OBOR comprises the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ and the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’. The historic connotation is not accidental: the benefits of lively economic and cultural activity along the historic Silk Road should be revived, deepened and expanded with modern technology and know-how. So, this time, instead of depending on animals for transport, roads, ports and railways should be built to connect economies, countries, companies, international and regional organisations and people. Futuristic endeavors such as going from Berlin to Beijing in one day by a high velocity train should become a reality if China’s proposals will get willing partners.
The ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ focuses on linking China to Europe through Central Asia and Russia; China to the Middle East through Central Asia; and bringing together China and Southeast Asia and South Asia and the Indian Ocean. The ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ focuses on using Chinese coastal ports to link China with Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean and connecting China with the southern Pacific Ocean through the South China Sea. The imagined routes cover more than 60 countries and regions, currently accounting for some 30 percent of global GDP and more than 35 percent of the world's merchandise trade.
At this year’s Munich Security Conference, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed his satisfaction with the impact of the initiative over the last three years. In his words, the construction progress and results have gone beyond expectations. For example, as of March 2016, construction had begun on a railway between Hungary and Serbia, the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Rail, the China-Laos railway and the China-Thailand railway. These railways represent the first steps towards a Trans-Asia Railway Network and other expressway projects are under construction.
Also known as the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI), OBOR is more than just building railways and selling goods. As stated in the Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, published by the Chinese Development and Reform Commission in 2015:
“The initiative to jointly build the Belt and Road, embracing the trend towards a multi-polar world, economic globalisation, cultural diversity and greater IT application, is designed to uphold the global free trade regime and an open world economy in the spirit of open regional cooperation. It is aimed at promoting orderly and free flow of economic factors, highly efficient allocation of resources, and deep integration of markets; encouraging the countries along the Belt and Road to achieve economic policy coordination and carry out broader and more in-depth regional cooperation of higher standards; and jointly creating an open, inclusive and balanced regional economic cooperation architecture that benefits all. Jointly building the Belt and Road is in the interests of the world community”.
The document further stresses the need for upholding international law when seeking the ‘biggest common denominator’ for interests, strengths and potential of all parties, whether public or private. What is more, OBOR provides a “blueprint for global development in the new world order”. Recognition that the global economy is changing is strengthened in the face of recent isolationist and nationalistic predictions for the foreign economic policy of the USA, which suddenly sees the global economy as a zero-sum game. OBOR can serve as a reminder of the yet unfulfilled promises of economic globalisation to bring prosperity to all.
And China is prepared to put its money where its mouth is. Hundreds of billions of dollars are ready to be invested into five key areas of focus: policy coordination, infrastructure development, investment and trade facilitation, financial integration, and cultural and social exchange. The Silk Road Fund, the China Development Bank, the Export-Import Bank of China and the two newly established multilateral development banks, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank of the BRICS, are all taking part in OBOR. To counter the initial skepticism provoked by the magnitude of the initiative in many countries, China is also willing to put in the needed diplomatic work to build trust, make its goals clearly heard and find appropriate partners and projects. As stressed many times, OBOR is not a one-sided, already delineated project, nor is it a program of Chinese international aid. It is an inclusive partnership building process which depends on dialogue and consultation with and joint contribution of all interested parties.
In the words of Foreign Minister Wang Yi: "OBOR is already actively supported by more than 100 countries and international organisations." On the other hand, it offers global businesses – from multinationals to small- and medium-sized enterprises – unparalleled opportunities to tap into new markets along the Belt and Road and gain deeper access to markets on the Chinese mainland, ASEAN, the Middle East, and Central and Eastern Europe. Projects are to be prepared until 2020, with implementation starting in 2021 and lasting until 2049.
One of the most important in the series of high-level events, summits, conferences and meetings that took place in several countries since making the OBOR initiative public will be held in May this year in Beijing. Hailed by the Foreign Minister Wang Yi as the Chinese diplomatic event of the year, the International Cooperation Summit Forum on the “Belt and Road” Initiative will focus on anti-protectionism, restating the potential of free trade and working with existing free trade regimes to bring tangible benefits to all involved regions, countries, communities and individuals more successfully.