European expert voices deep reservation about China’s ambitious OBOR

Brussels [Belgium], May 7 : China's claim that its flagship "One Belt One Road (OBOR) " project, co-joined with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), will result in a win-win situation for all participants, is being viewed with deep scepticism, doubt and distrust by a senior researcher at the South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) along with the European Parliament (EP) and its members (MEPs).

Siegfried Wolf, a senior researcher on OBOR at the SADF, emphasized the OBOR's drawbacks, namely it not having a formal institutional structure, lacking in transparency on decision-making, which in turn will encourage a very high level of corruption, China's preference for negotiating arrangements bilaterally rather than multilaterally and that too only with the national elite by excluding local representatives, as is being done in Gilgit, Sindh and Balochistan.

Describing the OBOR as one of Beijing's most ambitious foreign policy initiative since 1949, he suggested that through this mega-project, China is aiming to build a multi-polar world conducive to its national interests, and to leverage more political and strategic space for itself globally.

While China, he further claimed, has described the OBOR in relatively altruistic terms, based on the principles of mutual benefit and win-win, the perception within many of the participating countries is not so.

All these factors, he said, have led to resistance from within. He believed that OBOR's long-term geo-political and strategic implications for Europe, could create both political and economic dependencies, and be a real threat to poorer European Union (EU) states.

He believes OBOR could intensify existing governance problems, especially economic accountability and corruption.

It could also potentially help to keep governments in place that have poor democratic or development track records, and aggravate structural instability.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, in particular, he says serves as a point of reference for all kinds of domestic criticism and resistance against such mega development projects.

Wolf is also categorical that the CPEC is an example of how China will be drawn not only into intra-state conflicts, but also into inter-state rivalry, foremost between India and Pakistan.

"In other words, Beijing will be forced to take a position in local conflicts to protect its large investments and development projects.

This determines a serious challenge for Chinese policy of non-interference and forces Beijing to take a more active role in international affairs, especially in matters of security.

In this context, one must be aware that China lacks any functional, comprehensive and multilateral mechanism for conflict-resolution and to provide security for OBOR," he said in his presentation paper.

At least two MEPs -- Ryszard Czarnecki and Fulvio Martusciello - have also cautioned all nations in Europe not to take Beijing's claims at face value, and to be acutely aware of what they described as the latter's "unscrupulous and suspicious methods" to impose its regulations, standards and influence in countries where it has acquired and established a hold.

Czarnecki, Vice President of the European Parliament, in his address at the conference titled 'European Union and OBOR', hosted by the Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF) earlier this week, in particular, highlighted the deep opposition in Pakistan to the ambitious USD 51 billion dollar CPEC, a collection of infrastructure projects currently under construction between Gwadar in Pakistan and Kashgar in China's Xinjiang Province.

He claimed that a majority of the local population is viewing this ambitious project as a clear attempt by China to exploit Pakistan's valuable resources.

Czarnecki further said that one only had to look at China's track record in Africa to be aware of its penchant for monopolistic economic aggrandizement.

Martusciello, on the other hand, referred to stalled Belgrade-Budapest railway project, to confirm his suspicions about the OBOR's long-term objectives.

The European Commission has reportedly ordered a probe into the planned 350-kilometer-long USD 2.89 billion high-speed railway line between Serbian capital Belgrade and Hungarian capital Budapest.

It is assessing both its financial viability and whether the project is compliant with European Union laws on large scale transportation projects.

China, he felt, would clearly use OBOR not only to acquire companies in Europe, but also try to implant its regulations, standards and influence, and make the economic growth of Europe dependent and subservient to China.

Paulo Casaca, Executive Director of the SADF, who moderated the conference, said there is a need for greater clarity on OBOR, as to his mind, the project is still very ambiguous in nature, and was being used by China to make both economic and strategic inroads into Europe.

It is currently estimated that OBOR has an investment volume of 800 to 1000 billion USD, with more than 900 individual projects in 65 participating states representing more than 60 per cent of the current world population.

To conduct the financing of the projects, OBOR is entrusted with four major instruments: Firstly, the Silk Road Fund with 40 billion USD provided by China; secondly, Chinese Policy/Development Banks with 80 billion USD- also provided to 100 per cent by China; thirdly, the Asian Infrastructural Investment Bank/AIIB with 100 billion USD which includes European sources too; fourthly BRICS New Development Bank with 100 billion USD.

The SADF event in Brussels, held days ahead of the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing, witnessed a lively discussion, and was attended by MEPs, diplomats, academics, opinion-makers and journalists.

Source: ANI