Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing on October 18 (XINHUA)
"The best way to predict the future is to create it,” Peter Drucker, who is described as the “father of modern management” in the West, once said. This statement was echoed by eminent Singaporean diplomat and academic Kishore Mahbubani while referring to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) while attending the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing from October 17 to 18.
“Looking back now, it’s quite remarkable that 10 years ago, China decided to offer the world an initiative that it needed and can bring we humanity together. After 10 years, you can see the results—the world has become more connected and the BRI has made many more contributions,” Mahbubani said.
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. The pairing later came to be known as the BRI. Over the past decade, it has evolved from ideas into actions and from a vision into reality.
So far, more than 150 countries and over 30 international organizations have signed cooperation agreements with China under the BRI, with the initiative extending from the Eurasian continent to Africa and Latin America.
The BRI is a specific and unique manifestation of multilateralism, former President of Serbia Boris Tadi? said, adding that it also stands as a rare initiative in the past few decades that promotes win-win cooperation on a global scale.
The initiative has also been “one of encounters—between people, cultures, religions and knowledge. These encounters have shaped civilizations over the ages, catalyzing inventions, and fertilizing intellectual scholarship,” Irina Bokova, former Director General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said at a thematic forum on think tank exchanges of the BRF, adding that these encounters have given birth to literary and scientific treasures, to traditions and artistic practices that have been passed across generations.
“The BRI, drawing inspiration from the ancient Silk Road and focusing on enhancing connectivity, aims to enhance policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity, inject new impetus into the global economy, create new opportunities for global development, and build a new platform for international economic cooperation,” Xi said in his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the BRF.
“Over these 10 years, we have stayed committed to this founding mission. Thanks to our joint efforts, Belt and Road international cooperation has gotten off the ground, grown rapidly and produced fruitful outcomes,” Xi added.
The initiative is not only about investing in infrastructure, but also to promote trade, people-to-people exchange and dialogue among cultures, Evandro Menezes de Garvalho, an international law professor at and head of the Brazil-China Center at FGV Law School, told Beijing Review, adding that participating countries should evaluate this first 10 years, and try to envision the future.
The Chinese-built Karuma Hydropower Plant in north central Uganda’s Kiryandongo District on July 11, 2020 (XINHUA)
“If you compare the initiative to a baby, the first 10 years was like crawling and starting to stand up and walk. Now we are entering a stage where we can try to achieve maturity,” Chhem Kieth Rethy, Senior Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia and Chairman of the country’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council, told Beijing Review.
In his keynote speech, Xi announced new moves to usher the initiative into another “golden decade” with relentless efforts to achieve modernization for all countries and build an open and inclusive world.
Xi unveiled eight major steps to bring Belt and Road cooperation to a new stage of higher-quality and higher-level development, namely building a multidimensional Belt and Road connectivity network, supporting an open world economy, carrying out practical cooperation, promoting green development, advancing scientific and technological innovation, supporting people-to-people exchange, promoting integrity-based Belt and Road cooperation, and strengthening institution building for international Belt and Road cooperation.
The first step, which involves the construction of international corridors and passages, is crucial for post-COVID-19 world economic development, Hideo Fukuyama, Secretary of the China Logistics Study Group in Japan, said in an interview with China Daily, adding that China made “a brilliant move” in creating logistics routes for the overland and maritime Silk Roads.
China will promote both signature projects and “small yet smart” livelihood programs, Xi said. He vowed more financing support for BRI projects on the basis of market and business operation, noting that the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China will each set up a 350-billion-yuan ($48.75-billion) financing window, and that an additional 80 billion yuan ($11.14 billion) will be injected into the Silk Road Fund. China contributed $40 billion to set up the Silk Road Fund in 2014 and added another 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) to it in 2017. The fund provides investment and financing support to infrastructure, resources, industrial cooperation, financial cooperation and other Belt and Road projects.
UN Secretary General António Guterres said projects under the BRI are changing landscapes and helping improve livelihoods worldwide. The concept of the Green Silk Road under the BRI provides an important opportunity to fast-track sustainable and climate-resilient development to protect lives and livelihoods, he added.
