- Major landmark
Marking the fifth anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a conference was held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 27 August 2018. President Xi Jinping also the general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission addressed the symposium. He presented a progress report on the mega project, which was also an assurance of its success. Xi underlined thorough and solid cooperation under the BRI umbrella to benefit people in countries involved and build a community with a shared future for humanity. Prior to the presidential address, the participants at the symposium were briefed by six government officials, two entrepreneurs and a researcher on the current situation of building the Belt and Road while proposals and suggestions were offered.
The Chinese president called for efforts to uphold dialogue and consultation, joint contribution, shared benefits, win-win cooperation, mutual learning and steps to promote political trust, economic integration and people-to-people exchanges with the Belt and Road countries in order to advance the initiative step by step, producing achievements.
Readers may recall that the blueprints for the ambitious and gargantuan project were unfolded in the autumn of 2013, respectively in Kazakhstan and Indonesia by Xi, when he proposed the building of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road—the Belt and Road Initiative for short.
Doubting Thomases and antagonists of China had cast aspersions while the people of China, their allies, well-wishers as well as serious international analysts of economy, trade and commerce had expressed excitement and confidence that BRI will spell prosperity for the whole world. Five years down the line, more than 100 countries and international organisations have signed Belt and Road cooperation documents with China, extending the initiative’s scope from the Eurasian continent to Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the South Pacific region.
It was highlighted that the broad support across the board for the BRI, apart from US and India, who perceive China as a competitor, depicts the aspirations for peace and development of the countries involved
In his progress report, Xi stressed that the initiative serves as a solution for China to participate in global opening-up and cooperation, improve global economic governance, promote common development and prosperity, and build a community with a shared future for humankind.
In 2014, China had announced contributing 40 billion US dollars to set up a Silk Road Fund to support the Belt and Road projects. A year later, the China-initiated new multilateral financial institution Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was established. AIIB’s raison d’être is to enable developing countries to stand on their own feet by establishing the prerequisite infrastructure for industry, commerce and growth rather than extend the begging bowl seeking aid from more opulent nations.
The first phase was establishing the project, which is well underway with China setting up 81 education institutions and projects as well as 35 cultural centers in countries along the Belt and Road. In the first seven months of 2018, Chinese companies raised investment in 54 countries along the Belt and Road. The 8.55-billion-US dollar newly added investment represented an 11.8 percent increase year on year.
The China-Europe freight rail service network, a crucial part of the BRI, has expanded rapidly. A day prior to BRI’s fifth anniversary meeting, the arrival of freight train X8044 from Hamburg, Germany marked the 10,000th trip since the beginning of the freight rail’s operation in 2011. In the past few years railway tracks from various parts of China to different terminuses in Europe, have seen hustle and bustle with the to and fro train journeys conveying garments, auto parts, chemicals and other Chinese products to European destinations and returning with loads of food items, machinery and equipment as well as timber products for Chinese consumers and other BRI transits enroute. The scenario is nostalgic as it is reminiscent of the ancient Silk Road except that instead of Bactrian Camels, mules and horses carrying the trading goods, now trains, aircraft and ships on the Maritime Silk Route are conveying the bulk of the products.
The next priority of jointly advancing the initiative is to realise its high-quality development according to the Chinese president, who must be proudly looking at his vision take the shape of reality. Many countries have been concerned regarding the balance of trade being in favour of China. To offset such apprehensions, Xi has emphasised efforts to push for progress in Belt and Road projects, especially those delivering real benefits to local people, and keep expanding the market while maintaining the balance of trade. He has advocated a policy system on financial support for the BRI and encouraged non-governmental funds to invest in infrastructure and resource development projects in Belt and Road countries.
It is heartening that realising the importance of the specific fields; Xi has directed that work should be done to boost exchanges in areas of education, science, technologies, culture, sports, tourism, health and archaeology. It has been reiterated that investment activities should be regulated and businesses should operate in accordance with laws and regulations, while taking cognizance of environmental protection, and fulfilling their social responsibilities.
The redeeming feature is that jointly pursuing the BRI is not only aimed at economic cooperation but is also an important pathway to improve global development patterns and global governance and promoting a healthy development of economic globalisation.
Last year, Beijing hosted the first-ever Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, attended by state and government leaders of 29 countries. The more than 1,600 participants came from over 140 countries and 80 international organisations.
It was highlighted by Xi that China’s trade with Belt and Road countries has exceeded $5 trillion and outward direct investment has amounted to over $60 billion, creating over 200,000 local jobs. It is statistics like these that have propelled China’s detractors to lead a smear campaign that BRI will benefit China alone, at the cost of other members. Refuting such allegations, Xi stressed that the Belt and Road Initiative does not aim at a geopolitical or military alliance, nor will it establish a small bloc or set up a “China club”.
It was highlighted that the broad support across the board for the BRI, apart from US and India, who perceive China as a competitor, depicts the aspirations for peace and development of the countries involved. Reiteration that the BRI is an initiative for economic cooperation, instead of a geopolitical alliance or military league, and it is an open and inclusive process open to all is comforting. Xi maintains that China does not differentiate countries by ideology nor plays the zero-sum game. Since countries are still willing to jump on board the BRI bandwagon, they are being welcomed. India and the USA were also offered to join BRI and be a part of its governing board so that in case they had reservations regarding its transparency, they could satisfy themselves, have a say as well as reap the benefits the mega project has to offer.
BRI is a once in a lifetime opportunity evocative of William Shakespeare’s quote from Julius Caesar: “There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”