The Backlash to Belt and Road
When Beijing announced its One Belt, One Road initiative five years ago, the global reaction was immediate and pronounced. OBOR, as it became known, was hailed as a transformative effort to deploy China’s economic might in service of its strategic goals. By going out of their way to reject analogies to the United States’ Marshall Plan in Europe, Chinese leaders in fact invited the comparison. Chinese ports, pipelines, roads, and railways would expand commercial, investment, and infrastructure linkages from Asia to Europe. They would build new markets, integrate poorly connected regions, and stabilize the Chinese periphery. Ultimately, they would lay the groundwork for a Sinocentric global order.
No region seemed to make a more promising target for such ambitions than South Asia. Sparsely populated Central Asia is a transit route and energy source rather than a serious market. East Asian trade and infrastructure connections are already well developed. EU public procurement rules preclude a privileged role for Chinese companies. Russia is in economic decline.