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Belt and Road Initiative: A New Frontier for Win-Win Cooperation

CIIS Time:07 21, 2017 Writer:Ruan Zongze Editor:Wang Jiapei

 

 

President Xi Jinping’s attendance of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing on May 14-15, 2017, and his keynote speech at the opening ceremony has drawn worldwide attention. The most important diplomatic event hosted by China in 2017, the Forum has been the highest-level international conference since China put forward the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) more than three years ago, and it has received broad support from the international community. Those gathering in Beijing included the heads of state and government from 29 countries; officials, scholars, entrepreneurs, and representatives of financial institutions, media and other sectors from 110 countries; and 89 heads or representatives from 61 international organizations. Connecting the past achievements and future endeavors, the Forum solidified consensus, clarified the direction, promoted the implementation of various projects, improved the system of supportive mechanisms, and mapped out a blueprint for future cooperation.

Over the past three years, the BRI cooperation has continued to yield positive results, while its influence has spread rapidly throughout the globe, even developing into the most popular international program devoted to the general welfare, as well as the most promising platform for international cooperation. The success of the Belt and Road Initiative lies in China’s adherence to the initiative’s openness and inclusiveness, characterized by wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, which reflects the urgent desire of all countries along the Belt and Road to strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation. In the current environment with rising protectionism and unilateralism, in particular, the BRI has become the common cause in which all countries can “roll up their sleeves and pitch in together.” It also offers a new growth point for promoting the sustainable development of global economy toward a new type of international relations with win-win cooperation at its core.

 

Injecting Impetus into World Economy

 

Now the world economy is at a critical juncture, undergoing overall recovery yet facing multiple risks, such as insufficient growth momentum, sluggish demand, repeated volatility in financial markets, and a continued slump in international trade and investment. Regional political tensions, rising anti-globalization, protectionism and populist sentiments, frequent appearance of “black swan” events, among other challenges, are aggravating the fragility and uncertainty of the world economy and increasing the difficulty of global macroeconomic policy coordination. Providing positive energy and injecting new momentum into world economic growth, while directing globalization toward a more balanced, inclusive, and sustainable development has become a major issue facing the international community.

The Belt and Road Initiative is the “Chinese prescription” for resolving the issue. Over the past three years, the “therapeutic effect” of this prescription has been meeting with increasing approval, and the BRI has gradually entered a new phase of comprehensive and pragmatic cooperation. So far, more than 100 countries and international organizations have voiced their positive response and support to the initiative, while China has signed cooperation agreements with over 40 of them. The BRI has become a significant platform on which multiple parties can participate and engage in mutually beneficial cooperation, providing a broad and open path toward peace and development in the 21st century.

As the initiator of the Belt and Road and the second largest economy in the world, China has been an important driving force for world economic growth in recent years. According to the IMF forecast in April 2017, China’s economy will grow by 6.6% this year, thus continuing to take the lead among the world’s major economies and ranking first in its contribution to global economic growth. As a responsible developing country, China adheres to the concept of wide consultation, joint contribution and mutual benefits, and strives to make those cooperation projects more locally anchored so that the people worldwide clearly feel the benefits. As President Xi pointed out, “The Belt and Road Initiative originates from China, but belongs to the whole world.” Guided by this idea, China adheres to a new concept of development encompassing both its sea and land areas, as well as both its eastern and western regions, and establishing a new pattern of opening up to the outside world. China is also constantly deepening its reform, elevating the level of opening up, and strengthening the synergy between the development of China and other countries around the world, so as to transform China from a “world factory” into a “world market,” and to inject valuable momentum into world economic growth.

