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One Belt, One Road: Thailand’s Place in the New Silk Road Initiative
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A multi-trillion-dollar initiative spearheaded by China aims to restructure intercontinental trade through a linked maritime and land network. This initiative is based on the ancient trading routes popularly known as the Silk Road. Named for the lucrative silk trade carried out along its length, the original Silk Road began about 200 BC and fizzled out with the Mongol Empire’s fragmentation about 1700 AD.
The New Silk Road project goes by several alphabet-soup acronyms. It is known as One Belt, One Road (OBOR), but it is also called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or just the Belt and Road (B&R).
To round out the OBOR acronyms, its land portion is called the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB). The marine part of the project is the Maritime Silk Road (MSR).
OBOR focuses on five major areas to improve connectivity. However, its foremost feature is the construction of railways, highways, and other infrastructure.
The MSR runs from the Chinese coast through Singapore to the Mediterranean. Apart from the maritime route, the BRI runs along six corridors. All of the corridors run across and are controlled by China.
Launched in 2013, OBOR connects China with Asia, Europe, and Africa. Sixty-eight countries have signed up for the project. The areas and countries involved contain almost two-thirds of the world’s population and account for one-third of the world’s wealth as measured by GDP.
Although the B&R is less than a decade old, its impact will soon reverberate throughout Thailand’s economy. Along with this massive initiative come tremendous opportunities, especially in these sectors:
- Road, railway, and marine technology
- Information technology
- Transportation and logistics
- Energy supply, distribution, and storage
Several causes for celebration and caution about Thai participation in OBOR:
- OBOR treaty: Thailand is part of the 68 countries participating in the most significant infrastructure project of our time.
- EEC: The BRI will heavily influence the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) national infrastructure project. The EEC can use its environment for OBOR and vice versa, resulting in mounting synergistic effects.
- Chinese loans: Thai investors and foreign companies can tap into substantial OBOR-designated loan funds from Chinese state banks and other institutions. As long as the loans are handled prudently, they will be a net benefit to Thailand.
- OBOR laws: The mammoth OBOR project calls for a uniform legal framework to be developed and applied throughout its jurisdiction, including Thailand.
- ASEAN treaties: Current inter-regional treaties within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must be reshuffled.
- Investment hub: Thailand’s neighbors are directly linked to the land and sea portions (the SREB and the MSR, remember?) of the OBOR project. As Southeast Asia’s investment hub, Thailand will enjoy tremendous opportunities to participate in these developments.
The One Belt, One Road (OBOR) mega-trillion-dollar infrastructure project seeks to re-invent the ancient Silk Road trading routes and there is no doubt that Thailand will benefit from the project on several fronts.
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