New Silk Road Economic Belt To Open Markets With Oil-rich Kazakhstan, Asia, Europe
Impact and opportunities for Asia and Europe: One belt one road
Now the legendary Silk Road is one of Beijing’s most important international trade and development initiatives – nicknamed: “One Belt One Road”, or OBOR as it is frequently referred to. At present China’s economy is the world’s second largest behind the United States and ahead of Japan. The Silk Road was proposed to sustain this economic growth and development. The modern iteration of the Silk Road is the New Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road – which in the past linked Asia, Europe and Africa
The One Belt One Road initiative is the key driver of China’s economic, foreign and domestic policy. Its focus is to re-energise ancient Silk Road trade routes to open markets both within and outside the region. The Travel China Guide colourfully explains: “From the second century BC to the end of the fourteenth century AD, a great trade route originated from Chang’an (now Xian) in the east and ended at the Mediterranean in the west, linking China with the Roman Empire. Because silk was the major trade product which travelled on this road, it was named the Silk Road in 1877 by Ferdinanad von Richthofen – a well-known German geographer. This ancient route not only circulated goods, but also exchanged the splendid cultures of China, India, Persia, Arabia, Greek and Rome. Many great events happened on this ancient road, making the trade route historically important. Famous travellers along the road were its bright pearls, making it glorious. A great number of soldiers gave their lives to protect it. These are some of the reasons the road is still a time-honoured treasure.”
“Sri Lanka too played an active role in the ancient Silk route of the ocean. Situated strategically in the middle of the ancient Silk route of the ocean between East and West, Sri Lanka functioned as an entrepot of trade for exchanging commodities. Archaeological excavations in many parts of Sri Lanka have unearthed large hoards of Roman and Chinese coins, which indicate that merchants from West and Eat met in Sri Lanka and exchanged ware,” as Nipuni Perera detailed last month in Talking Economics.
Now the legendary Silk Road is one of Beijing’s most important international trade and development initiatives – nicknamed: “One Belt One Road”, or OBOR as it is frequently referred to.
At present China’s economy is the world’s second largest behind the United States and ahead of Japan. The Silk Road was proposed to sustain this economic growth and development. The modern iteration of the Silk Road is the New Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road – which in the past linked Asia, Europe and Africa.
The economic aim of One Belt One Road is to correct infrastructure deficiencies and improve connections between greater Asia and Europe. The new “Silk Road Economic Belt” aims to more effectively connect China with Europe via Central Asia. The “Maritime Silk Road” will link Chinese ports with Africa’s Coast through to the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean Sea. Beginning in China’s Quanzhou province, the Maritime Silk Road continues through to Malacca Strait via Kuala Lumpur and Kolkata to Nairobi.
Over 900 deals worth more than $890 billion are currently underway including a gas pipeline from the Bay of Bengal to Myanmar through to southwest China and a rail link between Beijing and Germany’s Duisburg transport hub.
China’s Xiamen is an example of a major hub on the Maritime Silk Road as well as a part of a growing trans-Eurasia rail network with 35 routes connecting China with numerous European cities, as well as Central Asia and the Middle East. Xiamen’s exports to other Maritime Silk Road countries grew last year by 10.1 per cent, to more than US$ 14 billion.
The Xiamen section of the Fujian Free Trade Zone (FTZ) holds the overland and Maritime Silk Road routes together. As Wade Shepard detailed in the South China Morning Post: “The Fujian FTZ offers incentives, such as preferential tax policies, reduced import tariffs, simplified customs clearance, two-way investment assistance, liberalized policies for the borrowing and converting of foreign currency, along with a “one-form application” procedure for establishing companies there. It is also directly connected with “Fujian Commodity City” trade centres in Russia, Poland and Bahrain.” The One Belt One Road and Maritime Silk Road combined will economically connect the West and Central Asia to South and Southeast Asia. China had established a US$ 40 billion dollar Silk Road Fund to help facilitate this development. Among the goals of the One Belt One Road is the stimulation of China’s domestic economy and the projection of Chinese strategic interests both westward and southward. China also seeks to bolster the Yuan, thereby increasing its acceptance as an alternative global currency.
