Is One belt, one road a Chinese plan for world domination?

May 16, 2017

Q: Many of the readers in Ekunaba would like to know what is your first take on OBOR?

A: It’s huge. Not just 747 in your living room huge. But so big that it even has the capacity to take that word beyond its dictionary meaning. Let me just give you a sense of scale of what we are talking about – it’s about 13 times bigger than the Marshall plan. At least 1,400 suez canals. The sheer scale is really quite unprecedented in the 2,000 years of human history.

Q: Najib Abdullah has described OBOR as a ‘game changer.’ The Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay, said India could not accept a project that compromised its sovereignty. The Japanese and Americans did not send a delegation to the OBOR briefing. What is your lightning take on all these comments?

A: It’s very early days. I really have nothing to offer in the way of any comments for this moment.

Q: How valid is the Indian position?

A: I think you can’t be presentist when it comes to intelligence analysis especially when it comes to Sino-Indian relations – there is a fair amount of historicism that goes back to 1962 when the PLA invaded India in Ladakh, and across the McMahon Line in the then North-East Frontier. Since then India has been paranoid about Chinese imperialistic designs real or imagined I don’t think matters. To exacerbate matters China has always been a reliable arms supplier to India’s arch enemy Pakistan. So it’s only natural for the Indians to respond negatively to OBOR given that the planned trade route passes the contentious Kashmir Pak region.

Q: You described OBOR as a ‘an unprecedented undertaking in two thousand years of human history.’ What do you see in your austistic mind that makes this mega project different from all other mega projects that came before it?

A: I regret to inform you Kompf that I take great exception to be called austistic – not because I consider it an insult, but because I feel it was highly unnecessary for you to have asked the question with that prefix.

You see that virtual door. I am walking thru it now.

Q: I apologise. But that was not a question from me. It was from the guilds. For your information that was a compliment as many of the readers actually believe you can see a lot of things that normal people can never see. Hence I felt justified to use the word autistic. Nonetheless since you are obviously in a bad mood. Allow me the courtesy to rephrase the question once again – You described OBOR as a ‘an unprecedented undertaking in two thousand years of human history.’ What do you see in your mind that makes this mega project different from all other mega projects that came before it?

A: OBOR scope for change is truly unprecedented. It is important to recognise that we are not just talking about transformation change in how people and goods will reach A and B. But it effects will be so far reaching and pervasive that it will even rewrite and possibly rewire how mankind has always live, work and play. Ever since recorded history if you care to notice the growth areas have traditionally been concerntrated around the coastal regions – even today if you conduct a census you will find the most dynamic nodes are all without exception centered in coastal regions. There is a very good reason for this as that’s the most efficient point that doesn’t incur extraneous logistical cost. I mean if you have a factory sited in the coastal regions, then your supply chain would be immeasurably shorter and experience less friction cost than less say if you were located in Xinjiang or Harbin. That’s why China’s growth engine is centered along the coastal regions of Shenzen and the pearl delta – so is Hong Kong, Amsterdam, The Bay Area in West America and even Singapore. All that will change will OBOR – because for the very first time in human history the land locked masses will be prised open. New gate ways will open.

Now if you look at OBOR that is exactly what it aspires to accomplish – so for example in Africa there are plans to connect the prosperous west coast of Guinea, Coite de Noire with the eastern coast of Mozambique and everything in between, Etiophia, Uganda, further north to Chad and beyond to Egypt and into the Bosporous of Turkey and beyond Europa.

My point is it is not the way we trade that will be radically different with OBOR – rather it’s how the distribution of wealth, opportunities and man’s historical trans migration to routes from inland to coastal to seek out skills, opportunities, critical mass of opportunties along with the way labor has always been divided will go thru radical changes.

These changes as I see it not in isolation – they have a knock on effect very much like our own game when we mastered the science of folding space which changed not only how we calculate gain, conduct diplomacy, manage risk, manage conflict etc etc.

