By John Okeke
China’s Belt and Road strategy is acknowledged to be the most ambitious geopolitical initiative of the age. Covering almost seventy countries by land and sea, it will affect every element of global society, from shipping to agriculture, digital economy to tourism, politics to culture.
Most importantly, it symbolizes a new phase in China’s ambitions as a superpower: to remake the world economy and crown Beijing as the new center of capitalism and globalization.
Almost six years after China put forward the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), thousands of delegates from over 100 countries, including nearly 40 government leaders, gathered in Beijing in late April to discuss on the fruits and prospects of the grand vision.
China’s hugely ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is often described as being more of an idea than an actual policy. Depending on whom you speak with, BRI is characterized as an economic plan to outsource China’s excess domestic industrial output. Other people, notably those in Washington, describe it in more political terms.
The bottom line is that it’s tough to nail down precisely what this thing is because the Chinese themselves don’t do a very good job of explaining it.
“More than any other project, it has come to symbolize a new phase in China’s rise, the moment when Beijing embraces its role as a new superpower, capable of remaking the world economy and attracting other countries to its own economic orbit and ideological model.” — Bruno Maçães.
Rather than frame BRI in a more narrow policy context, author and Hudson Institute senior research fellow Bruno Maçães describes believes it’s important to think of this in much broader, even generational terms.
“The Belt and Road is the Chinese plan to build a new world order replacing the U.S.- led international system,” he wrote in his latest book “Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order.”
By building massive amounts of infrastructure across Eurasia, and even throughout Africa, China is setting up a new power structure that will be unrivaled in the modern era. “Whoever is able to build and control the infrastructure linking the two ends of Eurasia will rule the world,” he added.
The scale of China’s ambition is staggering. While there are no precise figures that are publicly available, it’s widely believed that Beijing has already spent between $200-$300 billion around the world and is forecast to spend many multiples of that over the next decade. So far, some sixty countries have signed on for BRI projects or have expressed interest to do so in the future, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. In all, BRI impacts countries that account for around two-thirds of the world’s population.
Given its massive scale, it’s not surprising that Bruno and other observers contend that BRI is simply too large, too vast and too complex for any one person to understand. He doesn’t even think senior Chinese officials who supposedly run this thing fully understand what it is and what’s going on with it everywhere around the world.
Bruno joins Eric & Cobus to break down the key BRI themes that he outlined in his recent book and to explain why he thinks the U.S. has good reason to worry that its time as the global hegemonic power may indeed be coming to an end.
The past six years recorded the milestones of the BRI since it was first proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the fall of 2013, rightly after which multiple countries raised their hands to join the cooperation.
The vision and actions on jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road was released in March 2015, in which China explained to the world the philosophy and plans of the Belt and Road cooperation.
In the following December, a new multilateral financial institution, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, was established under the framework of the BRI, and so far it has reaped better-than-expected consensus and fruits.
In May 2017, the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation hosted by Beijing drew a roadmap for future cooperation by yielding a list of deliverables, which includes 76 items comprising 279 concrete results in five key areas, namely policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity.
Statistics indicated that nearly all of the 279 concrete outcomes have been completed or turned into regular work.
The string of efforts has rewarded the Belt and Road Initiative with more voice and discourse in international community. Many en-route countries have included the vision into their development plans as they perceive it as a cooperation platform fueling their growth.
So far, 124 countries and 29 international organizations have signed cooperation agreements with China on the BRI. According to an International Finance Forum (IFF) survey published last year, the 5th anniversary of the Initiative, almost every interviewed organization confirmed the vital role played by the Belt and Road construction in promoting local and regional economic growth.
Thanks to the accelerated Belt and Road cooperation, countries along the route are making historical leaps forward. It offered East Africa with its first motorway, provided the Maldives with its first inter-island bridge, enabled Belarus to produce passenger vehicles, and connected landlocked Kazakhstan to the sea.
Thanks to the proposal, Southeast Asia is constructing a high-speed railway, and the Eurasian continent is benefiting from the longest-distance freight train service.
In the eyes of global enterprises and public, the BRI has brought a huge number of practical cooperation projects and created whole new markets and employment opportunities.
A framework consisting of six corridors and six channels serving multiple countries and ports is taking shape, as the railway linking China with Laos and Thailand, the rail line connecting Hungary to Serbia, the high-speed railway between Jakarta and Bandung, the Gwadar port, and a series of other demonstrative projects have made concrete progress.
Such visible accomplishments further cemented the confidence in the BRI of each party. “China’s ‘Belt and Road’ program is showing up in the earning calls of some companies around the world,” the CNBC said in its report.
The General Electric forecasted that the company would register double-digit growth in revenues in the Belt and Road countries in coming years.
In addition, financial giant Citigroup is offering comprehensive services for companies investing in the Belt and Road countries. The 82 economic and trade cooperation zones established by Chinese enterprises in en-route countries have created nearly 300,000 local jobs.
Over the past 6 years, the Belt and Road construction has brought dramatic changes to countries along the route.
Thanks to the BRI, villagers who once lived in the mountains of Laos for generations can make a living from other occupations besides farming and hunting. The children there, with the electricity generated by BRI projects, have now said goodbye to the old days when they had to read under kerosene lamps.
Because of the BRI, Alice became one of the first female train drivers in Kenya and it greatly improved the living condition of her family. Now she has embarked on a new path of life, earning three times more than what she used to earn before.
The Germany-based Duisburg port posted a sales revenue of 250 million euros in the 2017 fiscal year, handling 30 percent more of cargos. The old industrial base which used to be headache with the recession of traditional growth momentum is now regaining vitality under the assistance of the BRI.
The BRI stands as an innovative creation in the complicated system of global development and governance, as it is a developing country-proposed initiative that upholds the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. It also represents a phenomenal practice in the realm of modern global governance.
Up to now, the co-construction of the BRI, as well as its core ideas have been included in the outcome documents of important international institutions such as the United Nations (UN).
The BRI not only involves economic cooperation, but also aims to improve the development model of the world economy through economic cooperation, make globalization healthier and further promote the development of national and global governance, said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN.
A new railway line for freight trains between Luxembourg and China’s Chengdu was recently launched, with the first train carrying 41 containers loaded with European mechanical and electrical products, food and medical apparatus to the expanding Chinese market.
Many people believe that the expanding China-Europe freight service not only stands for an engine to reshape the current trade and economic landscape, but also signifies that the BRI is providing the world with energy to fight against protectionism and isolationism by connecting countries together.