One Belt One Road is proving a success
Despite only having begun, One Belt One Road is already demonstrating successes in Asia, Africa and Europe. As a result of China’s One Belt One Road efforts, it has, as William T Wilson details, “redrawn Central Asia’s energy economics.” He explains how Chinese companies “now own close to a quarter of Kazakhstan’s oil production and account for well over half of Turkmenistan’s gas exports. Recently they signed $15 billion in gas and uranium deal with Uzbekistan.” In high-speed rail, China has now taken its expertise global. Having laid more than twelve thousand miles of track, China now has more high speed rail than the entire rest of the world combined. The One Belt One Road will see it take that expertise into connecting China with Southeast Asia.
Indeed, as Nipuni Perera recounted: “The first cargo train from China to Iran, known as the Silk Road Train, arrived in Teheran in February 2016 after a 14 day journey travelling a distance of 10,399 kilometres through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan from China’s Eastern Zhejiang Province.”
Chinese President XI has pledged $250 billion to South America over the next decade – including a high speed rail system through Brazil’s rain forest and the Andean mountains. Last year, Xinhua news agency detailed how Beijing had already completed over 1,000 infrastructure projects in Africa, including rail and highway construction. Plans are in the works for railroads, bridges and roads linking 55 African countries.
In Europe, China’s largest trading partner, the Greek port of Piraeus is being upgraded and a Belgrade to Budapest bullet train is being built with Chinese finance.
In the planning stages is a network of pipelines, roads and railway lines beginning in Xian in China’s centre stretching as far as Belgium. And construction has already begun on a cargo rail line between Yiwu and Madrid. Indeed, China is now competing for high-speed rail contracts in regions as far afield as California and Southeast Asia.
Efforts in South Asia include the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which will connect Kashgar to Gwadar, the Bangladesh-China, India, Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) and the Colombo Port City Project in Sri Lanka. The aim of the project is to turn Sri Lanka into a trade hub in the Indian Ocean. China has promised more investment in Sri Lanka beyond this project. Munza Mushtaq, writing in Asia Times detailed that the project: “Will house a star class hotel, shopping and entertainment centers, offices, a marina and yacht club, a central boulevard, apartment complex, and a mini golf course, on 252 hectares of reclaimed land off Sri Lanka’s west coast.”
Expanding trade and investment across continents
The expansion of trade and economic cooperation, however, is the prime focus of One Belt One Road. As the National Interest detailed: “It launched in February 2014 with $40 billion – mostly drawn from Beijing’s bountiful foreign exchange reserves. Since then, One Belt One Road has begun attracting other foreign investors. Singapore’s state-owned development board has agreed to partner with China Construction Bank, committing about $22 billion to finance OBOR projects. International pension funds, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds and private equity funds have also thrown in on One Belt One Road projects in search of higher financial returns. Chinese infrastructure investment projects now span the globe.”
Fifty eight countries are now involved in the project, accounting for $ 21 trillion in aggregate economic activity, amounting to 29% of global trade. Where the traditional Silk Road facilitated the exchange of goods and technology, the New Silk Road will link policies, infrastructure, trade, finance and people.
As Wade Shepard details in Forbes: “China is in the active process of outsourcing its low-tech manufacturing capacity, and all through South Asia and the rest of the Belt and Road network, local manufacturing is rising. In some places, such as in Poland and Georgia, this is part of an industrial revival; in others, such as in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, it’s a strategy to diversify economies that are dependent on oil and gas; while in others, like Bangladesh, it’s way of securing the building blocks of investment and capital to modernize. Whatever the case, these supercharged trade routes and improved infrastructure networks are enabling a more even distribution of manufacturing enterprises across the Eurasian landmass.”
These opportunities are in clear focus in Europe. Indeed the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office along with the China-Britain Business Council recently authored an extensive study on One Belt One Road where they detailed how: “UK companies can play an important role by supporting the development and connectivity of China and beyond, thereby contributing to continued strong and sustainable growth in China while simultaneously benefiting from new commercial opportunities.”
Over the past 10 years, China’s foreign trade has grown 19% while its foreign investment has grown 46%. Trade value between China and One Belt One Road countries reached almost RMB7 trillion in 2014, accounting for one quarter of its overall trade value. At the same time China’s trade with Japan, the US and the Eurozone was 34% of its overall trade value.
In the first five months of this year, as The Economist reported, “more than half of China’s contracts overseas were signed with nations along the Silk Road – a first in the country’s modern history.”
While agriculture and mining are expected to benefit from One Belt One Road, China will also see its imports and exports diversify because of the initiative, particularly in high-end technology. China expects to invest more overseas and see its supply of energy increased via One Belt One Road.
