BRI provides experience to tackle future challenges, threats: former SCO secretary-general
Published: Sep 10, 2023 07:27 PM
Photo taken on April 3, 2023 shows some wind turbines at the 100-MW Zhanatas wind farm near the city of Zhanatas in the Zhambyl Region, Kazakhstan. The plant is one of the first batch of key energy projects under the China-Kazakhstan production capacity cooperation, which is within the framework of the BRI. Photo: Xinhua

Photo taken on April 3, 2023 shows some wind turbines at the 100-MW Zhanatas wind farm near the city of Zhanatas in the Zhambyl Region, Kazakhstan. The plant is one of the first batch of key energy projects under the China-Kazakhstan production capacity cooperation, which is within the framework of the BRI. Photo: 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 participating countries of the BRI and how it has given the people of these countries a sense of fulfillment.

In a conversation with Global Times (GT) reporter Xia Wenxin, Bolat Nurgaliyev (Nurgaliyev), former secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Chairman of the Board of the Foreign Policy Research Institute under Kazakhstan Foreign Affairs Ministry, shared his opinions on the BRI's contribution to Kazhakstan and Central Asia, the West's hype over the so-called debt trap.

This is the 13th piece of the series.


GT: How do you view the concept of the BRI?

From the very beginning, it was understood that the intention of the Chinese leadership was to uplift the economic and social development of the participating states based on the level of economic development that had been achieved by China. I understand that the BRI was an investment in the future of China itself because the well-being of the neighbors and friendly countries is the guarantee of the ultimate success of the plans that the Chinese leadership sets before the country. And, of course, in 2013, China was already on the rise. And because of that, I was thinking that this is something which will be of global proportion and will have global consequences. 

The development of the BRI, going through stages, came hand in hand with the concept that President Xi offered, "a community with a shared future for mankind," that if we are to succeed, then we have to work for peace, development and responsible attitude to the challenging problems. Examples of this include, climate change, environmental degradation, green development; we have to show inclusiveness by involving countries in constructive cooperation instead of confrontation, division and ideological divergence in the immediate political considerations. This is what is attracting the participants to be actively involved in the BRI implementation. In every aspect, as far as I am concerned, the initial expectations are being met by reality.

The wide participation of the BRI is a sign that everybody sees this from the point of view of win-win, that together, we can set in front of us ambitious goals and we can achieve them on the strong foundation of China's economic success.


GT: How do you evaluate the BRI's achievements over the past decade in the world? In particular, how has the initiative contributed to the development in Central Asia and Kazakhstan?

We know that there is a focus of BRI on the economic projects in Central Asia. Kazakhstan is the leading economy [in Central Asia]; it is benefiting from the participation.

 If we look at the map, we see that Kazakhstan is No.9 in the world in terms of size. But if you look on the inside, you will see that the infrastructure is underdeveloped. This is a big problem for the realization of our full potential. It is not enough to have a lot of mineral resources reach. You have to process it, develop, attract investment and infuse technology which is available in some developed countries. All these need financing.

It was always a problem that while we have a lot of raw materials that are in huge demand outside - many trading partners would like to buy commodities from Kazakhstan, but the delivery is a problem. That's why the initial role of BRI is to develop railroads, surface roads, port facilities, especially economic zones, custom processing stations, the joint storage facilities for storing goods. This is something that was looked at by Kazakhstan and, I believe, in some other Central Asian countries as the opportunity that BRI can provide to take a revolutionary step in the development of upgrading the infrastructure.

If we look at the map of transportation communication before BRI and 10 years after it was introduced, there is a huge difference, see that how Kazakhstan and other Central Asian republics benefited, just compare the maps. Some projects are still being implemented, but some are already functioning. And this is a very positive development.

So all the countries of Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, look at the BRI as a very attractive, very welcome opportunity to resolve very difficult issues. Without proper capital and infusion of technology, it is impossible. And what was provided to us was within the framework of the BRI.


GT: Some Western media claimed that China is practicing "debt trap diplomacy" in developing countries through the BRI. What is your take on this?

The initiative was Chinese, but now BRI is an international brand. It's a brand of all participating states. And, trust me, all participating states when they make a decision to get involved in this or that project, there is a very thorough, very detailed process for weighing pluses and minuses, positive and negative, how it is going to affect national security, economic security, social security, financial security, fiscal issues, budgetary issues. I don't know a country that is not going through this process when it is making a decision. So everything is weighed, pros and cons.

So the very fact that throughout these 10 years, the circle of participation [in the BRI] is only widening proves that there is no such a thing as a trap. The conditions are clear.

You can be sure that if the promise is made [in the framework of the BRI], then it is guaranteed that it will be fulfilled. So that is a big difference compared to the similar projects that might be offered by other members of the international community, the individual states or international organizations, banks, and so on.

So as far as Kazakhstan is concerned, there is not such a fear or concern about the debt trap. We don't see it. We know that the decision to take part is voluntary, and all the things are being considered and balanced, upside and downside. And the objective assessment from outside confirms that there is no hidden agenda. 

GT: What experience has the BRI's development offer to the world in terms of global cooperation and development?

On the one hand, you would see that when the BRI was initiated 10 years ago, it was something absolutely new. Nobody was thinking that big and in a comprehensive way, encompassing, because it was considered by somebody that it's too ambitious to be possible.

If we look at the economic achievements under the BRI, it is changing the international environment and producing healthy competition of ideas, including on how we develop peace, harmony, innovation and inclusiveness. The BRI has developed much more than other initiatives. The BRI is something that is universally recognized, and its attractiveness is not questioned. People see the real benefit.

Those who are critical saying that you should not be involved in the BRI are people who are short-sighted because what's the alternative - to remain underdeveloped and just live in the medieval ages when there were no asphalt roads? If China can afford to do this, considering that the Chinese economy is the driver for the global economy, then that is something that should be welcomed and appreciated by everybody, even by the economic and political competitors. Because this is something positive.

What's important is a positive agenda. Just like what I said in the beginning, we should seek cooperation and inclusiveness instead of division and confrontation. 

The experience that we have gained so far over the past 10 years of BRI implementation gets us prepared for the challenges and the risk of threats of future, because we don't know what is around the corner.

And if we are just thinking in terms of division, that is going nowhere, because the interdependence of the world is such that this globalization is inevitable. It's something that happened and we have to adapt to this. We cannot move back, just move forward.

I see the BRI developing in the future. Clearly, the circle of participation is already so wide. We have now 193 states in the United Nations system, and 152 are BRI participants. This proves that this is beneficial for everybody who participates in the implementation.


GT: What is your understanding of the Chinese modernization? What lesson can it offer to other developing countries, including the Central Asian ones?

Recently I talked with my colleagues in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. And everybody is looking at the example of China in terms of arranging the improvement of living standards of people.

China got rid of the poverty problem and took all people to the level of middle-class development. This example should be studied, a conclusion should be drawn, and experience should be used for doing the same in their countries, because we still have this problem: Unemployment, poverty, living conditions that need to be improved. And these are basic needs, something which might be just as important as economic projects.

If it is possible for a huge country with a huge population like China to manage to resolve these problems, then there is every reason for others to follow the example, including through participation in the BRI, because the BRI covers all the spheres and not only industrial or transportation, but also energy and agricultural production. Also, it's very important that throughout the participation in this program, in the project, the people-to-people contacts are being developed. And that's generating better mutual understanding.

Unfortunately, even if we live side by side, our knowledge of each other is not that deep, sometimes we know more about faraway countries than about neighboring countries and their peoples. And this is a problem which has to be overcome. And so initiatives like the BRI and arrangements like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation aim at meeting this challenge as well.