Zhao Minghao argues that China’s Belt and Road initiative not only provides development opportunities to countries at a disadvantage in the globalisation process, helping them shake off poverty and achieve modernisation, but also adds impetus to further progress in developed countries.
Five years after the Belt and Road initiative was proposed, the Chinese government emphasises the need to realise the high-quality development of the initiative and create more tangible benefits.
Addressing a symposium marking the fifth anniversary of the Belt and Road initiative in Beijing on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed that the initiative has offered a new solution to improve global governance, met the demand for change in the system of global governance and demonstrates a community with a shared future.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, globalisation has been in decline and cross-border trade and investment have dropped significantly. Against such a backdrop, the Belt and Road cooperation provides an important opportunity and an effective platform out of the quagmire the world has found itself in. As Andrew Elek, research associate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, pointed out, the Belt and Road initiative responds to the demands of reducing traditional trade barriers and narrowing the gaps in transport and communications infrastructure.
“Cooperation on capacity-building and adding vital economic infrastructure is a positive-sum game, and the initiative can push relevant countries to promote a creative new approach to global economic integration,” Mr Elek wrote.
As shown by Mr Xi’s speech, China has firm confidence in continuing to advance the Belt and Road construction. This confidence has been bolstered by the universal popularity the initiative has gained among the international community over the past five years. So far a total number of 103 countries, regions and international organisations have signed cooperation agreements with China on the Belt and Road.
The results yielded by the initiative have gone beyond expectation. For instance, construction of the China-Laos railway and the Hungary-Serbia railway has been underway. The Yaji Railway – Africa’s first electrified railway connecting Ethiopia and Djibouti, has been completed and put into operation. China has invested more than $70 billion in countries and regions involved in the Belt and Road initiative over the past few years and set up 82 overseas economic and trade cooperation zones, which have yielded over $1 billion in tax revenues and created nearly 250,000 jobs in those nations.
The Belt and Road construction has achieved a good start. With the initiative expanding, it has garnered more attention. In his speech, Mr Xi outlined the vision for the Belt and Road construction in the next stage without shying away from the complex problems, risks and challenges it would face.
In the future, more efforts will be made to push for progress in projects that would deliver real benefits to local people and attract more social capital. China will pay more attention to develop balanced trade relations, substantially increasing imports from countries along the Belt and Road route. Currently, the China-Europe freight rail service network has reached 10,000 trips, boosting the export volume of the continent to China.
China will carry out more cooperation projects in the fields of education, health care, culture and environment protection to promote the development of soft infrastructure in relevant countries, especially helping them train more talent. The investment and operation of Chinese companies will be subject to stricter regulations so that they can better fulfill their social responsibilities.
Besides, China will further expand the third party market cooperation with developed countries and large multinational corporations. The Chinese and Japanese governments are now negotiating cooperation on Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor projects. China’s Silk Road Fund and General Electric plan to invest together in the energy infrastructure in Belt and Road countries.
Beijing believes the Belt and Road initiative not only provides development opportunities to countries at a disadvantage in the globalisation process, helping them shake off poverty and achieve modernisation, but also adds impetus to further progress in developed countries. Mr Xi emphasised that the Belt and Road initiative is an initiative for economic cooperation, instead of a geopolitical alliance or military league. He noted that it is an open and inclusive process rather than an exclusive bloc or “China Club”.
Through the Belt and Road initiative, China is trying to find a new path for national advancement without becoming hegemonic. Forming a community with a shared future for humanity is not an empty slogan. The US-launched trade war has upset many countries, but the general trend of globalisation is difficult to reverse. Protectionism and unilateralism will come to a dead end. Belt and Road construction will become broader and more prospective.
Zhao Minghao is a senior research fellow with The Charhar Institute and an adjunct fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. This article first appeared in Global Times.