The world needs more bridges, fewer barriers
Published: Aug 27, 2023 06:42 PM
An aerial photo of the construction site of the Ivovik wind farm project in Livno in Bosnia and Herzegovina.Photos:Xinhua

An aerial photo of the construction site of the Ivovik wind farm project in Livno in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photos: Xinhua

Editor's Note:

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Through the lens of foreign pundits, we take a look at 10 years of the BRI - how it achieves win-win cooperation between China and countries along the Belt and Road and how it has given the people of these countries a sense of fulfillment. 

In a conversation with Global Times (GT) reporters Ma Ruiqian and Su Yaxuan, Boris Tadic (Tadic), former president of Serbia, and Zlatko Lagumdzija (Lagumdzija), former chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, shared their views on the influence the BRI has had in a changing global landscape. 

This is the 11th piece of the series.

GT: How do you assess the achievements of BRI cooperation over the past 10 years and its impact on local communities?

Ten years ago, President Xi first proposed the BRI. We believe the BRI is very important because it advocates mutual benefit and interoperability, and advocates that all relevant countries and regions can benefit from it. We can also see that in the past 10 years, many infrastructure projects have made great progress, and the initiative has brought great changes to many developing countries.

Lagumdzija: Developing countries are striving to elevate themselves and join the family of the world. The linkage between the BRI and developing countries is self-evident. The BRI actually shows how we can work and participate in building the big picture.

Bosnia is still one of the countries that exports energy. That's not sustainable in the long run because a lot of our energy is based not on renewables but on classic fossil fuels. What we do need is much bigger cooperation with China when it comes to energy, especially renewable energy because China is a leader in renewable energy.

I think this is the future that we need and that we should strive for. That's why the BRI is a chance for us and everyone else who supports us to learn a little bit more without having to argue over why this initiative is better than any other. We should be competing in good projects and complementing each other so that we can all improve, rather than competing against each other. 

GT: From the US' "Build Back Better World" plan to the EU's "Global Gateway" initiative, and to the G7's "Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment," many analysts suggest that these plans aim to counter the BRI's influence. What's your take on these schemes? To what extent will they affect the BRI?

To begin with, I think we have to understand that we live in a world that needs much more dialogue, tolerance, learning and understanding. So I think it is very important that we live in a world in which projects aiming to succeed are not pitted against each other in competition. We should focus on how many more projects will be added to the overall basket of projects. This is part of fulfilling sustainable development goals adopted by the United Nations and embraced by all countries. To achieve this, it is vital to cultivate a different mindset among leaders, starting from the grass-roots level. This necessitates the active involvement of the academic community, civil society, and the business sector, who should collectively exert pressure on their leaders to emphasize the need for greater cooperation.

Then we need more mutual understanding and working together. Currently, the world is witnessing a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers. The focus is on who is going to take a larger share of the pie rather than expanding it. Unfortunately, this approach leads to the pie shrinking in front of our eyes. In the end, we are all losers.

GT: Many Western analysts view the BRI using a zero-sum mindset. How do you see this? 

I don't think the zero-sum game will benefit anyone. Even the winners in the zero-sum game will be losers in the end because we live in an interconnected world. We cannot live in a world in which the rich are becoming richer and the poor are basically becoming poorer. In such a world, the rich do everything they can to protect what they have, and the poor, who have nothing, would not be afraid of confrontation, and so the world becomes a world of confrontation. A world of confrontation will eventually lead to destruction. We live in a world where mankind has enough economic power to create some kind of devastation. And human technology is becoming more and more powerful. It's much easier to make weapons of mass destruction.

If we continue growing the barriers and inequalities among us, if we continue living in an unjust world in which the rich think they can live in ivory towers, sooner or later, those ivory towers will be undermined. The world also will be destroyed.

The zero-sum game is about walls among us. What we need are bridges. We need to create more bridges in our heads, not only in our lands, but in our hearts as well.

GT: What is your opinion on the argument that the BRI leads to debt traps?

This is a kind of prejudice that China faces within the Western world. It seems that some Western media outlets are following a specific agenda, and I hope that Western politics will shift in a more objective direction. The BRI emphasizes cooperation and mutual benefits for all participants, and the Western politics should not be focused on perpetuating prejudices or attempting to hinder the progress of this initiative. I anticipate that realities will evolve and teach people to be more flexible. I'm expecting that.

GT: What are your expectations for the cooperation between China and Serbia within the framework of the BRI in the future?

In terms of agricultural products, we have made significant strides in both product quality and technological improvement. I'm not referring solely to traditional items or raw materials. I'm highlighting substantial improvements we've achieved in agriculture that could greatly benefit China. 

Moreover, I see potential for substantial progress in the software industry, and I'm excited about new technological advancements and innovations in the energy sector. I hope for enhanced cooperation in this field compared to what has transpired in the past few decades. 

During my recent attendance at a conference on digitization, I could sense the potential for fruitful cooperation. This is an area where young, educated, and well-developed Serbian companies can work with Chinese counterparts to achieve remarkable progress. I experienced such collaborations in China a few months ago when delivering a speech at a conference that attracted thousands of tenders from Chinese companies. This domain holds the promise of making truly noteworthy advancements.