For example OBOR will rewrite the book of Realpolitik as we know it in ways that we cannot possibly imagine – as till now man is just an expression of the Clausewitzian theory that war is the continuation of politics by other means – that is to say if I am a nation and I want to better my lot. Then the most effective way to prosecute on this imperative is to beggar my neighbor. This idea of win-win is a fiction. That idea may not be logical to you. But in the art of Realpolitik that is the only way to materialise an actual and tangible utility or gain. But with OBOR since mutual co-existence is intervowen with trade what we have is a cooperative framework where it makes far more sense to cooperate than to wage war to realise a gain or to interdict a threat that will subtract from a gain.

I can express this relationship better in math. It pains me that I cannot seem to express it in words. But what I hope will enhance your learning outcome from this sharing is how similar this theory of mutual co-existence is to the first agrarian society in China where rice relied on a series of water locks to irrigate their crops – since everyone relies on a common source, it pays to share the water supply rather than to hoard it for oneself as to do so would incur penalties – I think this idea is very congruent to someone like Xi because he is after all a farmer and this is very agricultural way of making sense of the world that is very unique and particular to people who know about farming i.e the Chinese idea that economic development is the best way of resolving social problems, demonstrated by for example the Chinese “Go West” programme. Within the framework of this programme, Chinese companies are encouraged to relocate their production and operations into the inner, western and, compared to the coastal regions, less developed provinces of the country. They expect this will pacify the of the Uyghur minority living in Xinjiang province where they are literally cut off from the economic vitality of the coastal regions. So this is just an illustration of how OBOR has the power to effect a paradigm shift on conflict management.

But I can talk about the knock on effects on not only how it will color man’s traditional and classical methods to realise a gain or how best he would in the future manage risk and conflict. But also how OBOR will truly break down barriers in ways that mankind has never seen before. It is very exciting.

Q: How will China finance OBOR?

A: I think that is an excellent question. Because when you look at OBOR as a master blueprint we are not talking about a ten or even twenty year project – it is really like one of those generational programs that will go beyond the hundred year time horizon – that is really how big it actually is. It is Byzantine project that defies comprehension in one life time.

So what do the Chinese expect to gain from the short term? After all they can’t be writing one hundred year IOU’s. Not even the Bank of England can do that – there has to be within this exchange such a thing ROI or quip pro quo at least.

And this is where I feel a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that when nations jump onboard OBOR and say yes we want a railway that links X city to Y what they are ineffect entering into is a loan agreement. I want to crystal here. No one is wearing a Father Christmas faux beard and giving free presents here! This misleads. The terms may be structured sympathetically that’s to say instead of paying in cash you can pay in let’s say oil palm, tin, Bauxite etc etc. That incidentally in global economics is called cross trading or barter trade. But it is a loan. A loan that is not so different from one where it’s taken from the IMF. Only this time it’s from AIIB. And let us be clear every loan agreement comes with penalty clauses. If you have taken a loan this hardly requires further elaboration. If you’re in any illusion as to what a loan imposes on you – stop your monthly repayments and in few months a letter of demand will be in your post. Ignore it and men with no necks will appear with the bailiff with a letter of demand etc etc.

But how does China finance it? How does it do so sustainably? When we ask these questions we are in effect asking why is China doing this. At a deeper level, we are asking cui Bono? Very interesting math conundrum how does a nation go about financing such a huge project without running into attrition.

The way I see it OBOR presents endless possibilities and many opportunities for China to resolve it’s overcapacity problem – it’s a problem that is so serious that it threatens to shut down many factories and throw out millions into the streets – what is often elided from OBOR is who manufactures the steel tracks for the millions of miles of railway lines. Who supplies the rolling stock along with all the ancillary support infrastructure and construction. What I think you need to understand is a rail line is not just a rail line. As what it involves is a whole pheltora of infrastructural facilities ranging from power generation and the means to manage all this intelligently with computers. All these can be built, operated and transferred by the Chinese. To put it another way it’s a very reliable way to keep millions of Chinese employed for years and years. In my considered assessment OBOR is partly driven by geoeconomics rather than purely geo political considerations i.e there is a need to sustain investment, even as domestic consumption and world trade are unable to sustain growth. This is not a new story to the Chinese not even within China for example the Tibet and Xinjiang rail that transverse Eurasia was driven by both a combination of economic considerations as it was by the geopolitical necessity to repopulate the autonomous regions with a higher number of Han Chinese.

