BRI: Project of the century

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Why OBOR matters the most

 

 

In the coming five years, it will offer 2,500 short-term research visits to China for young foreign scientists, train 5,000 foreign scientists, engineers and managers, and set up 50 joint laboratories

 

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation concluded in Beijing on 15 May. The grand event brought a whopping 1,500 delegates from over 130 nations, including 29 heads of state and government leaders to assure support for the project of the century.

The ambitious trillion-dollar effort if for countries and continents, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China would provide a $125 billion funding, $9 billion of which is aid/grant for the developing countries that join the global scheme.

China’s new Silk Road promises to outdo the ancient one in size and scope with membership not limited to just Asia and Europe. The congregation achieved more than 270 deliverables in boosting connectivity between countries involved with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

This was indeed the highest-level conference on the Belt and Road Initiative since visionary Chinese President Xi Jinping first floated the idea in 2013. A joint communiqué issued on a concluding day reaffirmed the vision of the initiative “to work for a globalisation that is open, inclusive and beneficial to all”.

The Belt and Road Initiative, Xi’s signature foreign policy project, aims to build ports, railways and pipelines that connect a sprawling sea and land network from Asia to Europe. This multi-trillion-dollar plan spans more than 60 countries and 30pc of the world’s GDP.

Xi pledged more than $100 billion in financing to help develop the project across three continents. He also vowed to tackle poverty in recipient countries — an unusual foray for China, which has historically left such efforts to development agencies like the World Bank.

Leaders signed a broad communiqué that endorses global trade and seeks to increase economic growth. The group hopes to “rebalance economic globalisation so that mankind will move closer to a community of a shared future,” Xi said at another speech where he announced agreements with 68 countries and international organisations.

Xi created the initiative to help spur domestic growth and enhance China’s role abroad. He spoke about his promise surrounded by strongman leaders such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Despite its tight schedule and diverse events, the forum provided an ideal opportunity for world leaders to exchange views on cooperation and deepen their understanding of each other.

The forum kicked off in the Chinese capital on 14 May with Chinese President Xi, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Russian President Putin and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivering keynote speeches respectively. Russian President Vladimir Putin managed to steal the show with an impromptu piano performance inside the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.

Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde addressed the High-Level Plenary Meeting of the forum, which was followed by a banquet and a special gala with the theme of “Millennial Road.”

The second day of the event mainly featured the Leaders’ Roundtable Summit hosted by the Chinese president and attended by other heads of state and government, where Xi reiterated that the open initiative belongs to the world.

However, notably absent at the event was the United States, along with India. While the US has remained mostly silent about China’s plans for global infrastructure and trade domination, India has emerged as the chief critic of the initiative.

During his speech, however, Xi dismissed the detractors, saying that while the initiative’s roots may be ancient, it’s offering something entirely new to the world. “In advancing the Belt and Road, we will not re-tread the old path of games between foes. Instead, we will create a new model of co-operation and mutual benefit,” the Chinese president vowed as applause rang out inside the hall.

While President Xi called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as “project of the century”, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the Initiative as an “example of cooperation in such fields as infrastructure, transport and industry”, saying his country supported the initiative from the very beginning.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim hoped investing in countries along the Belt and Road can bring enormous opportunity.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made it clear that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was an economic undertaking and open to all countries in the region. Perhaps, this was a tacit offer to India, the hostile neighbour of China and Pakistan which views the BRI a threat for its designs of regional hegemony.

While India boycotted the BRI Forum – which may further isolate it in the world — United States of America sent a low-level delegation.

European leaders were also all praise for the initiative. Czech President Milos Zeman said the Belt and Road Initiative is the most significant project in modern history.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said his country highly values the importance of this initiative for people-to-people contact, cultural exchanges and tourism.

The special envoy of British Prime Minister Theresa May, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, said Britain, lying at the western end of the Belt and Road, is a natural partner in this endeavour.

