World economy is passing through difficult times because of the rise to economic nationalism and constant protectionism which has further marginalized because of imposition of economic sanctions by the US on the developing countries especially against China.
The Chinese One Belt & One Road Initiative (BRI) has become an effective economic stimulator in the world. It has now rated as global driving force to achieve the desired goals of greater regional connectivity, infrastructural development, poverty eradication and generation of new jobs in the world.
In this regard, the BRI is best summarized by the Chinese President Xi: “China will actively promote international cooperation through the BRI. Moreover, he upholds that in doing so, we hope to achieve policy, infrastructure, trade, financial, and people-to-people connectivity and thus build a new platform for international cooperation to create new drivers of shared development in the world. Thus BRI global economic growth status is paramount.
It has been labeled as the world’s largest infrastructure program, has so far directed investments mainly to energy and transportation networks in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
Since its beginning it has changed significantly in terms of scale, stakeholders, and investment sectors and continues to evolve, also in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Now it has proposed to form a “Silk Health Forum” to assist the member countries to overcome their capacity building issues in their countries.
It development strategy aims to build connectivity and cooperation across six main economic corridors encompassing China and: Mongolia and Russia; Eurasian countries; Central and West Asia; Pakistan; other countries of the Indian sub-continent; and Indochina. According to Asian Development Bank (2018-2019) Asia needs more than USD 26 trillion in infrastructure investment to 2030 and China can certainly help to provide some of this. Its investments, by building infrastructure, have positive impacts on the member countries.
Furthermore, the BRI aims to connect Asia to Europe and Africa via land and sea. It has been described as the largest infrastructure program in human history with promised investments of over USD 8000 billion and half of the world’s population as well as a third of global GDP being directly involved. According to the Green BRI Center, it has spent USD 755 billion on BRI projects
Thus China determines to build the BRI into an initiative of peace, prosperity, openness, green development, and innovation that brings different civilizations closer.
Eight years have now passed since President Xi Jinping proposed the BRI in September 2013. It is a platform for the building of a community with a shared future for humanity.
As is stated in the Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century, “Adhering to the principle of achieving shared growth through consultation and collaboration, China has promoted high-quality development of the BRI.
Now it has advanced a large number of cooperation projects that can fuel economic development and improve people’s lives in countries along the BRI routes, and worked to build the BRI into an initiative of peace, prosperity, openness, green development, and innovation that brings different civilizations closer, and a widely welcomed public good and platform for international cooperation in today’s world.
Over the past eight years, joint efforts by all parties involved have turned the BRI from an idea into reality. As international consensus extends, new infrastructure is built, and trade and investment have increased. Countries and regions along the BRI routes are making remarkable progress in high-quality development, financial integration and people-to-people connectivity.
This has made the BRI a widely welcomed public good, the largest platform for international cooperation in today’s world, and an important avenue for promoting world peace, development and cooperation, and realizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The BRI’s core aims at promoting win-win cooperation by strengthening policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people bonds.
The BRI covers Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia, North Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe. The combined land territories of those regions account for more than one third of the world total, population around 60 percent, and GDP 32 percent.
It is not symbol or systematic tool for Chinese so-called imperialistic designs. Rather China always pays close attention to aligning the initiative with the development strategies of participating countries, as well as regional and global development initiatives. For example, synergy has been established between the BRI and the Bright Road Initiative of Kazakhstan, the Connecting Europe and Asia strategy of the European Union, and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Same model is being replicated on Pakistan in the CPEC project. Thus it has no hidden agenda associated with BRI and of course CPEC.
Right from the beginning, Chinese policy makers preferably follow effective communication strategies and effective means of mutual coordination to expanded consensus with other BRI participating countries and succeeded to win broader support from them and international organizations.
China being a responsive country performs its international responsibilities, and seeks closer cooperation with international organizations under the BRI framework. Resultantly the BRI and its core ideas have been embraced by the UN, G20, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and even Pakistan economic strategy 2030 in case of its flagship project of CPEC.
It seems that infrastructure connectivity is a priority of the BRI. Particularly to developing countries because economic takeoff and sustainability cannot be achieved without the development of infrastructure.
In this connection, during the last eight years, the BRI has seen China and Russia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Laos, India and other countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central and Eastern Asia and Europe connected by a network of economic corridors.
A trans-regional transportation system covering land, sea, air and oil pipelines have been initiated and somehow materialized and matured.
Its flagship projects include railways connecting China and Laos, China and Thailand, and Hungary and Serbia, the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, Gwadar Port, Hambantota Port, as well as cross-border oil and gas pipelines built by China, Myanmar, Russia and other countries. Infrastructure connectivity saves transportation time and cost, unleashes trade and investment potential, and lends impetus to global economic recovery from the pandemic.
