One Belt One Road One Virus: OBOR-participating nations pay hefty price for ties with China amid COVID-19 scare

Mar 19, 2020

New Delhi, Mar 19 (ANI): Coronavirus-hit countries of Italy and Iran are paying a hefty price for their participation in China's flagship initiative 'One Belt One Road', as evident from the two countries having had reported the second and third highest cases and fatalities from the deadly virus despite the geographic distance from the epicenter of the outbreak. Both Italy and Iran signed up the OBOR in 2019, opening an array of sectors to Chinese investment, from infrastructure to transportation, and consequently employing thousands of Chinese workers for construction work under the initiative.Writing for the American online magazine The Federalist, Helen Raleigh argues in her article that the ‘short-sighted and foolish decisions’ of the leaders of Italy and Iran to enthusiastically sign up for the OBOR in the hope to rescue their failing economies has left the two nations in a worse position following the outbreak of novel coronavirus. Italy has reported more than 35,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, and killed nearly 3000 others, while Iran has recorded over 17,000 cases and 1135 deaths, as per the latest data available on the World Health Organisation website. The presence of Chinese workers in Pakistan for the construction work under China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) -- flagship project under the mega OBOR -- has raised concerns of the exponential surge in the number of cases in that country. Pakistan has so far reported 304 cases of coronavirus -- the highest among the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation nations. With the OBOR, China has used the brand of the "New Silk Roads" and promised a 360-degree counter-globalization infrastructure project of sea and land routes between China-Asia, Africa and Europe by investing in ports, inland ports, railways, telecommunications, and digital roads. Against the warning of the European Union and the United States, Italy became the first and the only G7 country to sign onto the OBOR. The Italian government downplayed the development as "largely symbolic" saying it had no legal value, and pointed out to the fact that other European countries, like Malta, Greece, and Portugal, have already signed something similar. The first case of coronavirus in Italy was reported in Lombardy -- the region that saw the most Chinese investment. Nearly a month from then, Lombardy is still the hardest-hit region, while the entire country has been in lockdown until at least April 3. The country's economy is expected to contract 7.5 percent in the first quarter. A similar narrative unfolded in Iran, when the Health officials trace the country's coronavirus outbreak to Qom, a city of a million people. Medical professionals suspect that coronavirus spread in the city either through Chinese workers employed in projects under the OBOR, or an Iranian businessman who travelled to China.