The Chinese are not sparing any effort in their drive to establish themselves as a world power to be reckoned with. Their arrival on the centre stage of international affairs was made possible by hard work spear-headed by a committed leadership and dedicated followership which launched them as the second largest economy in the world, second only to the United States of America. The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road bring back memories of that country’s lucrative trade with the outside world in centuries past.
Modernising it is a development strategy, proposed by Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in which the focus is on connectivity and cooperation among countries primarily between the People’s Republic of China and the rest of Eurasia, which consists of two main components, the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” (SREB) and oceangoing “Maritime Silk Road” (MSR). The strategy, it must be understood, underlines China’s push to take a bigger role in global affairs, and its need for priority capacity cooperation in areas such as steel manufacturing.
It is a foreign and economic policy that will attract from the Chinese government billions of dollars to be invested mainly on infrastructure that will hopefully link the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa. In the first instance, the Xi administration has pledged $124 billion. The plan is intended to forge a path of peace, inclusiveness and free trade.
As planned by China, the One Belt One Road initiative is geographically structured along six corridors, and the maritime Silk Road following the trade route of the past mentioned above. It is proposed to cover New Eurasian Land Bridge, running from Western China to Western Russia; China – Mongolia – Russia Corridor, running from Northern China to Eastern Russia; China – Central Asia – West Asia Corridor, running from Western China to Turkey; China – Indochina Peninsula Corridor, running from Southern China to Singapore; China – Pakistan Corridor, running from South-Western China to Pakistan; Bangladesh – China – India – Myanmar Corridor, running from Southern China to India; Maritime Silk Road, running from the Chinese Coast over Singapore and India to the Mediterranean.
It is expected, in our view, that the Belt and Road Initiative will bridge the infrastructure gap and thus accelerate economic growth across the Asia Pacific area and Central and Eastern Europe. Gratefully, Africa is thrown in the mix with East Africa, including Zanzibar in particular, forming an important part of the MSR after improvements to local ports and construction of a modern standard-gauge rail link between Nairobi and Kampala is completed.
Already, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, first proposed by China in October 2013, as a development bank dedicated to lending for projects regarding infrastructure is up and running. As of 2015, China announced that over one trillion yuan ($160 billion) of infrastructure projects were in planning or construction stages.
We point out the resolve of the Chinese, from a geo-economic standpoint, to ensure that the Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank foster economic connectivity and a new-type of industrialisation that will promote the common development of all countries as well as the peoples’ joint enjoyment of development fruits.
We also share the arguments of economic experts who proffer the Belt and Road initiative as a natural inter-national extension of the infrastructure-driven economic development framework that has sustained the rapid economic growth of China since the adoption of the Chinese economic reform under chairman Deng Xiaoping which can eventually reshape the Eurasian economic continuum, and, more generally, the international economic order.
It is also satisfying to note that a university alliance in that country is providing intellectual support for the initiative with research and engineering which will in turn foster understanding as well as academic exchange network that extends beyond the economic zone, and includes law school alliance to serve the Belt and Road development with legal spirit and legal culture.
It is important to observe the determined action that underpins the initiative. The Leading Group for Advancing the Development of One Belt One Road was formed sometime in 2014. It reports directly to the State Council of the People’s Republic of China and is composed of several political notables just to underscore the importance of the programme to the government.
We also anticipate that this policy initiative will extend to sub-Saharan Africa, a region in dire need of infrastructure that powers economic growth.