OBOR meets digitalization and the Arctic

von Ralf Ostner

Western observer perceive the Belt and Road Initiative mainly as an infrustructure initiative, missing the point that it is also a connectivity initiative—OBOR meets digitalization. Li Qiaoyi from the Global Times explains this in the following words:

„While some people still regard the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative mainly as a drive by China to export its rail, road and port construction capabilities, there are signs that the sprawling initiative will increasingly turn into a giant platform not only for China but also for other technologically sophisticated economies to jointly build digital prosperity along the route. This could be of growing importance for the B&R to be recognized as a global connectivity initiative that is viable as well as hotly sought-after. In a recent example, the „B&R“ Digital Economy Strategic Alliance was launched last week in Jinan, East China’s Shandong Province. The alliance, formed by Chinese server giant Inspur in partnership with four global IT heavyweights – US tech majors  Cisco and IBM, US financial services software provider Diebold Nixdorf and Sweden-based telecoms giant Ericsson – aims to provide various technology solutions such as data centers and cloud services to economies along the B&R route.“

While Western countries and IT companies still make up their mind how to achieve connectivity for underdeveloped regions as Central Asia, the Greater Middle East and Africa, while Mark Zuckerberg individually thinks about an initiative to start weather ballons to give Africa internet access, China tries to push the digitalization of the OBOR belt in a planned and systematic manner. As China tries to transform its economy in a hightech nation, it can become a main supplier and important source for knowledge transfer and will seek export markets for its new IT products. Nevertheless, digital connectivity has been given less attention than the more traditional part of the B&R, even though the digital component of the initiative has become perhaps more impressive. For example, the City of Pearl, a futuristic smart metropolis to be built in Manila in the Philippines, has been billed as one of China’s biggest B&R investments yet. It will feature innovations such as driverless vehicles and intelligent buildings.Therefore China will help the underdeveloped regions not just to build 20th century oldstyle cities, but the modern, innovative digitalized smart cities of the 21st century , raising productivity and leapfrog traditional and agricultural societies and nations into the technological standards oft he new millenium.

Another aspect oft he Belt and Road Initiative which isn´t on the media radar of the Western world ist hat OBOR and ist maritime silkroad is not only covering the traditional sea routes, but that a part oft he new silkroad will be a new silkroad on ice, developing the Arctic Norther passage. At the moment the NATO countries raise their eye brows about the attendance of Chinese warships in joint Sino-Russian naval military exercises in the Mediterrean Sea and the Baltic and East Sea in Norther Europe. Of course Chinese vessel don´t pose an imminanent threat to NATO and ist core naval power, the US navy, however Western countries see this as a symbolic power projection of China which wants to articulate its future spheres of influence. Russia tries partly to controll the Arctic Northern sea route, the North-West and the North East passage which will become more important for sea trade and container ships as the climate change is melting the polar ice and enabling vessel to pass the polar region.

Russia is aware China is adding to its still symbolic footprint in the Arctic and investing in research and infrastructure projects in the High North, looking for opportunities to break the monopoly of the five littoral states (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 2). Beijing’s largest stake so far is the partial ownership of the Yamal-LNG project, which is due to ship the first tanker of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Chinese customers next month (TASS, October 10). A generous infusion of Chinese capital rescued this project from looming bankruptcy last year, and now Beijing is exerting gentle pressure to secure a tax cut on the dividends (Kommersant, October 16). Only by showcasing its military might Russia hope to counter the steady Chinese expansion in its vast but neglected Arctic frontier.

China and Russia should jointly develop and cooperate on the use of the North Polar sea route and build a Silk Road on ice, President Xi Jinping told visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on their November meeting.Close to 20 bilateral cooperative documents were signed in fields such as investment, energy, aerospace and finance.Russia is China’s largest neighbor, and China’s clear goals and firm determination to develop and deepen China-Russia relations will not change, Xi said.Therefore China will use Russia as a military and economic partner to develop the polar Arctic Belt and Road. Russia also has a modern and sophisticated fleet of icebreakers which China wants to use, however China`s shipbuilding industries already started to develop ist own icebreaking vessels. The USA and Europe are in confusion, the Chinese seem to have the only world plan, the New Silk Road, One Belt One Road, while the rest of the world doesn´t have a „world plan“. I hope that the USA, the EU and Asia will regroup in the next decade to counterbalance OBOR by their own initiatives. If they can´t do this, this would mean that the Chinese Socialism with Chinese characters is the superior model for the world.

 

 



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