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One Belt, One Road: 5 things you should know to lead a discussion


If you’re in international logistics like I am, chances are you’ve heard of the term “One Belt, One Road”. In fact, chances are you’ve heard it countless of times. You’ve read about it in industry periodicals, you’ve seen it thrown around in presentations. The awkward truth, however, is that few people know what OBOR really stands for. So, if you want to lead a discussion, this is what you need to know.

OBOR is not a formal policy or well-defined strategy

The Chinese leadership officially launched the OBOR initiative in autumn 2013. It was presented as a key national concept and foreign policy priority for years to come. Still, it’d be wrong to regard OBOR as a formal policy or clearly defined strategy. Rather, in the report by the European Think-tank Network on China (ETNC) it’s described as “a very broad conceptual framework for policies that aim at contributing to greater economic integration within Asia, between Asia and Europe, and between Asia and Africa.”

OBOR is about much more than transportation

OBOR is often discussed in a transportation context, but in fact, it’s much more than that. After all, China aims to promote economic integration through a variety of activities and projects. At the heart of OBOR lies a strategic approach to infrastructure development in the broad sense. Accordingly, China’s first action plan on OBOR identified transport, energy and telecommunication infrastructure as some – but not all – of its priorities.

In other words: the “belt” is an integrated economic corridor rather than a transportation link.

A Chinese initiative, but an international project?

So, we know OBOR is a Chinese initiative, but who’s behind the projects that fall under the OBOR umbrella? Is there cooperation on a national level? Or more local? This is where it can get a bit foggy. According to China’s action plan, the initiative is aimed at ‘Asian, European and African continents and their adjacent seas’. The focus lies on bi- and multilateral cooperation and joint implementation, says the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In short: all EU member states are welcome to propose joint activities.

Still, most projects on the ground happen to be collaborations with businesses or regional governments, rather than on a national level. Some central European countries, especially, form the exception.

It’s known by many names

Fun fact: One Belt, One Road isn’t the official name of the initiative. It’s the English translation of the Chinese term ‘yidai yilu’ ( 一带一路 ).

The Chinese government itself uses the term ‘Belt and Road initiative’ (BRI) in official English-language statements, and – oddly enough – other terms such as ‘Nouvelles routes de la soie’ in French, and ‘nueva ruta de la seda’ in Spanish. Similarly, in Europe the international trade and communication corridors that result in part from the Chinese initiative are often referred to as the ‘New Silk Road’ (or Roads or Routes), or by corresponding translations in various European languages.

OBOR will drastically change the world of international logistics

The OBOR initiative might not have been launched just for logistics, but it is the area where most developments are happening. Right now, local governments, operators of transport hubs and companies in the logistics sector in many countries are jumping on the OBOR train to capitalize on emerging business opportunities.

New transport corridors around Europe are already emerging and the frequency of their usage is increasing fast.

Seize new opportunities, get on track

In 2016, there were 5 OBOR-related port projects and 7 OBOR-related rail projects. While marine transport will remain relevant, it’s clear that the importance of rail is set to increase. This has some major implications for international transport temperature controlled transport, since most intermodal cooling hardware wasn’t built to support transport over rail.

With our brand-new range of intermodal solutions, Thermo King means to empower logistics professionals to choose the best route in this changing context.

This article was based on “Europe and China’s New Silk Roads”, a report by the European Think-tank on China (ETNC) and edited by van der Putten, F.-P., Seaman, J., Huotari, M., Ekman, A., & Otero-Iglesias, M.

It was released in December 2016 by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’, Elcano Royal Institute, Mercator Institute for China Studies, French Institute of International Relations (Ifri).