China's 'one belt, one road' (Obor) initiative has many complex facets, according to a panel discussion at the 2016 Asian Development Bank (ADB) annual meeting, held in Frankfurt in May 2016.
In 2013, Chinese president Xi Jinping launched the Obor initiative with the aim of connecting major Eurasian economies through infrastructure, trade and investment. “This initiative is the foundation for Mr Xi's 'Chinese dream' for the rejuvenation of the great Chinese country”, said David Arase from the Hopkins-Nanjing Centre at China's Nanjing University.
But, argued Dr Ligang Song from the Australian National University, “The Obor is unlikely to help China address its current overcapacity problems in the steel, aluminium and cement industries. These are short-run problems, which the Chinese government is now tackling, whereas the OBOR is a long-term project.” Mr Song highlighted the potential for co-operation between participating countries, since China has a rapidly ageing population while countries such as India, Bangladesh and the Philippines have youthful populations and need to create many new jobs.
India's former defence minister, Pallam Raju, welcomed the potential of the Obor initiative to boost infrastructure and the economy. But he stressed the need for more information sharing. “China is not necessarily a benign power, and it should be more transparent”, said Mr Raju.
Koji Sakuma, general manager and chief economist of Japan’s Institute for International Monetary Affairs, spoke of Japan’s mixed feelings towards the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, of which it is not a member. “Even while not being a member, Japan can benefit from spillover effects from any stimulus to the Chinese economy,” said Mr Sakuma. “But being a member would enable Japan to have some influence over lending decisions.”
Olzhas Khudaibergenov, director of Kazakhstan’s Centre for Macroeconomic Research, stressed that the Obor initiative must be mutually beneficial. “As a landlocked country, Kazakhstan can benefit from infrastructure which opens up the country”, said Mr Khudaibergenov. “It also benefits from China’s substantial investment in the country’s oil and gas industry [about 25% of total]… But there is widespread feeling that this would not bring benefits to Kazakhstan, especially since China would import Chinese workers for these agricultural projects.”