In 2013, President Xi Jinping announced China’s ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) plan to connect Asia and Europe with a 21st Century Silk Road by land and sea (One Road) to create an expansive Silk Road Economic Belt (One Belt) involving 65 countries and 4.4 billion people. Instead of inviting foreign investment into China, she now seeks to influence global trade by investing outwards.
What It Means for China
The OBOR is presented as a plan for peace and prosperity to enhance international relations, promote geopolitical stability, and provide collaborative conditions for shared economic growth and wealth.
For China, it is a strategy to find markets for her goods and services, secure her energy supplies, and stimulate growth for underdeveloped regions in her western interior.
The plan calls for diplomatic coordination, massive transportation projects, free trade zones, promotion of the Chinese yuan, and people-to-people cultural and educational exchange from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea.
As one analyst puts it, “If this vision can be fulfilled, then eventually all roads will quite literally lead to Beijing.”
What It Means for Missions
1 Chron 12:32 says: “the sons of Issachar… understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” We too must ask what OBOR means for missions, and what we should do.
Many leading churches in China are hearing the call to take the Gospel to the Muslim World, where many countries fall within the OBOR.
The Belt stretches from NW China, across Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The Maritime Road rises from SE China, across the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to join the land route in Venice.
Just as Roman roads and Mediterranean sea routes expedited 1st century missions, OBOR presents opportunities for 21st century missions.
Because many of the Belt countries are creative access nations, tentmaking and business are probably the new highways for missional professionals from China and other countries. But there are challenges.
FIRST STOP ON THE NEW SILK ROAD: KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet state, became independent in 1991. It is separated from Xinjiang by the Tianshan Mountain. Like other Central Asian countries, 80% of her 5-6 million population is Muslim. 10-15 years ago, she was enamored with China’s successful transition from planned economy to market economy. She welcomed Chinese people and Chinese businesses. But such favor has been squandered away over time.
Disenchantment with China
The Chinese government is supporting two Confucius Institutes and scores of Chinese teachers in Kyrgyzstan. Unfortunately, unscrupulous Chinese traders make Kyrgyzstan a dumping ground for their inferior goods and counterfeits. Chinese businesses from construction companies to restaurants are often accused of exploiting their workers, disrespect for the local people and disregard for the environment. They are also infamously quick to pay bribes.
Challenges for Chinese Mission
Kyrgyzstan is a target destination for several sending churches in China. Unfortunately, Chinese missionaries doing business in the country have also become targets of corrupt officials. Chinese are generally not viewed favorably by the Kyrgyz people. To some extent, this is reminiscent of the problems that 19th century missionaries to China encountered because of the hated colonial exploits of their Western compatriots.
China’s missionaries to OBOR countries need business and professional skills to contribute to the development of emerging economies and earn the right to be heard. People in many of these countries are victimized by systemic poverty and corruption.
The Gospel will be relevant and attractive if we demonstrate how the work-place and business practice could be redeemed and people’s lives improved.