For the further strengthening of bilateral and trilateral trade volumes in 2017, China put forward the Cooperation Initiative of Promoting Belt and Road Trade Connectivity, which was aimed at liberalizing and facilitating trade and investment, and reducing trading costs so as to involve more countries in economic globalization. Currently, more than 90 countries and international organizations have joined the initiative for trade connectivity.
Resultantly, China signed free trade agreements with more than 13 countries along the BRI routes. Several platforms for international trade have been established. They include the China International Import Expo, China Import and Export Fair, and China Beijing International Fair for Trade in Services. Trade in both goods and services between China and other BRI countries have registered steady growth. Cooperation and exchanges under the BRI have also led to emerging new technologies, new forms of business and new models of trade.
Now e-commerce platforms have been increased, keeping countries connected, creating jobs, and bringing convenience to people’s lives as well as more development opportunities.
It is true that financial integration fuels the advancement of the BRI. Infrastructure construction needs huge investments, which will be recovered over a long period of time. To meet the demand of financing infrastructure projects, four multilateral financial institutions of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the New Development Bank, the SCO Development Bank, and the Silk Road Fund have been created. Investments by multilateral financial institutions significantly lower risks.
People-to-people connectivity and formation of corridor of knowledge are the socio-cultural foundation of the BRI. Over the past eight years, countries along the routes have carried out cooperative programs on culture, tourism, education, think tanks, poverty reduction, and epidemic control, all of which have brought their peoples closer.
Interestingly, the BRI develops international cooperation on education. By February 2019, China had signed agreements with 24 other BRI countries on mutual recognition of academic certificates and degrees in higher education, and 60 Chinese universities had launched academic programs in partnership with local institutions in 23 BRI countries.
China has also worked with other participating countries to tap into the tourism potential of the BRI, by launching tourism years and the Silk Road Tourism Promotion Union among other efforts.
Seeking high-quality development of the BRI, China offers assistance to countries along the BRI routes in combating poverty.
In fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, China has been making the vaccines a public good for the international community. By September 2021, China had provided 500 million doses of vaccines to more than 100 countries and international organizations, a good number of which are along the BRI routes.
To conclude, it is obvious that the Chinese BRI will continue to lead the way, coordinate with other countries along the routes, and remain committed to win-win cooperation, common prosperity and development, and the building of a community of shared future for humanity.
It is an inclusive initiative that is open to all countries. It is an initiative to share development opportunities with the world. The fundamental driving force for the initiative comes from people’s common desire for development and a better life. Therefore, the BRI represents a common aspiration shared by all beyond national borders.
(1) More focus should be given to social development in terms of education, health, affordable housing schemes, tourism and cultural harmony and cooperation which will further strengthen the BRI successful economic and infrastructural journey in the world.
(2) The US has started one World War in terms of Chip Act, unilateral global supply chain, Inflation Reduction Act and many more just to contain China’s socio-economic rise. Therefore, the policy makers should start thinking to form a BRI CHIPS Initiative to counter the economic blackmailing and sanctions of the US and the West. It would further enhance its IT, ICT, E-commerce and digitalization drives among the BRI member countries in the days to come.
(3) Joint projects in artificial intelligence technologies should be pursued and implemented in all the BRI member countries which would be a value addition for the science & technological development among the BRI family.
(4) Global warming and heat waves have become nightmare in the world especially in the US, EU and South East Asia which needs urgent policy shift and realignment of strategic priorities of the BRI. In this regard, BRI Climate Change Initiative should be initiated as soon as possible which would play a decisive role in the human survival and safety of the productive channels in the BRI member countries.
(5) Green has become mantra and policy tool around the globe. Thus BRI Green Development Initiative should be formed as soon as possible which would be a giant step towards the development of renewables (wind, solar etc.).
(6) Global energy insecurity has already shaken the confidence of economic recovery in the COVID-19 period. Thus BRI Energy Market or Bank may be the need of hour.
(7) More focus should be given to the development of Blue and Green Hydrogen Fuels among the BRI member enabling them to deal with their widening import bills and energy shortages.
(8) Electrical cars manufacturing have become a successful alternative automobile strategy to combat with the increasing prices of fossil fuels. Thus BRI EAM Initiative may be successful endavour among the member countries.
(9) Lithium battery has become a new reality in the international markets. There is an urgent need to form a BRI Lithium Battery Initiative among its family.
(10) Global food insecurity has become one of the main hurdles for the world inflation and price hike. A BRI Food Security Initiative is the need of hour.
(11) Last but not least, BRI countries should form a solid base of Supply Chain System for the easy and smooth supplies of goods and services in the days to come.
(The author is Executive
Director: The Center for South Asia & International Studies (CSAIS) Islamabad Regional
Expert: China, CPEC & BRI)