OBOR is a global game-changer, but for whom?

opinion August 24, 2017 01:00

By Suthichai Yoon
The Nation

4,901 Viewed

The One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR) is a global game-changer, a unique opportunity for nations to share in a trillion-dollar programme that offers a win-win formula for all.



That’s the conclusion of Professor Feng Da Hsuan, director of Global Affairs at the University of Macau, in his recent lecture on how OBOR will create a “Super-continent” that could spark a neo-Renaissance through cultural communication.

Relentlessly upbeat about China’s 21st-century Silk Road, Prof Feng claimed that OBOR could even “transform the millennium mindset”.

I kicked off a lively debate by teasing him during the post-lecture Q&A: 

“Professor, do you work for the Chinese government?” 

He brushed me aside immediately, of course – but finally admitted that while Beijing’s perspective was very rosy, the views on OBOR of smaller countries in the region are necessarily diverse, confused and, in many cases, even antagonistic.

Professor Feng insisted he had no connection with the Chinese government, but had been so attracted by the subject that he had decided to study the real implications of the Belt and Road with full attention and enthusiasm. He has since been giving lectures on the subject with great vigour.

His research has convinced him that a successful Belt and Road could bring Asia and Europe together to form what he called a new “Super-continent”.

“Belt and Road is not a one-directional effort. It’s not just China putting money into other countries, it’s also other countries investing in China,” he said.

That’s where my question came in. Does China realise that other countries may raise questions about its real intentions. Is Beijing patient and sincere enough to address doubts raised by potential partners and critics? Is she ready to listen to the critics and make adjustments accordingly?

Feng answered in the affirmative. To achieve its goal, China’s leadership will have “to understand other civilisations and other civilisations will have to understand China”, he said.

On an equal basis, as real partners?

Interestingly enough, the highly eloquent academic was trained as a scientist, not a social science expert or an economist – until someone asked him one day about the real meaning of OBOR.

Feng, born in India, is an expert in nuclear astrophysics and mathematical physics. He spent more than three decades working in academia and the corporate world in the United States and Taiwan before deciding to plunge headlong into understanding, and now explaining, the implications of OBOR.

The professor became so convinced of its benefits that he has no hesitation declaring that, with OBOR as the new tool, China’s new engagement with the world is redefining international relations.

“In the 21st century most people think a powerful nation is defined by its military and economy. What China is doing right now is changing that definition. The definition of a new powerful nation is one where you respect other civilisations and engage in cultural communication. I think what Xi Jinping has done is to rekindle that profound and important definition of a powerful nation,” he said.

China’s plan is to create a modern-day Silk Road, providing loans for infrastructure projects such as roads, ports, airports and high-speed rail links from Asia to Europe. 

But it’s not all good news, of course. The professor also issued a warning:

“There are several dangers. The poorer the country, the higher the corruption, and China needs to have a very transparent model to ensure that that doesn’t happen.”

He said other countries should not be concerned about China’s ambition – and should see China not as a salesman but as a customer.

“For countries outside of China thinking about One Belt One Road, they need to think of China as the market. A simple example: Malaysia and Thailand both have durians. Durian is now the hottest stuff in China – when 350 million people like durian, you have a market.”

He also pointed out that OBOR is the single biggest public infrastructure programme since the rebuilding of Europe after World War Two. 

Feng explained that the ancient Silk Road was an organic rather than artificial creation. “Except for Zhang Qian and Tang Xuan-Zang, there is little or no mention of any mention of Chinese businessmen utilising the Silk Road to do business in the West.” Therefore, the fundamental point about OBOR is “cultural communication”.

Indeed, only through cultural communication can one establish a communication paradigm, “and only then, can one realise OBOR’s development strategy, push forth OBOR’s construction, and create projects in reality.

To render OBOR successful China must increase its understanding of the political, economic and cultural environment of at least some, if not all, of the nations and regions along the way.” he insisted. 

“Understanding” is perhaps, the key word in this context. OBOR’s success, after all, cannot be measured by the objectives set by Beijing. 

The success or failure of OBOR must be defined, after all is said and done, by what other countries consider to be the most important question: What’s in it for us?

So far, the response from China to this very crucial question has been evasive and ambiguous. The real test of achieving the vital goal of “cultural communication” lies with Beijing.