Complementary to the Belt and Road Initiative are the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Silk Road Fund and the BRICS New Development Bank, which operate independently, each with its own focus but cooperating with each other. They have also become a key driver for the emerging economies and developing countries to facilitate global infrastructure construction, promote world economic growth and improve the reform of international economic governance. It has been over a year since the AIIB launched its business, with a sound start and smooth operations. In June 2016, the AIIB approved the first four projects, totaling about US$500 million and covering such areas as energy, transportation and urban development in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Tajikistan. On March 23, 2017, the AIIB announced its approval of 13 new members, with its membership reaching 70, more than that of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Thus, the AIIB has become the world’s second largest multilateral development institution, second only to the World Bank. The AIIB’s development and expansion is an important vote of confidence in China from the international community. The Silk Road Fund focuses on the medium and long-term investment under the Belt and Road Initiative and is the largest multilateral cooperation fund with high standards sponsored by the Chinese government. At the beginning of 2016, the first investment project of the Silk Road Fund, the Karot hydropower project which is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, was initiated. The BRICS New Development Bank is also an important partner for the BRI.

 

Development Opportunities for Participating Countries

 

President Xi Jinping pointed out that “drawing lessons from historical experience, we must take a higher view and adopt a broader vision, using innovative ideas and thoughts to firmly accomplish our tasks, so that the people along the Belt and Road may truly feel the benefits the BRI has to offer.” Over the past three years, China’s opening up to the international community has radiated across the Belt and Road region, resulted in positive interactions with countries along the routes, and offered a rare historical opportunity for common economic development.

China is the largest trading partner, the largest export market and a major investor for many countries along the Belt and Road. The focus of China and the Belt and Road countries is on policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds. Financial cooperation led by the AIIB and the Silk Road Fund continues to deepen, and several influential landmark projects are yielding positive results. In 2016, the total imports and exports between China and those countries amounted to 6.3 trillion yuan; while the direct investment from China to those countries reached US$14.5 billion and the cumulative investment was over $18.5 billion, which produced for them nearly $1.1 billion of revenue and 180,000 jobs. Investment cooperation between China and those countries has continued to rise in 2017. In the first quarter of 2017, non-financial direct investment by Chinese enterprises in 43 countries along the Belt and Road witnessed an increase of US$2.95 billion, accounting for 14.4% of China’s total foreign investment over the same period, an increase of 5.4% from the previous year.

The BRI has successfully established a number of cooperative platforms and bilateral and multilateral mechanisms at all levels, linking China’s development strategy to that of the Belt and Road countries and regions. Now the BRI has become connected in its strategic planning with multiple countries and regions: these include the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) of Russia, the “Prairie Road” of Mongolia, the “Bright Path” of Kazakhstan, the Juncker Investment Plan of the EU, the “Two Corridors and One Ring” of Vietnam, the “Vision 2030” of Saudi Arabia, the “Northern Powerhouse” of the United Kingdom, Turkey’s Middle Corridor Initiative, Australia’s plan to develop its northern region, and Laos’ national strategy to transform from a land-locked to a land-linked state. This fully embodies the inclusiveness and openness of the Belt and Road cooperation. As the BRI’s flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor sets a strong example for the construction and overall deployment of Belt and Road projects in other regions. Now the Corridor’s construction has been forging steadily ahead, opening a new page of regional connectivity. The development of the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor has also been proceeding apace and represents a milestone in the construction of multilateral economic corridors.

The BRI connects the two extremes of the Eurasian continent: the one end is the vibrant East Asian economic circle, the other is the developed European economic circle, while the middle section is the hinterland with huge potential. Under the direction of the BRI, the development demands of China and of those economies along the Belt and Road fit well together, giving rise to a whole slew of achievements in cooperation. For example, as the “Silk Road on the track,” the China-Europe freight railway line is an artery linking the two major economies of the Eurasian continent. It has established connectivity, enhanced the levels of trade and investment, promoted international cooperation on industrial capacity and equipment manufacturing, and forged a super development area on the Eurasian continent. The China-Europe railway line has become a backbone passage of international logistics transport on land.

