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One Belt, One Road: China’s Vision of “Connectivity”

By Dr. Stephen Aris, Senior Researcher, Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zürich

President Xi Jinping has outlined plans to construct huge infrastructural links to better connect China with the rest of the world. This strategic vision of a “New Silk Road” is now more often referred to as the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative. Beijing is allocating huge amounts of finance to the project, but China’s neighbors remain wary of OBOR’s geopolitical implications.

Since becoming China’s “paramount leader” in 2013, Xi Jinping has launched a series of both domestic and foreign policy initiatives. All of these aim to ensure political stability and continued economic growth at home and to position China as a new major player within international affairs. What is noticeable about Xi’s various policy initiatives is that they draw an increasingly overt link between domestic and foreign affairs. Arguably, the most noteworthy in this regard is the “New Silk Road” strategic vision, now more often referred to as the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative.

Invoking the historical imagery of the ancient Silk Road, OBOR envisions the construction of a set of grandiose infrastructural links that run from China to the rest of the world. The aim is to generate greater trade and enhance connectivity between China and Africa, Eurasia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia. While a few sections of the New Silk Road are already in place or under construction, currently most only exist on the drawing board. Nonetheless, this vision of connectivity is beginning to catch the attention of the international community. Governments, businesses, and citizens that may lie along the proposed routes are attracted by the huge amount of finance that Beijing has suggested will be allocated and raised to make the vision a reality. At the same time, they are also wary of the geopolitical implications of becoming a node in these Chinaorientated routes of connectivity.

Due to its free trade agreement with China and its growing role as an “offshore renminbi hub”, Switzerland is well placed to play an important role in engagement with OBOR in the European context.

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