the reach of its military operations and China’s capacity to deepen its foreign and strategic ties in critical areas of the Indo-Pacific, he said.
“Even as this understanding is developed, the US should look for ways to provide the Asian states with alternative options to China’s OBOR, even if initially only on a smaller scale,” Tellis told lawmakers.
Aaron Friedburg from the Princeton University echoed Tellis at the Congressional hearing.
“China’s actions aren’t limited to pursuing its claims and trying to extend its zone of effective control in the maritime domain. Along its land frontiers, Beijing has also unveiled a hugely ambitious set of infrastructure development plans. The so-called one belt one road initiative, which aims to transform the economic and strategic geography of much of Eurasia.
“China’s leaders have begun to articulate their vision for a new Eurasian order, a system of infrastructure networks, regional free trade areas, new rules written in Beijing and mechanisms for political consultation, all with China at the center and the US pushed the periphery, if not out of the region altogether,” Friedberg added.
The OBOR initiative, a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping, aims to link the economic circles in East Asia and Europe, connecting China – on land and over water – to partners in Asia, Europe and Africa.
The initiative, known as the revival of the ancient Silk Road trading route, would link Asian markets with economic groups in Europe.
With nearly three billion people inhabiting areas covered by the proposed economic belt, it represents the biggest market in the world with unparallelled potential.