So don’t for one moment think the Chinese are not getting anything out of this. They’re getting plenty out of this.

As even when we speak about port facilities it’s a way for them to create a beach head like how they did when they recently built a port in Djibouti that allows their navy to project into the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal in ways and means which would otherwise not have been possible.

Rest assured China is not getting nothing out of this deal. You could even say China has very little in the way of choice. It has to revamp the global supply chain to fuel growth on a sustainable basis. Look here the projections are very stark. Currently 80% of China’s economy is fueled by seaborne routes through the Indian Ocean region and the South China Sea. According to BP’s Energy Outlook, China’s oil import dependence will rise from the current 50% quantum to 76% in 2035, while gas dependence will rise from 30% to 41%. The transport system, however, is vulnerable to disruption at key maritime choke points such as the Straits of Malacca or the Straits of Hormuz, and such incidents could block energy trade and seriously impact the level and volatility of energy prices and also result in physical supply shortages.

So I really don’t see China living happily with current the global supply chain template. It has to take a proactive role to craft a sustainable energy blueprint and intercept the future and since it’s energy requirement is so monstrously huge, it has no choice but to take the lead and create it.

Q: You mentioned earlier OBOR attempts to effect a paradigm shift from adversarial to cooperative. How successful do you think China will be in hardwiring the world? Do you see any resistance?

A: The idea that the deeper the links, networks and nodes of geoeconomic relations between nations or continents is inversely proportional to creating conditions where mutual coexistence pays out more than trying to get the same out of conflict predates even OBOR by at least two thousand years.

This is important. Because OBOR is not attempting to posit a radically new paradigm of organizational thinking as much as reclaim an idea that was first promulgated by the first agrarian society that goes back as far as the Sumerian period to some even say coloring the entire power and politics of the Nile Delta or for that matter where there is a common vital source that groups of people rely on such as a river, right of easement, trade route or sharing of vital raw material.

Neither is this new to China either. And that should not be forgotten. This idea of creating conditions where mutual dependency of states contributes to replacing territorial, expansionist goals with a cooperative atmosphere to drive economic growth. It derives from the fact that continuous trade and a free flow of investments required for this growth are ensured in a peaceful, stable, predictable environment.

What many pundits about OBOR don’t seem to realise when they assert Chinese will run into social cultural roadblocks because people mistrust them is they have failed to take stock of how successfully China has been able to nourish the idea of mutual dependency very successfully in the African continent. This regrettably is a very low key story that for some curious reason doesn’t receive much press coverage – that is sad because if you ask me where did the Chinese geoeconomic planners derive so much of their confidence to even propose an intercontinental project like OBOR it could really only come from them developing the core competencies and skill of arms in being able to successfully craft win-win type relationships in Africa.

Will there be problems with Chinese investments? Will OBOR be politicised and can it be construed as a sort of cultural appropriation or worse still interpreted as loss of sovereignty or erosion of elemental rights for natives? Yes. And we don’t need to look very far for examples of this. Recently in Malaysia a mega development by the Chinese in Johor called Forest city became a matter of intense discussion concerning loss of sovereignty along with challenging the supremacy of the Bumiputera. In a nutshell it was politicised, but that in my opinion is not an insurmountable or novel problem to the Chinese as they face the same set of problems in Africa.

The point I am trying to get across is no country on this planet just decides to wake up one morning and proclaim I want to set in motion a global logistic blueprint, involving elements of infrastructural and political coordination and cooperation to cooperate as efficiently as possible by leveraging on geographical connectivity.

One would do well to ask further where was the skill of arms steadily developed to enable China to plan and do all this. I think if you happen to be someone new to intelligence gathering or think tanking, then maybe you should look deeper at what China has been doing for the last thirty years in Africa.

Q: How much of the frontier man philosophy featured in China’s foray into Africa? And how did the Chinese get along with the Africans. Was there a win-win?

