by Dr. Sebastien Goulard

After more than four years of activity, the OBOReurope platform is taking a break.

Launched in 2017, our platform has aimed to raise awareness of the new Silk Roads in Europe.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013, has gradually gained momentum, and Europeans have shown that they want to understand this connectivity project better in order to know how to go about participating. The BRI has gained the attention of the media, and various major infrastructure projects associated with it have been presented, such as the port of Gwadar in Pakistan, the new rail lines between China and Europe, and even Chinese investments in the port of Piraeus in Greece. However, all too often, connectivity issues (the necessary arrangements to facilitate trade between China and the rest of the world) have not been addressed, which is why our company, Cooperans, decided to create OBOReurope, so that the European audience can understand the BRI and the multiple forms it has taken.

During these four years, we have endeavoured to present the complexity of this initiative. We have followed the progress made by BRI projects and have analysed adherence of countries across all continents to the Chinese initiative; we have also considered the criticism levelled at it, along with the issues it has faced.

We have carried out monitoring work on development of the BRI, trying to chart progress of the BRI and various agreements signed between China and other countries. We have probably not been exhaustive enough, given the fact that the BRI has experienced many twists and turns and the BRI label has been attached to so many projects. Some may inevitably have escaped our radar.

This platform has also allowed us to meet professionals of all nationalities who are interested in the new Silk Roads, but also business leaders who understood this dynamic and the importance of strengthening relations with China and developing countries involved in the BRI.

We understand the interest that the BRI has aroused in developing countries, particularly in Africa and South Asia, where new infrastructure facilities are sorely needed. Many countries expected to receive support to build and finance major projects for their urbanizing populations.

In our various articles, we have also pointed out the changes that the BRI has experienced since its inception in 2013. The environment and governance, which were initially rather neglected, have become priorities in subsequent projects, in response to criticism. The BRI now has the ambition to deliver more environmentally friendly and inclusive development projects, although much remains to be done.

We have also analysed responses to the BRI formulated by powers other than China, and we have noticed that European countries have been relatively tentative regarding possible participation in the BRI. Their reservations are largely due to the fact that they are not developing countries and therefore have different infrastructure needs from Asian and African countries. Furthermore, some eastern European countries may have been disappointed with the low level of Chinese investment, which has continued to be concentrated in western Europe.

The trade war between the United States and China is at the core of projects competing with the BRI, for example, the “Blue Dot Network” and the “Build Back Better” project. In Europe too, there have been some attempts to promote local connectivity projects with Japan but also through the “Global Gateway” programme. The European Union has presented a relatively ambiguous position on this matter, somewhere between competition and coordination with the Chinese BRI.

While the aim of these various projects remains to strengthen global connectivity, they have unfortunately become politicized, making it more difficult for other countries to get involved. It is also challenging to predict the future of such projects. While the BRI is enshrined in the Chinese constitution, this project may evolve according to Beijing’s interests abroad. The “Build Back Better” and “Global Gateway” projects are more fragile, and they depend largely on the political will of the United States and the European Union, as well as on future relations with China. Budgetary constraints can also put an end to American and European ambitions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted on trade between Europe and China, and travel restrictions have limited projects, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. It will remain difficult for European companies to plan their development in China and along the new Silk Roads as long as travel is limited between the two regions. Of course, projects exist, and there is a strong motivation to increase exchanges and share experiences, but the pandemic is slowing their implementation.

The OBOReurope team has therefore decided to take a break for a few months and wait for the full reopening between Europe and China.

We would like to thank everyone who has supported us, including contributors like Natasha Fernando and Mike Healey, as well as all our visitors.

This is not “goodbye”, and it is likely that our team will soon be in a position to once again share news about the BRI and other projects related to the new Silk Roads.

Thanks again for this adventure!

OBOReurope: pause
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