Originally published as ‘Pothole potential on China’s silk roads’, Asia Times Online, 13 March 2015.
Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the Silk Road Economic Belt (sichouzhilu jingjidai, 丝绸之路经济带) in a speech on 7 September 2013 at the Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan and the Maritime Silk Road (haishang sichouzhilu, 海上丝绸之路) during his visit to Indonesia, the following month. The two initiatives – collectively termed the ‘one belt, one road’ (yidai yilu, 一带一路) initiative – taken together with his declaration of a new neighbourhood policy in October 2013 at the first work forum (zuotan, 座谈) on diplomacy towards China’s periphery(zhoubian, 周边), constitute a major Chinese foreign policy initiative. It is designed not just to increase China’s influence but also to put forward a new way of doing business, different from the Western/American approaches and tries also to assuage fears of an impending Chinese regional and global hegemony.
This is an updated version of a presentation made at Session II: Strengthening Multi-modal Connectivity, 11th BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar) Regional Cooperation Forum, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 24 February 2013.
The objective of this presentation is to draw some lessons for the implementation of physical connectivity infrastructure projects in underdeveloped areas within the BCIM sub-region using experiences from some ongoing infrastructure projects in the region.
1. Objectives of Connectivity
At the outset it is important to define what physical connectivity will achieve. ‘Economic development’ is an objective, certainly but the expression can mean different things to different constituents. Ordinarily, better roads and improved telecom connectivity lead to increases in the volume of trade, the movement of labour and so on. However, in the absence of a rational policy on and/or management of border trade for example, better roads will only increase the volume of illegal/informal trade. This does not help the authorities in increasing revenues in the form of tax collections and therefore, in getting adequate returns on investments made in developing physical infrastructure. Continue reading