As a global initiative unprecedented in scope, the “One Belt, One Road” initiative often gets a negative reputation. News pundits accuse Beijing of using OBOR as a means of forcing unsustainable levels of debt onto weaker partner countries to seize the precious loan collateral. In this piece, we examine OBOR projects in Kenya and Sri Lanka to determine whether Beijing is engaging in debt trap diplomacy.
US sanctions designed to limit China’s access to cutting edge semiconductor technology have challenged Beijing’s ambition for technological hegemony. Even with significant state-backed investment over the past 30 years, China’s semiconductor industry still lacks the capabilities necessary to compete in the global marketplace. The current economic and political environment poses an ultimatum for the country: innovate or fall behind.
Oil is critical to ensuring China’s growth over the next few decades, and securing it has become a top priority for the nation. By financing multiple OBOR development projects to circumvent key oil supply chains through the Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Malacca shipping lanes, China has chipped away at competing oversight in these regions, allowing it to secure access to resources while strengthening relationships with OBOR partner countries.
China is considering a new series of free trade agreements to rebalance trade objectives with its national interests. Two of the largest agreements in history, the RCEP and TPP11, may not only help China expand its economic footprint, but also act as a backdoor should old trade relationships fall apart.
While the pandemic reveals the dangers of overreliance on a single nation’s production facilities, Washington is calling on American MNCs to shift supply chains away from China. However, the economic relationship between the world’s top two economic powers is complex and a rushed decoupling could sink the global economy to unprecedented depths. Instead, both nations should carefully consider how to effectively diversify the risk of economic overdependence while continuing to maintain healthy trade relations.
China introduced the ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative to foster a Chinese-driven international trade initiative focused on regional economic collaboration. While the West may be concerned about the geopolitical undertone of OBOR, certain Western policies are instead spurring global participation in the initiative. Italy and Iran are two such examples, with restrictive economic policies from the West driving them to seek alternative sources of funding.
While the Phase One trade deal marks a milestone in the US-China Trade War, it will likely disappoint foreign businesses seeking improvements in intellectual property rights protections and enhanced market access in China. Regardless, there were a few positive points of progress in the Phase One trade deal that pave the way to address improvements on additional securities and protections for American businesses abroad in a subsequent ‘Phase Two’ agreement.