With improved connectivity as a result of One Belt One Road, countries participating in the initiative are likely to see an expansion of trade and investment with China. For example, Europe is likely to see greater cooperation with West African markets and a balancing of its transatlantic trade and investment relationship. One Belt One Road is also expected to connect resource and commodity rich West and Central Asia to emerging economies of South and Southeast Asia, facilitating infrastructure development to help power consumer markets.
In April, for example, a Chinese shipping company, Cosco, as The Economist detailed, “took a 67% stake in Greece’s second-largest port, Piraeus, from which Chinese firms are building a high-speed rail network linking the city to Hungary and eventually Germany.”
China’s cement industries and freight movement by road are likely to see long term benefit from ASEAN and Central Asian infrastructure development. New industries to support this increased trade are also anticipated to be created. The entire One Belt One Road project is projected to take 35 years.
Challenges to and prospects for continued success
As One Belt One Road involves large scale infrastructure development in developing economies, time and potentially more investment will be needed to see success achieved, even while China’s economy is currently facing headwinds.
The Economist observes that while, “Asia needs new infrastructure – about $770 billion a year of it until 2020, according to the Asian Development Bank. (However)Bert Hofman, the World Bank’s chief in Beijing, (recommends) individual countries will benefit more (by) aligning their plans with one another and with China.”
To meet the financial needs of investors, China has established a $40 billion dollar Silk Road Fund and a $100 billion dollar Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The AIIB is not formally part of One Belt One Road but its first loans were for infrastructure development in Silk Road countries – Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Some analysts predict funding levels three to four times this amount may be needed. China’s Development Bank may issue bonds or create low-cost finance to help facilitate One Belt One Road.
Planning and coordination among member countries is seen as essential as a means by which to successfully implement One Belt One Road.
How your law firm can play a part in OBOR
“Whether your firm is a global giant or a local boutique – you can build a new client base around these infrastructure initiatives,” as John Grimley outlined in Asia Law Portal. He details how “a number of the larger law firms, including Baker and McKenzie and DLA Piper, have begun producing reports on One Belt One Road and related developments around China’s comprehensive infrastructure development activities including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road initiative. And Herbert Smith Freehills recently worked with Baker Botts to help the Chinese Silk Road fund on a project.”
Grimley further explains: “Study your jurisdiction to design and implement your unique approach. Each jurisdiction will have a unique, local public and private sector ecosystem which supports infrastructure development. Study that ecosystem to determine how to uniquely design a One Belt One Road/infrastructure client development initiative.
What practice areas are ideal for One Belt One Road work? The types of work law firms are seeking to generate around these initiatives include project finance, construction related arbitration and joint ventures, among others. Firms can also develop dedicated consulting practices around advising multinational companies identify and secure prime or subcontracts. Here, legal and consulting practices can work together to increase law firm opportunities to generate more work and more fees.
Firms can, (therefore) seek to generate (OBOR) work around the following efforts:
1. Since AIIB and related Chinese infrastructure efforts will be closely intersecting with national governments and local infrastructure development communities – interfacing with key decision-makers in some very specific ways will make your firm a gateway into your market and a key advisor on work related to this development – if your efforts are designed and implemented properly.
2. Your firm can seek to learn as much as possible about this system and build relationships with those in the system. Well designed efforts will generate work from those relationships. Firms can then also take the information about this system and the legal specialisms required to help make the deals happen – and become both a key provider of services to these deals – as well as a conduit of information to the outside world about opportunities, pitfalls, and informed guidance about these systems.
3. In order to draw attention from foreign infrastructure companies interested in opportunities in your market and the markets you serve – produce articles about local infrastructure updates and opportunities – then use those articles to creatively and proactively contact companies and referral sources – to facilitate discussions around how you might help them secure the work and navigate the local legal and political/regulatory ecosystem.
4. Also vital will be building relationships with Chinese law firms that advise on these new infrastructure initiatives, as well as Chinese government officials directly involved in these infrastructure efforts.
All these efforts combined would create a 360 degree effort permitting your firm to not only be readily available for work locally coming from companies and governments, but also a key source of information for foreign companies seeking to enter or expand into your local infrastructure economy. A combination of law practice and consulting – these efforts – if properly designed and implemented – will see your firm build an entirely new and lucrative client base around One Belt One Road.”
One Belt One Road is China’s core foreign and domestic economic strategy. China is seeking to both provide and seek key economic, financial and technical assistance to help facilitate successful economic connection across continents. China’s investments in several infrastructure projects and continued drive to advance the project are likely to meet with continued success going forward. And the good news is: your law firm can be a part of it too!