Dr Huma Baqai
THE One Belt One Road Chinese, (OBOR) initiative that was proposed in 2013, had a global curtain raiser through its first ever international co-operation conference held in Beijing on May 14 and 15, 2017, indeed had a global ring. It was attended by 1500 people from more than 130 nations. 28 countries were represented by top leadership and 60 international organizations. President Xi calls it his country’s greatest diplomatic event. In an address at the forum’s opening ceremony, Xi said his nation would “foster a new type of International Relations” based on mutual co-operation, coexistence and co-prosperity, there by attempting to place a check on the existing order that is centred on the United States. This is of particular interest because this coincides with the Trump’s administration decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific partnership free trade pact. The three main countries originally skeptical of it were India, US and Japan.
India should revisit its stance on OBOR initiative and its relations with Pakistan. Pakistan is going through a major paradigm shift in its foreign policy. Pakistan’s commitment to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is complete and long-term, which will automatically address India’s concerns. Moreover, for the larger benefit of this region both India and Afghanistan have to stop blaming Pakistan for their internal failures.
Pakistan has moved on responding to the changing ground realities to improve its economy and the condition of its people. Is India ready to do the same? OBOR is a new geo-economic reality, which is fast-becoming irreversible. It will by default change the relational equations of the region. The reactive attitude of New Delhi where Indian media has actually called for tougher actions to obstruct the OBOR project is an approach which is uncomprehendable from a country of India’s stature. Moreover, India had blocked the holding of the SAARC, however both Sri Lanka and Nepal attended the summit. This is the new reality of South Asia. Countries like Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia who have direct issues with China chose to participate in the summit realizing the rising role of China in the global economic matrix. Moreover, a very pertinent aspect is that participation of the developed world with countries like US, Britain and Germany coming onboard will exigently put a check on China, which is a good thing.
The issues of transparency, labour laws and environmental protection are on the table. Mathew Pottinger, while committing US support had also warned that the project success would depend on a number of factors including transparency in government procurement, high quality financing to avoid unsustainable debt burdens. Greece and several European Union countries indicated they would not sign one of the summit documents of trade because it did not sufficiently address European concerns on transparency of public procurement and social and environmental standards. German economic minister Brigitte Zypries called for transparency to ensure that the call for investment bids are “non-discriminatory.” China has agreed to go by international trade agreements and has made a public commitment to both inclusiveness and openness. It is now upon individual countries to protect their interests. The venues to do so exists.
Last but not least many in Pakistan see our convergence with China as an alternative to our relationship with the US. This is a deeply flawed paradigm. China is very keen on both US and India amongst other countries becoming a part of its economic initiative. It will not become a part of any contentious equations. The entire thrust of Chinese diplomacy in the region is to bring down levels of acrimony in the region and beyond to promote connectivity. Its China’s new world order. A major concern, however remains, especially for countries like Indonesia, Japan, US, India, South Korea and Vietnam is that the grand initiative may really be a smokescreen for strategic control. Countries that are direct beneficiaries and have welcomed the initiative are asking for greater clarity on the part of China about its intentions. Something China will have to address to take it to the next level.
— The writer is Associate Professor, Dept of Social Sciences & Liberal Arts at IBA Karachi.