Expert Interview — Priyajit Debsarkar

“One Bill One Ruin (OBOR)  / Bankrupt Ruin Initiative (BRI)”

Jennifer Loy interviews Priyajit Debsarkar, author of Pakistan’s Atlantique Attack & Arbitration  and the previous book The Last Raja of West Pakistan,  on China ’s OBOR/BRI and the motivations behind it.

  1. In a simple way, can you explain China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR)/Belt Road Initiative (BRI)?

My honest candid explanation would be one Belt of Debt, Road to nowhere. One Road Multiple traps. One Bill One Ruin (OBOR)  / Bankrupt Ruin Initiative (BRI).

  1. Do you believe Xi Jinping’s intentions are truly economic and almost nation-building, or do you think there are military motives as well?

Most certainly martial myth of double digit growth to keep the deep seeded socio- economic issues at bay. Domestic debt, poverty and climate change linked pollution are the key spheres that President Xi should concentrate on.

  1. The BRI is an incredible endeavor, a modern Silk Road.  How is the Chinese government funding this project?

Estimates for the capital needs of projects under its scope range from US$4 trillion to US$8 trillion over an indefinite period. China will try to provide concessional funding through institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund, But Chinese banks alone will not be able to fully fund these Belt and Road projects as the scale of the initiative expands. That’s when private capital will come in and public-private partnerships (PPP) have an important role to play. Port in Pakistan, Bridges in Bangladesh and Railways to Russia can’t be conceived out of thin air.

4. How do the Chinese people view such an extensive project?

I really doubt how much information the common Chinese has access to make an educated assessment of the entire project. It’s highly likely they will not have access to any real-time debt to GDP figures at best they can guess.

  1. BRI projects would truly benefit the host nation if locals are employed.  Where are examples that they have been?

The best example is Tibet were locals have been involved in Chinese sponsored infrastructure development model.

6. In Xi Jinping’s first address to the UN in 2013, he stressed, “We should build partnerships in which countries treat each other as equals, engage in mutual consultation, and show mutual understanding.”  I feel this does not prove true today with Sino-Indian relations, especially as China is gaining influence in South Asia.  What can you say to this in terms of the BRI?

Delhi-Beijing aligning can work to Kabul’s advantage; this was reportedly decided at the informal summit in Wuhan on April 27-28 between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. If this gets operationalized, it has the potential to reshape the geopolitics in and around Afghanistan.

  1. India appears to be losing influence in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.  What do they need to do to regain this, or should they wait and see how the BRI aids the region?

India must show pivotal role to ensure Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation emerges the prime alliance in South East Asia a beacon of hope in the region.

  1. A couple months ago, India and China “reset” their relations. Was this for show or do you think it has worked?

China inaugurated its first overseas military base in Djibouti, increasing India’s anxiety about China’s growing profile in western Indian Ocean; maybe the Reset Button is made in China.

  1. It appears Nepali Prime Minister Oli is interested in increasing relations with China.  Besides China Telcom Global and a Beijing funded railway into China, what other projects will Nepal benefit from with the BRI?

India and Nepal agree on key infrastructure and agriculture projects, two countries agree to expand rail links from Raxaul to Kathmandu apart from key Electricity projects. It’s not all doom and gloom. India and Nepal are connected by the same umbilical cord after all.

  1. With positive and seemingly strengthening Sino-Nepali relations, it is odd that in early May Nepal withdrew from the Budhi Gandaki hydroelectricity project. Can you elaborate?

“Political prejudice or pressure from rival companies may have been instrumental in the scrapping of the project. But for us, hydropower is a main focus and come what may, we will revive the Budhi Gandaki project”, these are Nepal PM K P Oli’s own words; it can rise as a phoenix.

  1. How far do you think Sino-Nepali relations can extend before India intervenes, perhaps militarily?

The historical angle of Gorkha war, an invasion of Tibet by Nepal from 1788-1792 should be made more accessible to the youth of today to understand the founding stone of Sino- Nepali Relationships.

  1. In 2017 at the World Expo in Astana, Kazakhstan, the China Pavillion was concerned with clean, green technology. How have they already taken steps to implement this within the BRI?

Yes they have progressed – A new report released by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) delves deep into the country’s efforts to lead the world in laying an international foundation for renewable energy generation.

  1. Chinese tourists make up the largest percentage in the Maldives.  How will the BRI improve the Maldivan economy besides tourism?

Ex-president Mohamed Nasheed said Chinese interests had leased at least 16 islets among the 1,192 scattered coral islands and were building ports and other infrastructure there, they are on route of becoming the Sri Lanka 2.

  1. Besides the 99-year lease on the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, how else will the BRI affect the island nation?

Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport is a perfect example of Ghost town developmental model which will benefit the Island Kingdom.

  1. The landlocked Kingdom of Bhutan is secluded and unique because of its geography as well as its environment and lifestyle.  Will the BRI affect it?

The taste of Doklam dim sums along with a fuzzy Beijing bluff  will live in the memories of Bhutan for a long time to come.

  1. Bangladesh is often a forgotten South Asian nation.  It is poor and suffers from great infrastructure concerns and it would greatly benefit from the BRI.  Are there any such projects?

The Dhaka Stock Exchange is the most recent Sino-progress in Bangladesh. It will not benefit in the long run as China has aggressively in recent times come up with export oriented finished garments. The political leadership in Bangladesh has resolved a 70- year old land dispute with India in the most amicable way possible. They are working closely to implement the Indira Mujib Accord signed in 1971.

  1. What are the prospects for Gwadar and Kyaukphyu as Indian Ocean ports for China to decrease sea shipping?

The string of Pearls from Myanmar to West Pakistan might not be beneficial to the dreams of Deep Sea shipping alternatives for China. With regards to Pakistan the entire region from Kashgar to Gwadar is plagued with security concerns and runs into foreign sovereign disputed territory. With an impending IMP bailout package with high premium of FATF black list its most likely to derail.

  1. How is the “China Model” affecting nations in Africa?

Offer the honey of cheap infrastructure loans, with the sting of default coming if smaller economies can’t generate enough free cash to pay their interest down. It’s a road of multiple traps.

  1. The BRI will extend to Europe eventually. Explain those that are and are not interested and their reasoning.

Only if it succeeds to lift off in Asia and Africa, which looks highly unlikely at the present time.

  1. Xi described the BRI as a “win-win” for the nations involved.  I understand it is too soon to truly tell.  Regardless, what needs to happen for it to be a “win-win” for those involved?

Win for some, Multiple Debt trap for all.

Jennifer is a Research Associate at Nepal Matters for America, Washington DC.

Photo Courtesy: South China Morning Post

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