OBOR 2.0: China prepares for May summit with global ambitions
The One Belt, One Road summit in mid-May will see 28 global leaders converge on Beijing and learn that the Chinese government now sees OBOR as a manifestation of its international ambitions — and of its long-term hopes of redrawing global trade flows and rules in its own image
China’s global ambitions will be a lot clearer a week from now. On May 14-15, Xi Jinping will host an army of political leaders in Beijing, where China’s president is set to tout the commercial benefits of his flagship One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project.
What is said and done there could set the tone not just for China’s relations with the world, but also for wider global trade relations in the 21st Century. OBOR started out as an $8tr project to pump capital into infrastructure that will stitch together the great economies of Asia and Europe.
But those already vastly ambitious plans are being revisited. Observers say the Chinese government now sees OBOR as a manifestation of its international ambitions — and of its long-term hopes of redrawing global trade flows and rules in its own image.
Soft power, hard assets
Jin Liqun, president of the newly created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Chinese state-backed multilateral, said the government had “fine-tuned” OBOR, making it more international in scale and reach.
“There do not seem to be geographical limits to the OBOR initiative,” he told GlobalMarkets. “This is not just an issue of connectivity in Eurasia; it covers the entire world.” He added that the upcoming meeting in Beijing, officially titled the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, “could be inspiring, with 28 leaders expressing their views in the conference, without a time limit on their interventions”.
Others said the world had consistently misjudged the value China placed on OBOR — and its potential to redraw trade flows and rules in favour of Asia in general and China in particular. According to Paul Sheard, chief global economist at S&P Global Ratings, OBOR is all about China “wrapping soft power around hard assets”.
“China’s leaders play a long game,” Sheard said. “In recent years, they’ve begun to define and implement a global strategy, commensurate with their re-emerging status as a ‘great power’. OBOR speaks to China wanting to achieve multiple goals, from increasing its global reach and influence and shaping global rules-of-the-game, to boosting returns on external financial assets and honing a narrative about China’s role that conveys the image of a benevolent hegemon.”