The One Belt, One Road policy (OBOR) launched last March by the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) aims to enhance coordination across the Asian continent, namely financial integration, trade liberalization, and person-to-person connectivity.

One Belt is an economic land belt that builds on the ancient Silk Road that dates to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220AD). That hugely influential network of trade routes linking Asia with the Roman Empire began in Chang’an, China (now the city of Xi’an), and ended in the Mediterranean world, reaching its peak during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The contemporary One Belt network will also link central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, relying on rail routes to develop oil, natural gas pipelines, and other infrastructure projects. The complementary One Road is maritime passage, a network of coastal infrastructure incorporating Southeast Asia, eastern Africa and the northern Mediterranean Sea.

OBOR’s principal goal is to boost connectivity and commerce between China and more than 60 countries across three continents, an area which takes in one third of the world’s total economy and more than 50 percent of the global population. From 2016 to 2020, the Chinese government will invest 50 billion dollars to support OBOR’s simultaneous mission of enhancing local development and integration.

There are two keys to the strategy. One is designing a regional economic architecture; reorganizing as well as optimizing the regional trade and investment patterns is the vital challenge. Over the next five years, domestic firms are strategically encouraged to go aboard to explore new markets and investment opportunities. Due to the overcapacity of certain industries such as steel, cement, and aluminum, China’s role as a global manufacturing powerhouse can be pushed further to stimulate economic growth. Investing and producing in China for export to developed markets will still be a powerful model to elevate China to the world’s largest economic entity.

The other strategy is the network of regional infrastructure. The infrastructure includes transportation infrastructure mainly railways and roads, energy infrastructure and communication infrastructure (IT infrastructure), which related to the Smart City Strategy years ago. The Infrastructure Alliance with other countries is vital for trade, policy, currency, and human connectivity. The annual gap between the supply and demand for infrastructure spending in Asia holds great potential. The excess steel industries can support OBOR infrastructure building.

The OBOR policy will exert an enormous influence on people’s lives, especially its transportation, tourism, shopping, and education aspects. The large amount of transportation infrastructure construction will increase air routes and make plane tickets cheaper. Driving a car or taking high-speed light rail from China to Europe will become realistic. As for tourism, there will be many new routes and products with special features designed around the Silk Road. More importantly, the process of issuing visas will be much easier for both Chinese and residents of other related countries. In addition, overseas travelling, e-business, and the development of free-trade zones will strongly encourage consumer shopping. Last but not least, a series of cultural and art festivals will be held among OBOR countries to enrich people’s lives.

In the next five to twenty years, OBOR will boost the urbanization process of China even further. There are mainly two challenges for us urban planners, designers, and landscape architects: One is how to guide the green and low-carbon development considering the various local features of the places we engage. The economic development should rely on local resources as well as respect the local environment. OBOR covers diverse ecological environments, such as desert, prairie, forests, and rivers. Protecting and taking advantage of those resources is key. On the other hand, China should explore a unique urbanization model powerful enough to guide development. The gap between urban and rural areas is a critical problem that requires smart solutions. Scientific guidance concerning rural marginalization, population distribution, and resource integration will be vital to informing the new urban structure.

Autumn Jing was a summer student at SWA Dallas and is the intern in the LA studio. She is from Taiyuan, China, and attends UPENN.

Image of construction in Raycom City, China, courtesy of Tom Fox, SWA.


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