Belt and Road Initiative set to be a global game-changer

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Amidst growing controversy, the second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation that kicked off in Beijing, China appears a much bigger affair, with more Heads of State and government, and thousands of delegates attending, as compared to the first BRF held in mid-May 2017.

In addition, there will be a conference organised specifically for the global business community. Overall, China states that she will seek greater complementarity between the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the development strategies of participating countries. BRI will also aim at aligning key projects from implementation of the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

The theme for the second Belt and Road Forum (BRF), “Belt and Road Cooperation, Shaping a Brighter Shared Future,” is a testament of BRI’s vision. China’s unconditional aid to Africa is making a bigger impact than the Western world’s based conditionalities that ended up as bad experiments on Africa’s economies.

The BRI, otherwise known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, is reminiscent of the ancient network of trade routes that were for centuries central to the cultural interaction in Asia and Europe.

The route was so significant to China, that she protected it by extending the country’s Great Wall. Indeed, the political and economic impact of the Silk Road was felt up to the Horn of Africa.

The launch of the BRI has been welcomed with mixed reactions. On one side are sections of the Western world, who view the Initiative as a tool of Sino hegemony around the world. The other side comprises of the tens of countries, and hundreds of business concerns, who see the BRI as a boon to the global economy.

The optimists view the BRI interconnectivity as an opportunity to promote the flow of production factors and public goods in unleashing potential for economic growth. It is now six years since Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the BRI.

In the ensuing period, China has signed over 170 co-operation agreements with more than 120 countries. In addition, BRI has created over 240,000 jobs abroad, with trade between China and BRI partner countries exceeding USD six trillion.

BRI projects are funded mainly through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Silk Road Fund and Chinese-funded banks. The BRI network now spans five continents.

Leading the few sceptics, however, is the Group of Seven (G7) and the Bretton Woods Institutions, which comprise the leading global economies. In a communique after their two-day annual meeting in France on April 6, the G7 demonized the BRI as a sign of China’s global dominance, and an obstacle to their (West) alliances.

For instance, BRI rivals initiatives like America’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The fact that the BRI is becoming a reality is bound to ruffle the erstwhile established geo-political order.
The BRI will create an open world economy, and promote economic globalization. This is something the Western world has dangled to the developing world for decades with no fruition.

The G7 release was followed by a warning by both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, who recently urged caution with China loans. According to the two multilateral lenders, increased lending by China to developing nations could sow the seeds of a global economic crisis.

The comments were provoked by what they observed as BRI motivated Chinese lending throughout the developing world, particularly to resource rich nations.

However, many economic experts say China’s replication of the Silk and Road will be highly productive, and have great positive impact on the global economy. What makes BRI attractive is also the promise by China to maintain its policy of non-interference in the internal governance of partners. This will enable economic and infrastructural mutuality in the cooperation.

The massive amount of money that China is planning to invest in this initiative shows how seriously the country is ready to follow through Xi Jinping’s October 2013 vision on connectivity and cooperation among countries. China is putting to practice both its mutual benefit and win-win cooperation policies in establishing the BRI.

East Africa also forms an integral part of the BRI through ongoing improvements to local ports, and construction of the first motorway in the region. In Kenya, the Chinese funded Standard Gauge Railway, dubbed ‘project of the century’, has created 50,000 local jobs and boosted the country’s economic growth by 1.5 per cent.

It is agreed that the BRI is now the largest platform for international cooperation and public good. To date, 123 countries and 29 international organizations have signed BRI agreements with China, which is the greatest sign yet of support and confidence.

To support the BRI, China has promised to fully implement the eight major initiatives agreed on during the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in Beijing. These include industrial promotion, infrastructural connectivity, trade facilitation, green development, capacity building, promotion of health care, people-to-people exchange and, peace and security.

(The writer is a communication specialist, writer and analyst on China-Africa affairs. ndegwasm@gmail.com)

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