文｜梅拉库·穆鲁阿勒姆（Melaku Mulualem）埃塞俄比亚外交关系战略研究所培训部主任 翻译｜郑东超
OBOR: What Is In There for Africa?
by Melaku Mulualem,Foreign Policy Analysis Department Head in the Ethiopian Foreign
Relation Strategic Studies Institute
The China Communications ConstructionCompany Ltd.(CCCC) is one of China’s giant corporations currently engaged inconstructing Ethiopia’s multi-billion mega railway networks and hasparticipated in other gigantic infrastructure projects in Africa, including theMombasa-Nairobi railway，Korakoram highway linking China and Pakistan，the Gwadarport in Pakistan，the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka，the Suramadu Bridgein Indonesia and the Hungary-Serbia railway.
Many believe these robust infrastructuralsurges by Chinese companies are not unrelated projects but well thought-outinitiatives that would eventually form parts of the signature project thatChina embarked upon with the aim of networking huge chunk of the globe througha re-birth of its ancient Silk Road routes and beyond. The project that theChinese President Xi Jinping initiated in 2013 is officially named the SilkRoad Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, in short, One Belt, OneRoad (OBOR).
Despite the name, the OBOR is not limitedto the ancient routes of the Silk Road. The land route goes overland straddlingthe continents of Asia, Europe and Africa while the ocean route goes from China’scoast to Europe through the South China Sea and Indian Ocean in one route, andfrom China’s coast through the South China Sea to the South Pacific in theother and is planned to connect many of the world’s major sea ports.
The dimension of China’s Belt and Roadinitiative covers a gamut of sectors: transport, energy, communication,investment, trade, industry, finance, education, tourism and technology.
The Chinese see the initiative as theircountry’s strategy to go globe. Already, a network of regionalinter-connectivity is gradually and steadily taking shape. The Hungary-Serbiarailway and the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail Indonesia that have begunconstruction and the pan-Asia railway network including the China-Laos,China-Thailand railways are cases in point. A number of highway projects arealso being pressed for implementation.
Besides, construction of economic corridorsthat are seeing substantial progress include many major projects under theChina-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor,the new Eurasia land bridge economic corridor, and theBangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor. China has planned to pumphuge amount of money – 8 trillion US Dollars – into the entireproject. To that effect, China launched the 40 billion dollar Silk Road Fund tosupport the various projects along the Silk Road in December 2014. The AsianInfrastructure Investment Bank is also up and running while industrial capacitycooperation funds between China and Africa and China and Latin America havebeen set up and put into use.
The benefits for China
Through the OBOR, China has already startedto reap economic and cultural dividends. The initiative targets to spur tradevolume of a whopping 21 trillion U.S. dollars. The current trade volume hasmore than doubled already and is opening up access to overseas markets for itsgrowing surplus production capacity in sectors such as steel manufacturing. Underthe initiative, trade and investment have boomed, with free trade agreementsand regional cooperation taking quicker steps. Trade and investment growth inareas within the Belt and Road Initiative have witnessed growth more than twicethe speed of global average.
The financial clogging due to China’sdollar surplus capacity has always been a source of friction with the US, thelatter criticizing the former of unfair monetary manipulations. The repeateddevaluation of Chinese Yuan currency also make the dollar in China’s hands toappreciate with no significant use in production and trade influence. This isalso a concern for China as the surplus hard currency reserve is prone tounforeseen fluctuations, its exchange rate being driven by US fiscal changes.
The OBOR projects spanning from Asia andEurope to Africa, cover completely different cultural, political, and economiclandscapes. Cultural and people-to-people exchanges have grown much closeramong countries involved in the initiative. China has, for instance, launchedsuch events as culture years, art festivals and the Silk Road book projectsalong the routes. Prominent development is unfolding on the cultural front forChina as the Silk Road has been successfully included into the UNESCO WorldHeritage list, while a joint application has started for the inclusion of theMaritime Silk Road into the list.
As they venture out of their territory,Chinese companies are building on experience and reputation for themselves,adopting new business models, seeking business and structural upgrades toparticipate in international competitions at a higher level, thereby promotingtheir influence and brands in the process. Chinese companies have started tosee benefits in formulating mechanisms to properly assess and manage risks, andestablish and improve their corporate social responsibility management.
The Benefit and Opportunities of the OBORto Africa
The initiative will include sixty-threecountries in the world covering 62% of the world population, i.e., 4.5 billionpeople. So far, up to 34 countries and international organizations have inkeddeals with China to build the Belt and Road Initiative, while over 70 countriesand organizations have voiced support for and willingness join the initiative.Many of these countries are from the African continent.
Improving the capacity of a port throughthe Chinese initiative does not only improve import and export trade of aspecific country, but it can also facilitate trade relations in the continentat large. For instance the Port of Mombasa serves Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, SouthSudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. The Lamu Port, which is beingconstructed in Kenya, can serve Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda.Similarly, improving the capacity of the capacity of the Port of Djibouti meansimproving international trade in the region, including Ethiopia. The Port inDar es Salaam has also important role in facilitating international trade inthe region.
Africa also stands to benefit from theconstruction of these infrastructure networks in terms of employment andtransfer of technology, knowledge and skills as China deploys its skilled humanpower and high technological resources to these activities. The availability offinancial loans to many developing countries from the Silk Road Fund will helpexpedite construction of these countries’ infrastructures, which will, in turn,facilitate their accelerated economic development. China’s launching of theAsian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was necessitated by Beijing’sfrustration with the sluggish governance structure of existing InternationalFinancial Institutions like the World Bank and IMF, a concern shared bydeveloping countries that have faced enormous red tape and unfairconditionalities in borrowing money.