“When an initiative of this scale is launched for the first time, there is always a learning curve,” Sudheendra Kulkarni, founder of the Indian think tank Forum for a New South Asia, told Beijing Review. “I’m sure that the Chinese Government and all the partner countries will learn from the experience so far, review it properly and take the corrective steps to make it even better.”
A Kenyan journalist poses for a selfie with two train drivers during the launch of the Mombasa-Nairobi railway in Mombasa, Kenya, on May 31, 2017 (XINHUA)
A game changer
A 2019 World Bank policy paper detailed the beneficial nature of the BRI. For example, global income will increase by 0.7 percent (in 2030 relative to the baseline), which will translate into almost $500 billion in 2014 prices and market exchange rates. And the initiative could help lift as many as 7.6 million people out of extreme poverty and 32 million out of moderate poverty worldwide.
Over the past decade, six major international economic corridors have been constructed: the New Eurasian Land Bridge formed around the Trans-Eurasian international railway trunk line from Jiangsu Province in east China to Rotterdam in the Netherlands; the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor; China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China via Central Asia to the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula; the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar Port in Pakistan; the Southwest Asia Continental Bridge, or the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor; and the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor, from Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in south China to and through Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Interconnected infrastructure under the BRI has played an important role in maintaining the stability and smooth flow of global industrial and supply chains, Hu Biliang, Executive Director of the Belt and Road School at Beijing Normal University, told Beijing Review.
Major BRI projects include the just-opened Jakarta-Bandung line, Indonesia’s first high-speed railway; the Hungary-Serbia Railway; the China-Laos Railway; and the Piraeus Port in Athens, Greece.
The China-Europe freight train service, another flagship project of the BRI, now covers 211 cities in 25 European countries with 86 operating routes, promoting interconnection and enhancing trade among all of them. Moreover, the project has provided the energy and transport facilities much needed by underdeveloped and developing countries along the routes and allowed them to participate in global industrial and supply chains, Hu said.
By the end of June this year, China had signed agreements on industrial capacity cooperation with more than 40 countries under the BRI. More than 70 overseas industrial parks have been built by Chinese enterprises together with governments and enterprises in partner countries, according to a white paper titled The Belt and Road Initiative: A Key Pillar of the Global Community of Shared Future released by China’s State Council Information Office in October.
The initiative is a “game changer for the Global South in its quest toward economic development and prosperity,” Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy, Vice President for External Affairs at the Manila-based Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute, said. The Global South consists of the nations of the world considered to have relatively low levels of economic and industrial development, typically located to the south of more industrialized nations.
It is reshaping the global economic landscape in profound ways, Malindog-Uy said, adding that apart from enhancing infrastructure and connectivity, it promotes increased trade between East and West.
At the thematic forum on think tank exchanges, Tadi? said in the past, people around the world considered the U.S. to be the country of hope, but that now, China is the hope. He added that China has the chance to create many opportunities for the world by promoting the harmony of international relations and that the BRI has done much to contribute in this respect.
The current era of uncertainties casts a shadow over collective efforts to address pressing global challenges, including persistent socioeconomic inequity, the looming threat of future pandemics, and the worsening risks associated with climate change and aspects of technological advancement, Abdul Majit bin Ahmad Khan, President of the Malaysia-China Friendship Association and former Malaysian Ambassador to China, said.
To overcome these challenges, he called on the global community to come together, transcend political divides, and prioritize collaborative solutions. And the BRI is one of those sustainable solutions, according to him.
Huang Renwei, Executive Director General of the Fudan Institute for Belt and Road and Global Governance in Shanghai, echoed Dato’ Majit’s call. “The initiative still faces new challenges, including containment efforts by and hostility from the U.S. and its alliance system, changes brought about by the new technological revolution, global warming, and terrorism and regional turmoil. China should improve its ability to respond to risks and enhance the stability of the BRI,” Huang said.
BRI projects will be specifically designed for different regions based on their distinctive characteristics, and increase efforts to deliver medium-sized ones that are closely related to people’s livelihoods as quickly as possible. For large projects that take longer time, risk management and control should receive more weight, Huang added.
It is a pity that Western countries lack an initiative similar to the BRI to aid developing nations, former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Ji?í Paroubek, said during the forum.
