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China: Connecting The World Through Belt & Road

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As China hosts this year’s Belt & Road Forum in April, what should Africa and the world at large expect? Bukola Ogunsina writes

The Chinese President Xi Jinping mentioned on 17 November 2018, that the second Belt & Road Forum (BRF) would be held in Beijing in April this year 2019. The BRF is just around the corner, and as usual it is expected that several countries across the globe will be in attendance.

China had in time past concerned itself with its internal development. And now, having reached a satisfactory level, ‘Zhongguo’ as the country is also fondly called in Chinese, commenced its reform and opening up to the world, working arduously to improve on its foreign policies and further cement its relationship with other countries.

During this period of reform and opening up, China introduced several projects to embrace and maintain cordial relations with the rest of the globe, one of such projects is the Belt & Road initiative, also called ‘Yi dai, Yi lu’ which translates to ‘One Belt One Road’.

The Belt & Road has been described as ‘too ambitious’ by many, but with a blue print and gradual implementation, China’s dream is gradually becoming a reality. In less complicated terms the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) seeks to connect the world in all spheres to include trade, security, people to people exchange among others.

In an interview with the Chinese media, a member of the political bureau of the central committee of the Communist Party of China and director of the office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, Yang Jiechi said, “The BRI is an important initiative for international cooperation proposed by President Xi to enhance both China’s development and its cooperation with global partners. The BRI represents a major breakthrough in both theory and practice, and it carries far-reaching significance. Since its inception, the BRI has received strong endorsement and warm support from the international community.

The man who also oversees the preparation for the Forum noted that so far, a total of 124 countries and 29 international organisations have signed BRI cooperation documents with China. Recently, during the Chinese President’s visit to Italy, the two countries signed an MOU promoting the Belt & Road cooperation, giving a new impetus to this process.

The BRI vision has also been included in documents of key international institutions namely, the United Nations, the G20, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Yang went further on to say that the BRI played a strong role by opening a new area for international cooperation.

“The world today is experiencing profound changes unseen in a century. Protectionism and unilateralism are rising, so are uncertainties and destabilising factors. As stressed by President Xi, the BRI is a significant move China has taken to fully open itself under the new conditions, and it embodies China’s commitment to sharing development opportunities and outcomes with more countries in the world. This important statement charts the course for Belt and Road cooperation,” he explained.

The Belt & Road initiative is guided by the principle of consultation and cooperation for shared benefits and as such represents an approach to international cooperation featuring mutual respect, justice, equity and cooperation for win-win outcomes. This initiative will support the move towards economic globalisation toward greater openness, inclusiveness, balance and win-win outcomes.

The official stressed that a common task for the international community has become, since the outbreak of the international financial crisis in 2008, to establish new growth drivers and a new cycle of global growth, while noting that the BRI aims to address the fundamental issue of promoting development by enhancing all-round connectivity. It has helped countries involved to remove development bottlenecks and implement the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This initiative has thus become an important way for boosting global growth.

The latest studies by the World Bank and other international institutions suggest that the BRI cooperation will cut the costs of global trade by 1.1 to 2.2 percent and those of trade along the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor by 10.2 percent. What is more, it will contribute at least 0.1 percent of global growth in 2019.

Yang again stated that the BRI provides a new platform and new opportunities for fostering closer ties between countries. By improving connectivity between countries, BRI cooperation has strengthened economic ties and people-to-people exchanges between them, thus binding them closer together with shared interests. This will naturally build extensive consensus, enhance cooperation, and ultimately promote development for all.

The Belt & Road aims to replace estrangement with exchanges between different civilisations, replace clashes with mutual learning and replace a sense of superiority with coexistence; and it aims to boost mutual understanding, mutual respect and mutual trust among different countries, as the Chinese President has previously stated.

Perhaps it is with strong reason that Huang Huaguang and Luan Jianzhang, in the book, ‘The Roadmap of the 18th CPC National Congress and the Chinese Dream,’ whilst describing the Chinese dream, pointed out that, “The international community need not fear that China will ever seek to export its own path, theory, and system.” This is why the Belt & Road Initiative is all-inclusive as it invites the entire world to be a part of it.

In an exclusive interview with a senior correspondent at China Daily, the leading English language newspaper in China, Andrew Moody, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that what African leaders would want from this year’s Belt & Road Forum would be indicative of the shape the Forum would take in future.

“Quite a lot has happened since the first forum in Beijing, 2017. The most important difference between now and then is that the initiative itself has a higher profile. Two years ago, there was less awareness of the initiative and how ambitious it actually is. This is, however, presently more than $1 trillion global project, a scale beyond anything that is being offered by anyone else in the world.

Moody indicated that during the last forum, it was made clear the initiative was no longer restricted to countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt or the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the two routes that were its original foundations, but for all countries to participate in.

“This is particularly important to Africa because the continent can play a major role itself in shaping the initiative. African countries such as Nigeria are familiar also with the model of Belt & Road since it, like the continent as a whole, has benefited enormously from Chinese infrastructure investment from the turn of the century.

“There are few places on earth where infrastructure investment is as vital for development as Africa. Whatever economy Africa constructs for itself over the next century, whether one based on manufacturing or services, it will need roads as well as telecommunications networks, ports, airports and other facilities. Under the auspices of Belt & Road, it can make itself an attractive destination for international investment, removing many of the physical barriers that have held it back in the past,” he averred, adding that the African continent indeed regards China as a vital partner judging from the success in recent years of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which has resulted in a lot of investment to the continent.

As such Africa tends to be more open to some of the philosophical underpinnings of Belt & Road such as the concept of “a community with a shared future for mankind”, which is President Xi Jinping’s big idea and is about countries working together to reach solutions to global problems rather than being in conflict.

“For many African leaders attending this summit, however, it will be the details of the direction that will be of the most immediate interest and how their countries can benefit in both the short and long term,” he noted.

Belt & Road was first mentioned in 2013 as the Silk Road Economic Belt. Its focus was to promote the ancient silk road spirit in a new era. The idea of the Belt & Road had been in existence for centuries, an ancient silk route which was initially a trade path going through vast deserts, linking China to neighbouring countries.

President Xi by November 2014, announced that China would invest 40 billion USD to set up the Silk Road Fund which would be geared towards development of infrastructure, resources and industrial cooperation among others.

The goal of the Belt & Road is to promote development across land and maritime. The idea that it involves a few countries directly on the geographical route of its map should be demystified as it embraces the entire world and countries are encouraged to participate. Again, the BRI is not all about China giving out funds to support developing countries, but setting a course to encourage mutual relationships, where countries involved assist and respect each other.

The Initiative primarily covered East Asia, South East Asia, South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia and East Central Europe. But by July 2016, over 70 countries and international and regional organisations had shown support and willingness to take part in the Belt & Road and over 30 countries and international organisations had come to agreements to work with China in developing the initiative.

Belt & Road is anchored on five (5) pillars namely: Policy coordination, connectivity of facilities, unimpeded trade, finance and integration, strengthening people to people ties. The BRI has already began indirectly through the development China has carried out in Africa and some parts of the world.

China’s system of governance has advanced the country’s progress tremendously and further encouraged China to take a stand on the global stage.

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