 

Important Practice for a New Type of International Relations

 

World affairs are in constant flux like a chess game. Together with the development of emerging economies and developing countries, the world trend toward multi-polarization is increasingly irresistible, and human society will become more pluralistic, inclusive and balanced. A progress rather than a problem in our times, this even represents the key to addressing the challenges facing us. Globalization is irreversible and no country can go it alone. Resolving global challenges, therefore, requires global efforts. However, some in the West can’t see the bigger picture and imagine themselves as losers in the globalization process. They have begun to retreat and change from standard-bearers to an obstruction of globalization. The theory of “end of history” that once enjoyed wide popularity has subsided, and the West is increasingly concerned about its loss of superiority and its former glory. Fearing that mankind is marching toward a post-Western era, they have resorted to protectionist beggar-thy-neighbor policies. Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, peace and development for mankind still faces a multitude of obstacles: the international situation is intricate and complex, and global challenges are continuously emerging, thus increasing the uncertainty of the future.

“The tide riders surf the currents; the flags they hold up never get wet.” More and more people are looking to China and expecting it to play a greater role. China, knowing its growing strength and its power to act, and viewing the world from the perspective of the mankind’s future, has grasped the opportunity to launch the idea of building a community of shared future, which contributes Chinese wisdom to shaping a new type of international relations and improving global governance. China also adheres to a correct outlook on righteousness and interests, seeking both at the same time but attaching more importance to the former. China will not engage in short-term mercenary projects but rather strive to build a grand future of common destiny and become an anchor of stability in a chaotic world. President Xi has made several foreign visits and a series of important expositions on the BRI, fully embodying this spirit of win-win cooperation. In January 2017, President Xi delivered an important speech at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva and uttered profound words regarding the idea of a community of shared future, in order to put forward a Chinese proposal for the progress of world development and human civilization. The BRI embodies the attempt by China and the world community to promote economic globalization, build an open world economy, support free trade, and build a community of shared future. Although a zero-sum mentality still manifests itself in current international relations, the BRI concept of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits represents a superior viewpoint for our times as it aims to build a global network of partnerships in place of alliances. It is also conducive to reshaping the pattern of relationships between countries, and allowing them to focus on cooperation and share opportunities, which has an irresistible fascination.

The BRI has gone from being a Chinese proposal to a program for the world, while its concept of win-win cooperation has been welcomed and endorsed by more and more countries and international organizations. In November 2016, the BRI’s core concept of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits was written into the Leaders’ Declaration for the first time at the APEC leaders’ informal meeting in Lima, Peru. On November 17, 2016, the BRI was for the first time written into the resolution of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, which reflects the wide approval of the BRI by the international community. On March 27, 2017, China and New Zealand signed a memorandum of arrangement on strengthening BRI cooperation. New Zealand is the first Western developed country to sign a BRI cooperation document with China, which is of great significance. In early April 2017, President Xi Jinping said during his meeting with US President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, Florida, that China and the US enjoy broad prospects in economic and trade cooperation and the two sides should grasp the opportunity. Since China has been open to US participation in the Belt and Road, Xi’s words effectively represent an invitation to the United States to join the BRI. On April 11, 2017, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Executive Secretary of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP) Shamshad Akhtar signed in Beijing a Letter of Intent on Advancing Regional Connectivity and the Belt and Road Initiative between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC and the UN ESCAP. This is the first BRI cooperation document signed by China and an international organization. It aims to expand the two sides’ consensus, strengthen exchanges and synergy, and deepen pragmatic cooperation.

The Belt and Road Initiative has opened up a new frontier for win-win cooperation and has won more friends and partners for China. The BRI clarion call of win-win cooperation not only brings China and the countries along the Belt and Road closer, promotes the sustainable growth of world economy, and brings tangible benefits to relevant countries, but is also an enrichment and development of the theory of international relations. While the BRI was initiated by China, it has produced dividends and opportunities for the entire world. As President Xi Jinping has emphasized, China “does not intend to build its own backyard garden, but a garden shared by all countries.” This is the very attraction of the Belt and Road. The BRF will surely become a new milestone, not only in promoting peace and prosperity of the countries along the Belt and Road, but also in advancing the grand project of creating a community of shared future for mankind.

 

 

Ruan Zongze is Executive Vice President and Senior Research Fellow of China Institute of International Studies (CIIS). He is also Chief Editor of China International Stuidies. This article was translated from the Chinese-language journal Qiushi, 2017(10).

 

Source: China International Studies, July/August 2017.