BRI Instead of OBOR – China Edits the English Name of its Most Ambitious International Project

According to the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau of the Peoples’ Republic of China, as well as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the cooperation framework that encompasses the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, namely, the PRC economic interconnectivity initiative known in Chinese as “一一路 [yi dai yi lu]”, should no longer be referred to as “One Belt One Road” in English. The revised official translated name of the strategy is “The Belt and Road Initiative” – with “BRI” as its acronym instead of the catchy “OBOR”, that has been the new buzzword at government, transport, logistics and business events throughout Eurasia for the past 3 years, since Xi Jinping brought it forward in late 2013.

As explained by the Chinese side, the first English translation, namely, “One Belt One Road”, has brought about numerous misinterpretations, as the partners tend to focus too much on the word “one”, assuming that there is to be only one maritime route and a single land belt, whereas, in reality, “The Belt and Road Initiative aims to connect Asia, Europe and Africa along five routes.” [1] Supposedly, the perception of a single road as a limited offer can drive the regional partners into competition mode, therefore, the stressing of the numeral “one” is to be avoided. Also, the word “initiative” has been admitted into the official acronym in order to stress the openness of the strategy, and to avoid criticisms over “China-centered institution building”, that have been gaining momentum as the project progresses.

Although numerals are common when talking about homeland Chinese politics, i.g. “one country two systems”, “the three represents”, “the four comprehensives” etc., the particular case of a numeral-gone-bad has demonstrated  that China is not yet ready to introduce the typical elements of its political discourse into the international arena. China has sacrificed a catchy, trending brand name, which has become widely recognized within both traditional and social media, as well as the professional circles, out of fear of being misunderstood.

[1] Conceptual Framework. – What is Belt and Road Initiative. Avalable at: http://beltandroad.hktdc.com/en/about-the-belt-and-road-initiative/about-the-belt-and-road-initiative.aspx [accessed July 28, 2016]

Photo by Denys Nevozhai

Published 28 July 2016

Author Una Aleksandra Bērziņa-Čerenkova