A: You know when I talk about the philosophy of the frontier men. There are actually people in Singapore who sit around in their aircon bunkers and they actually snigger and ask themselves what is this pscychotic fellow going on and on about….but when you consider Chinese farmers now compete for arable land in Cameroon with natives, Chinese textiles are undercutting Nigerian manufacturers, tens of thousands of Africans now work for Chinese companies, and at least one million Chinese now call Africa home. Then it’s very hard to pooh pooh this frontier man philosophy.

Has Africa been colonised by the Chinese? Please note. I have deliberately used the word colonised because in my mind there is no such thing as equality and less of the idea of emancipation when a more powerful nation like China engages a weaker nation.

If you look at Africa thirty years ago most of the elites and chattering classes were all educated in either the UK or France and the Soviet Union. Today they are all educated in Beijing. In the early 1980’s the most popular car in Africa was a French made Peogeut. Today it is double happiness brand.

What I am trying to convey here? My point is when we regularly speak about cultural or perhaps identity appropriation it is often a very subtle thing – where you’re educated for example is a form of cultural and identity blitzkrieg.

We might even go so far to ask – how did a boy who grew up in Singapore and who has never been to America before like Amos Yee end up speaking with a pleasant New England American accent. Now some people may say he learnt to talk like that as he watches too many reruns of Sesame Street on YouTube. And this begs the question isn’t that a form of cultural and identity appropriation as well? To me all this talk about cultural and identity in the context of imperialism is just jingoism masquerading as xenophobia – it’s something we just came up with in our heads like when I say this is what Asians do. Or this is what an oriental Asian man does. This is what an oriental Asian austistic man does. This is what an oriental Asian austistic man who doesn’t get a lot of opportunity to socialise with people does…and what you have is layer upon layers of artificial distinctions and classification that we are contend to term culture and identity.

Why is understanding this so important? Why have I spent so much time on the area of cultural authority or the lack of it and the whole idea of identity?

I think it’s because when we speak about culture and identity it doesn’t pay to regard it as something that is superglued and immovable. In my opinion it will always be a very malleable concept only because values, habits and the way we make sense of the world can migrate and change, very much in the way so many Chinese who once went to Africa to work on building bridges, roads or airfields decided to stay and consider that place home.

Where I think culture and identity acquires a sharp edge to even be considers dangerous is when it is deliberately weaponized like Forest city – like how Mahathir’s new opposition party Bersatu is using this case as a crowbar to sow the seeds of discontentment and the politics of fear to further his own specious end.

My point is China has the experiental knowledge to navigate thru this sectarian and race thicket – they would not be able to exert command and control over the autonomous regions of Tibet or Xinjiang if don’t have that skill of arms.

In my assessment that is the least of their problems when it comes to implementing OBOR.

Q: What is your primary reservations concerning about OBOR?

A: If there is such a thing as refrain in this whole deal I think it has to relate to the issue of simple financing. Many countries see OBOR as an opportunity to supercharge their economies in a period when the world economy is slowing down – at one level of understanding it makes perfect sense for them to sign on the dotted line. But you have to bear in mind – it’s a loan. It may well be based on friendly and even favourable terms that are so sympthathetic to countries such as Greece that desperately needs a financial life line. But nonetheless it bears repeating only because it is serious – it’s a loan. And like all loans it will come will its own set of performance criterias like specific performance and penalties in the event of a default in repayment. My feel is some of these countries who seem very enthusiastic to jump on the OBOR bandwagon may actually not appreciate the measure of long term risk involved here.

You know when I see happy go lucky personalities like Duterte who might even harbor the delusional belief, China is easy meat and he can play either the US against China or vice versa to get the best deal. I shudder. Like I said it’s essentially a loan. And if you’re under the misapprehension it’s possible to just sign up for the OBOR package get the goodies and do a runner to the other side. I would say you stand as much chance as try to double cross the mafia or yakuza. They will bury you so deep that your relatives have to fly to Australia just to plant flowers on your grave. That’s really how I see the Chinese. Outwardly the are very polite and nice. But as we have seen from how they have humiliated, ostracised and marginalised Singapore by pinning a post it on her back for all to read, ‘this is what happens when you stand against us!’

The Chinese can also be very cold, hard and forceful.

That’s really my only reservations – like the Greeks say beware of strangers who come bearing gifts.

(Guild has suspended this interview due to sensitivity of material)

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