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A quick guide to China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Source: Getty / POOL

Currently on a five-day tour of Australia, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is promoting for his much-publicised "One Belt, One Road" policy while here. But what is it and what has it got to do with Australia? Here, SBS Mandarin breaks down the policy (also known as the New Silk Road plan) in a quick easy guide.

Australia has reportedly rejected the Chinese push for a New Silk Road strategy, concerned it could damage relations with the United States.

One Australian official reportedly telling the Financial Times that "No formal memorandum on this issue will be signed during the visit [to Australia].” 

Premier Li however does not seem keen to back down, sendding a blunt warning in his opening address at lunch inside federal parliament in Canberra on day one of his visit.

“China pursues an independent foreign policy of peace and we pursue a national development path suited to our traditions. Likewise, we respect your choice in your foreign policy,” he told guests in Mandarin. 

So what exactly is the policy all about? Here, SBS Mandarin breaks it down:

What is "One Belt, One Road"?

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (also known as One Belt, One Road - or 'OBOR') is China's much-touted new foreign and economic policy. It's a development strategy and framework to leverage regional connections and resources from Central Asia up to Europe and across South-East Asia and the coast of Africa.

The "One Belt" refers to the he land-based "Silk Road Economic Belt" (SREB).

The "One Road" references the ocean-going "Maritime Silk Road" (MSR), also known as the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road."

Why is it also called the "New Silk Road" initiative?

"One Belt One Road" covers countries throughout the Asian continent from China to the rest of Eurasia. The geographical stretch makes it comparable with Silk Road or Silk Route, an ancient network of trade routes connecting the East and West around 120 BCE to 1450s CE that is famous for the profitable silk (and horses) trade.

Why is China pushing this? To make friends? Lead the world?

The OBOR strategy, proposed by Chinese leader Xi Jinping and frequently raised during Chinese leaders' visiting to relevant countries and in trade talks, is often reported as China's ambitious push to take a bigger role in global affairs and expand its "friends circle."

Some analysts say that it is also intended to address its domestic needs in economic transformation. In a recent report published by Lowy Institute, titled "Understanding the Belt and Road Initiative," author and research fellow Peter Cai argues that the initiative is also motivated by the country’s pressing domestic economic and social challenges.

What countries are involved?

The 'Belt' and 'Road' covers primarily Asia and Europe, encompassing around 60 countries. Oceania and East Africa are also included.

One Belt One Road
Photo by Johannes Zielcke (via the Lowy Institute)
Lowy Institute

On China's "One Belt, One Road" official website, it also says the initiative is open to all countries as well as international and regional organizations for cooperation.

"It covers, but is not limited to, the area of the ancient Silk Road."

What cooperation are OBOR looking at?

A paper bulished by the Australian government on the subject pointed out that formally, OBOR emphasises five key areas of cooperation:

  •     coordinating development policies
  •     forging infrastructure and facilities networks
  •     strengthening investment and trade relations
  •     enhancing financial cooperation and
  •     deepening social and cultural exchanges.

What has it got to do with Australia?

Given that infrastructure such as railways, roads, ports, energy systems and telecommunications networks play significant roles in terms of implementing the initiative, Australia and Beijing have been in talks since October on an agreement to link China's OBOR initiateive with the federal government's strategy to unlock the potential of northern Australia with major infrastructure projects. 

According to an article published by Australia Institute of International Affairs, opportunities for Australia lie in three areas: China’s investment in Australia, Australia’s investment in China, and the opportunities for Australian industries in third countries.

There could be significant economic benefits to Australia through the opening up of investment opportunities.

Highlighting an early focus of OBOR on infrastructure, the article also raised that long-term implementation of the initiative will "require substantial skills in sectors in which Australia has recognised global strengths, including infrastructure, energy and resources, advanced manufacturing, education and banking and finance."


Although China spruiks that OBOR will provide enormous opportunities for the economic and social development of countries involved, to enhance international cooperation in the world amid rising protectionism and unilateralism, whether China can sell the economic benefits of the initiative to its neighbours can be questionable.

Quote from an article by Geoff Wade, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security, former World Trade Organization chief, Supachai Panitchpakdi, has stated that the OBOR initiative and, specifically, its projects along the Mekong River, all serve China’s own interests.

Peter Cai also argues that obstacles not only include poor political trust between China and some OBOR countries, as well as instability and security threats in others, but also "whether China’s neighbours will be willing to absorb its excess industrial capacity."

Mr Li is the first Chinese Premier to visit Australia in eight years. More info on his visit below - via SBS World News