China’s OBOR: Boon or bane?



YESTERDAY, China’s President Xi Jinping was scheduled to open the two-day world forum on its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. It is obviously part of a gigantic publicity that his country is now planet earth’s best do-goodnik—the top economic benefactor—at the expense of Europe, Japan, and the US as leaders of the free Western economies.

The leaders of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) were expected to attend (the forum has been timed immediately after the 30th Asean Summit in the Philippines). Russia’s Vladimir Putin has committed to be there. Germany, the United Kingdom and France are sending their finance ministers and the US is sending a State Department officer.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s presence in the forum represents a tacit agreement among the Asean 10 on how to deal with China which has territorial disputes with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines (and Taiwan too), because of its militarization of the Spratlys and its territorial claim on almost all of the South China Sea. The Philippines being the chair of the 2017 ASEAN Summit meetings, Duterte is expected to be the one to express at the forum some Asean concerns regarding regional security. This refers to the military tension in Northeast Asia because of the North Korean nuclear program and its test-firing of ballistic missiles since 2006—a violation of the international agreement on limitations on nuclear weapons.

The international community, particularly the Asean, Japan, South Korea and the US lauded the UN Security Council’s unanimous resolution imposing additional sanctions against the Pyongyang regime and its leader Kim Jong-un for these violations.

China and Russia, North Korea’s allies and supporters during the Korean War which ended in an Armistice more than 62 years ago, voted to impose the sanctions.

South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in had last week telephoned Xi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on how to deal with the issue. Moon is even willing to meet with Kim “if the conditions are right.” US President Donald Trump said he will be “honored” to sit down with Kim.

But the US position is that the situation must be dealt with urgently—impose the sanctions immediately, no more talks. Kim had responded with a formal appeal for the 192 UN members and observer states to hold the sanctions until the “legality” of the sanctions are determined by a “legal experts.”

This merely shows Kim’s warped logic and understanding of international laws, diplomatic practices and relations between sovereign states.

Asean and the rest of the world now wants China to exert its influence on North Korea’s Kim to toe the UN line for the sake of world peace and stability. We expect this issue to be on the table during the OBOR forum and hopefully a formal statement on it will be forthcoming.

Of course, Beijing is expected to deny that the OBOR forum is part of its global propaganda campaign, and that it is merely doing its “obligation” to help “poor countries,” particularly its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region, Central Asia, and Africa and Latin America.

It is a natural ambition for China to aspire and work for. So, it is doing its own international socio-economic responsibility to help the needy. After all, it has replaced Japan as the world’s second biggest economic power—next only to the US. It has the cash to finance railway networks and infrastructure connecting Beijing with Asean, Central Asia, and the Middle East and Europe as well.

Beijing’s line that the OBOR is beneficial to all nations—both powerful and weak—is not debatable. But there are hard realities the weaker nations, particularly the Asean members and Central Asians and Africans, must realize:

Economically powerful nations can impose trade sanctions or retaliate against any political action that they may unilaterally consider as against their national interest. The saying that “money talks” prevails.

History has proven this. And all those nations with powerful economies build their military forces to back up their influencing prowess, otherwise known as hegemony.

China’s OBOR has two sides:

For the developing or economically weak countries, it can be a boon as it will bring in Chinese loans and financial assistance to create employment and increase trade. China will benefit as well by buying raw materials from developing countries and further strengthen its economic power.

This trajectory is favoring China because of Trump’s “America First” policy and campaign promise—proven by his withdrawing the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free-trade alliance in the region without China.

The loans and financial help from China (through its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank competing against the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) can tie the weak nations to China’s apron strings.

This will render them easily under Beijing’s geopolitical and economic control whenever it wants popular international approval for any of its actions. This was proven when the International Arbitral Court in The Hague ruled against its South China Sea claim and in favor of the Philippines last July. Beijing rejected some $40 million worth of fresh fruit imports from Manila. This is why the Framework of Code of Conduct on the South China Sea has been a 15-year drag.

The Asean countries require more awareness of their national and regional securities, and be informed accurately to deal with the hard facts of life.


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