The annual trade volume between Africa andChina currently stands at over 200 billion USD. The railway and road networksbeing constructed in Africa through China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, isset to maximize intra-African trade, boost its import-export and facilitate theintegration of the continent into the globe economy. This will,in the long run,contribute to the implementation of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 whichenvisions to achieve equitable and sustainable development, rule of law, andpeace and security in Africa through, among others, continent-wide transportinter-connectivity and enhanced trade.
The intense flurry of activities by China’smega corporations in the continent has led some critics to claim that “Africaoutsourced its growth to Beijing”. Others who see this relationship as a positiveinterdependence say that Africa needs China and that China needs Africa aswell.
Re-Silking-Globalization form the othercenter
The celebrated author ClaudioCioffi-Revilla argues that "the first true episode of exogenousglobalization began with the emergence of the Silk Road… by 200 BCE."The revival of the present Silk Road Economic Belt, therefore, means therevival of the ancient rudimentary to the hitherto dominant modernglobalization steered by the West. As a result of the” digital divide”, lack ofskilled human power and poor infrastructure, developing countries haveincreasingly been exclude from the economic benefits of globalization. On thecontrary, the embedded disequilibrium maximized the gains of the developedcountries. This had been the case with all western initiatives like thetrans-Atlantic slave trade, the Industrial Revolution, colonization,neo-colonization and the subsequent patronized democratization whosedevastating impacts got Africa at the receiving end.
So, should Africa be worried about newsurges and initiatives of globalization or embrace them selectively? Clearly,Africa would fare far better if it recognizes China’s Belt and Road initiativefor what it is, i.e., as the advent of yet another center of globalization (thistime emanating from and influenced by the rising east) as the second wave ofglobalization and not as mere infrastructural inroad. This clarity would enablethe continent to get better prepared to deal with it.
The continent needs, for instance, to investheavily in building feeder roads and other infrastructure in its deep interiorand eventually link them to the tentacles of the One Belt, One Road initiativeonce they reach its peripheries and coastal shores. This will help Africaexpeditiously mobilize and supply its exportable resources and receive itsimports.
Diversification, export competitiveness,productivity and technological upgrading are key for maintaining a strategicedge in global transaction. Some African countries are trying to unleash theirdevelopment potential through a prudent combination of market forces and stateintervention. Ethiopia particularly stands out for giving priority to launchingof manufacturing industries based on resource availability, labor intensitylinkages to agriculture, export potential and relatively low technologicalentry barriers. But, the average share of manufacturing in its contribution tothe Gross Domestic Product in Africa is just 10%, with some countries likeEthiopia scoring well below that (5%). So, Africa needs to embark on robustindustrialization to be able to reap maximum benefits from this newopportunity. This requires putting in place modern information and networkinginfrastructure capable of breaking into the complex global market system.
Africa needs to start massively buildingthe capacity of its human resources – help them developan aptitude for embracing of new knowledge and skills and make them becomeeffective communicators in preparation for deployment in the upcoming majorprojects related to the OBOR. To facilitate trade and knowledge transfereffectively, Africans also need to familiarize themselves with mandarin, thelanguage that has the largest speaker population in the world.
Governments in the continent are alsoexpected to enact favorable legislations or amend old ones with the aim ofaccommodating the advanced trade dealings that will come with therevitalization of the Silk Road. These may include, commercial code reforms,intellectual property rights protection, export credit guarantees, anti-graftlaws, among others. The continent is supposed to boost its regulatory capacityor seriously work to reconfigure itself to optimally employ existinginternational mechanisms like World Trade Organization (WTO) if it is tobenefit from fair dealings in the transaction that this China-led initiativespawns. Such a regulatory capacity would help guarantee quality assurance ofgoods and services, which are visibly lacking at present. African countriesneed to nurture strong governance to avoid giving in to pressure of theirstronger partner to absorb large amounts of debt relative to their GDP.
African countries can also tap into thehuge reservoir of much-needed foreign direct investment and loans fordevelopment by enhancing the absorption capacity and efficiency of theirinstitutions. Learning from the all too known encumbrances of the Breton WoodsInstitutions, namely the IMF and World Bank, African governments need to makegood use of the less stringent and fairer modalities of acquiring loans fromfinancial institutions like the Silk Road Fund and the Asian InfrastructureInvestment Bank (AIIB). Enhanced cooperation between the African DevelopmentBank, the AIIB and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) would serve this goal.African governments should push for a complete overhaul of the global taxsystem to ensure each company pays its fair share. Big corporations are gamingone nation’s taxpayers against another’s: we need a global deal to make thempay their way, says Nobel Laureate Economist Joseph Stiglitz.
Over the past years, the process ofglobalization has showed new features: international investment is increasingin scope and the major players of globalization have also changed with newtechnology and e-commerce. The approach by the new major player, China,characterized by de-politicization of the Belt and Road Initiative, will notonly help its buy-in among countries marginalized by the western-ledglobalization but also increase its effectiveness.
The Belt and Road Initiative, as a globalinvestment strategy reflecting new trends of globalization, is aimed atexploring a new model of international cooperation and global governance. Notdriven by ideological considerations, it is unique to all existing and pastsimilar initiatives like the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe right afterthe end of World War II. The initiative is hoped to contribute towardsfostering global peace, which Africa should work to benefit from in the mostoptimum way possible.