What has happened over the last decade is a profound shift from a unipolar world to a multipolar one. “In this, China has been a major contributor, given its influence in the world through building new channels of communication has grown enormously,” Martin Albrow, a fellow with the British Academy of Social Sciences, told China’s Xinhua News Agency.
(Print Edition Title: The Dawn of Another Golden Decade)
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For a Better Future
In his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing on October 18, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced eight major steps China will take to support the joint pursuit of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation:
First, building a multidimensional Belt and Road connectivity network. China will speed up high-quality development of the China-Europe Railway Express, participate in the Trans-Caspian International Transportation Corridor, host the China-Europe Railway Express Cooperation Forum, and make joint efforts to build a new logistics corridor across the Eurasian continent, linked by direct railway and road transportation. We will vigorously integrate ports, shipping and trading services under the Silk Road Maritime, and accelerate the building of the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor and the Air Silk Road.
Second, supporting an open world economy. China will establish pilot zones for Silk Road e-commerce cooperation, enter into free trade agreements and investment protection treaties with more countries. We will remove all restrictions on foreign investment access in the manufacturing sector. In light of international high-standard economic and trade rules, we will further advance high-standard opening up in cross-border service trade and investment, expand market access for digital and other products, and deepen reform in areas including the state-owned enterprises, digital economy, intellectual property and government procurement. China will hold the Global Digital Trade Expo annually. In the next five years (2024-28), China’s total trade in goods and services is expected to exceed $32 trillion and $5 trillion respectively.
Third, carrying out practical cooperation. China will promote both signature projects and "small yet smart" livelihood programs. The China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China will each set up a 350-billion-yuan financing window. An additional 80 billion yuan will be injected into the Silk Road Fund. Together, they will support BRI projects on the basis of market and business operation. Cooperation agreements worth $97.2 billion have been concluded at the CEO Conference held during this forum. China will carry out 1,000 small-scale livelihood assistance projects, and enhance vocational education cooperation through Luban Workshops and other initiatives. We will also step up joint efforts to ensure the safety of BRI projects and personnel.
Fourth, promoting green development. China will continue to deepen cooperation in areas such as green infrastructure, green energy and green transportation, and step up support for the BRI International Green Development Coalition. China will continue to hold the BRI Green Innovation Conference, and establish dialogue and exchange mechanisms for the solar industry and a network of experts on green and low-carbon development. China will implement the Green Investment Principles for the Belt and Road, and provide 100,000 training opportunities for partner countries by 2030.
Fifth, advancing scientific and technological innovation. China will continue to implement the Belt and Road Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan, hold the First Belt and Road Conference on Science and Technology Exchange, increase the number of joint laboratories built with other parties to 100 in the next five years, and support young scientists from other countries to work on short-term programs in China. At this forum, China will put forward the Global Initiative for Artificial Intelligence (AI) Governance. We stand ready to increase exchanges and dialogue with other countries and jointly promote the sound, orderly and secure AI development in the world.
Sixth, supporting people-to-people exchanges. China will host the Liangzhu Forum to enhance dialogue on civilizations with BRI partner countries. In addition to the Silk Road International League of Theaters, the Silk Road International Arts Festival, the International Alliance of Museums of the Silk Road, the Silk Road International Alliance of Art Museums, and the Silk Road International Library Alliance that have been set up, China has also launched the International Tourism Alliance of Silk Road Cities. And we will continue with the Chinese Government Scholarship Silk Road Program.
Seventh, promoting integrity-based Belt and Road cooperation. Together with its cooperation partners, China will release the Achievements and Prospects of Belt and Road Integrity Building and the High-Level Principles on Belt and Road Integrity Building, and establish the Integrity and Compliance Evaluation System for Companies Involved in Belt and Road Cooperation. We will also work with international organizations to carry out research and training on promoting integrity in Belt and Road cooperation.
Eighth, strengthening institutional building for international Belt and Road cooperation. China will work with its BRI partner countries to strengthen the building of multilateral cooperation platforms covering energy, taxation, finance, green development, disaster reduction, anti-corruption, think tank, media, culture and other fields. China will continue to host the BRF and establish a secretariat for the forum.
(Source: Xinhua News Agency)