By Saddam Hussein
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – China’s flagship inter-continental connectivity venture – aims at reshaping the global economics machinery grounded in the idea of ‘cooperation, rather than competition’.
Beijing’s BRI is an ambitious effort to improve regional cooperation and connectivity on a trans-continental scale. It has two primary components: the over-land Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), and the sea-based 21st century Maritime Silk Road (MSR). Together, they form the Belt and Road. The initiative was unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping in late 2013, and was thereafter promoted by Premier Li Keqiang during state visits to Asia and Europe.
President Xi, on August 28, 2018, underlined thorough and solid cooperation under BRI to benefit people in countries involved and build a community with a shared future for humanity. Xi, who is also the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Central Committee and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, was addressing BRI’s fifth anniversary symposium held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
“The broad support for the BRI shows aspiration from countries involved, developing countries in particular, for peace and development,” Xi said, noting that the initiative was for economic cooperation, instead of a geopolitical alliance or a military league, and that it was an open and inclusive process rather than an exclusive bloc or “China club”.
“It does not differentiate countries by ideology nor play the zero-sum game. As long as countries are willing to join, they are welcome,” Xi stated.
Moreover, China’s strongman also urged for the determination to uphold dialogue and consultation, joint contribution, shared benefits, win-win cooperation, exchange and mutual learning and to promote political mutual trust, economic integration, people-to-people exchanges with the Belt and Road countries, in order to advance the initiative step by step, producing achievements. According to him, the initiative serves as a solution for China to participate in the global opening-up and cooperation, improving global economic governance, and promoting common development and prosperity. The next priority of jointly advancing the initiative is to realize its high-quality development.
On the occasion, the President also impressed upon to focus all the energies to push for progress in Belt and Road projects, especially those delivering real benefits to the local people. However, there is still work that needs to be done to boost exchanges in areas of education, science, technologies, culture, sports, tourism, health and archaeology. The seriousness of the oratory can be judged by that fact that under this initiative, China has already set up 81 education institutions and projects as well as 35 cultural centers in countries along the Belt and Road.
This kind of development is sweeping through the BRI route across borders. However, the sustainability of this development and future implications are yet to be deciphered in coming years, as many analysts and experts also show factors of uncertainty for host economies. The global community is quite conscious about the potential of the BRI, which aims to connect 65 countries across three continents with China and would potentially influence the lives of 4.4 billion people.
Last year, Beijing hosted the first-ever Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, attended by state and government leaders of 29 countries. More than 1,600 participants came from over 140 countries and 80 international organizations. This shows how receptive the world is to this unique initiative that has sort of become a new mantra for global development and connectivity.
But the world will be watching over the coming years and comparing the Chinese and Western models. For Americans and Europeans, China’s system holds little appeal. For almost everyone else, the China model offers a plausible alternative. Hence, Xi’s BRI, and its potential, presents China with an opportunity to further sensitize the western audience on the ‘China Model’ and how, even with all the criticism, it still works perfectly well for the country.
Having said that, it is time that the economic concept of ‘perfect competition’ is reconsidered and replaced with ‘perfect cooperation’ in the wake of contemporary dynamics. Regional connectivity is vital for sustainable economic growth in the 21st century. Therefore, regional actors need to collaborate instead of counter-balancing or strategic competition for their shared security and economic prosperity. Without this joint cooperation or economic interdependence, sustainable progress in South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, and EurAsia is not manageable.
Thus, contemporary politics should plug into the modern necessities, which include politics of connectivity, cooperation and inter-dependence.
This is beautifully summarized by Evident Russian philosopher Peter Kropotkin, when he says, “Competition is the law of jungle, but cooperation is the law of civilization”.
The writer Saddam Hussein is a Research Fellow/Program Officer at Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS)/Afghan Studies Center (ASC), Islamabad. He tweets @saddampide