The special envoy of French President-elect Emmanuel Macron, former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, said the forum marks a new and decisive step in the progress of the initiative. “To remedy the lack of infrastructure in Asia will require the efforts of all those good will ready to contribute to the region’s prosperity and that of the rest of the world,” he added.

A big family of harmonious co-existence

“What we hope to create is a big family of harmonious co-existence,” Xi said at the opening of the event, which focused on resurrecting ancient Silk Road trade routes.

He emphasised the need to abandon protectionism and “exclusive arrangements.” Xi also spoke of “cultural inclusion”, saying China has reached broad consensus and adopted a joint communiqué. He said that the leaders agreed to set up a “stable and sustainable financial support system with risks controllable” for the Belt and Road development, besides agreeing on broader channels, innovative methods and lower financing costs.

Participants of the initiative will champion the Silk Road spirit and stay committed to win-win cooperation, meanwhile, China will not pursue any political agenda or make exclusive arrangements, he stressed.

“We support green and low-carbon development,” the Chinese president said, adding that China had already signed Belt and Road cooperation agreements with 68 countries and international organisations and that the country would hold its second forum on international cooperation under the Belt and Road framework in 2019.

Xi expressed his confidence in the initiative’s future and called it “a long-term undertaking.”

At a separate press conference in Beijing, Russian President Vladimir Putin said China’s Belt and Road Initiative was “timely” as the international community faces growing instability.

Major deliverables

According to the joint communiqué, national governments, local authorities and enterprises reached a number of cooperation agreements, policy measures and practical results in the lead-up to and during the forum.

The Chinese organiser has put together a list of major deliverables of the forum, including 76 items that comprise more than 270 concrete results in five key areas, namely policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity, which are largely in line with Xi’s pledges in his keynote speech at Sunday’s opening ceremony.

China would be expanding the Silk Road Fund by 100 billion yuan (about 14.5 billion US dollars), encouraging financial institutions to conduct overseas fund business in RMB with an estimated amount of about 300 billion yuan (about 43.5 billion US dollars) and providing replenishment of one billion US dollars to the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund.

The Asian Financial Cooperation Association has been officially established, the document said.

The northeastern region of China and the Far East of Russia will get more support in expanding their cooperation, as the National Development and Reform Commission of China plans to set up a China-Russia Regional Cooperation Development Investment Fund with a total scale of 100 billion yuan (about 14.5 billion US dollars) and an initial scale of 10 billion yuan (about 1.45 billion US dollars), according to the joint communiqué.

China will endeavour to build a win-win business partnership with other countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, enhance trade and investment facilitation with them, and build a Belt and Road free trade network. China will also host the China International Import Expo starting from 2018.

China will enhance cooperation on innovation with other countries. It will launch the Belt and Road Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan, which consists of the Science and Technology People-to-People Exchange Initiative, the Joint Laboratory Initiative, the Science Park Cooperation Initiative and the Technology Transfer Initiative.

In the coming five years, it will offer 2,500 short-term research visits to China for young foreign scientists, train 5,000 foreign scientists, engineers and managers, and set up 50 joint laboratories. It will set up a big data service platform on ecological and environmental protection. China proposed the establishment of an international coalition for green development on the Belt and Road, and we will provide support to related countries in adapting to climate change.

China will also launch 100 “happy home” projects, 100 poverty alleviation projects and 100 health care and rehabilitation projects in countries along the Belt and Road. It will provide relevant international organisations with US$1 billion to implement cooperation projects that will benefit the countries along the Belt and Road.

BRI is a good initiative aimed at creating a global community of a shared destiny. Since the world today stands divided and marred with conflicts, wars and economic meltdown, it is about time for world community to support and complement Beijing’s efforts for connecting small and large economies under the Chinese characteristic of win-win cooperation.

Only this partnership can help pull billions of people out of the clutches of poverty, ignorance, illiteracy, epidemic and wars. This can largely help create a community of shared destiny.

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