Cooperation under BRI helps reshape international economic landscape
Published: Oct 06, 2023 10:22 PM
Illustration: Xia Qing/Global Times

Illustration: Xia Qing/Global Times

As the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) celebrates its 10th anniversary in Beijing this month, China and more than 150 partner countries are determined to form ever-stronger economic cooperative relations to make the massive global infrastructure and development project a greater success so that more people in the Global South could benefit. 

In a world of "de-risking" and politically induced supply chain fragmentations being orchestrated by the US, the BRI is viewed as a powerful and effective tool for promoting economic interconnectivity and resilience as well as heightened technology cooperation among the developing countries. 

During the past 10 years, China's unique capability in infrastructure, commerce, manufacturing and eye-catching achievements in tech innovations, accompanied by an operation framework that ranges from planning and design to financing and operation, has enabled many less developed countries, long trapped by a lack of technology and capital, to catch up.

The BRI, by all metrics, deserves the laurel as the "Project of the 21st Century". Over the past decade, the initiative has helped reshape the global economic landscape, fostering closer connectivity, mounting trade, and more intimate people-to-people exchanges among the developing nations. 

A significant number of flagship projects, including the Mombasa-Nairobi railway, the China-Laos railway and the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway are completed and operational, which will help turbocharge developing economies. The World Bank estimates that, by 2030, the BRI is likely to generate $1.6 trillion in global revenue each year, or 1.3 percent of global GDP, as the hundreds of mushrooming transport corridors and economic zones have the potential to substantially improve trade, investment and living conditions for billions of citizens in the participating countries. 

The 10th anniversary of the BRI provides a chance to reflect on its future implementations. As the world recovers from COVID-19 and refocuses on development, the BRI can play an increasingly important role in promoting green and inclusive growth through incorporating environmental benchmarks into project planning and execution. Meanwhile, enhancing digital connectivity and promoting innovation and technology transfer can be instrumental in fostering future economic and social progress in the participating countries. 

However, the traditionally rich countries, led by the US and a few of its hardcore allies, are becoming increasingly concerned with the BRI, denigrating the initiative as "underhanded Chinese efforts" to develop soft power and chip away at the US' global dominance. 

And, the US-brewed narrative of "debt-trap diplomacy" in which China "lures poor countries into unsustainable debt" still dominates in US and European conversations. In reality, the US officials have been skittish seeing many traditionally poor countries, led by China, embarking on a journey to invest on infrastructure, improve backward economies and start to reshape the world. 

From the perspective of global fairness, the less developed countries, or the Global South, have the ultimate rights to revamp their economic fate, get rid of traditional poverty and improving living standards by standing with China, learning from China's past experiences and making good use of Chinese investment and technology. There is no reason for the US and its allies to continue to dominate the globe, pillage on the weak and poor countries, and prolong America's hegemony. 

The third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing will be another epoch-making event for the developing countries to exchange development experiences on the decade of their cooperation, and the forum is expected to usher in a new phase of deepening partnership under the BRI, after the "hiccup hiatus" caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The first half of 2023 witnessed an eminent revival of the BRI projects as financing and investment went up markedly.

During the past decade, connectivity and infrastructure development has been enhanced across different continents. The BRI has seen the construction of a vast network of roads, railways, ports, and other infrastructure projects that help improve transportation and trade links between China and the participating countries. The developments have facilitated the flow of goods, capital, and ideas, stimulating economic growth in various regions. Knowledge-sharing, cultural exchanges, mutual understanding, and diplomatic ties among the nations have all strengthened as a result.

Now, more than 150 countries, accounting for almost 75 percent of the world's population and more than half of its GDP, have signed on to the BRI. Chinese enterprises have doled out hundreds of billions of dollars for rail, road and other infrastructure projects that might otherwise have gone unfunded. The projects have spanned the globe, from Cambodia to Egypt to Greece. 

And, the original four pillars of policy connectivity, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, and financial connectivity are being expanded to include a new emphasis on "people-to-people connectivity" in the form of cultural and educational exchanges. Also, the BRI has spawned more subsets, including the Green Silk Road, the Digital Silk Road, the Polar Silk Road, the Health Silk Road, and the Space Silk Road.

Over the past decade China has become an important source of investment in many developing countries. The Asian Development Bank says that in Asia alone, the shortfall in investment funds, ranging from roads, railways and ports to power generators and social infrastructure, amounts to $900 billion a year.

China's trade with participating countries has grown as well. This has helped the country rely less on trade with the US, which is bent on "decoupling" or "de-risking" from China.

Some in the Western media have been disparaging the BRI simply because it is initiated by China. Africa, Asia and Latin America are among the biggest destinations for BRI loans. These countries needed the funds and expertise that Chinese companies could offer, and China needed a way to extend its footprint of regional and global economic cooperation, starting with infrastructure. 

The Global South represents largely less developed nations where people hoard the aspirations to develop their economies through forming solid economic relations with China. The BRI's great reach and success is important, if only as a good reminder that the vast majority of the world isn't interested in the US-led "decoupling" campaign from China. On the contrary, the BRI partners are leaning to forming stronger partnerships with China. For an example, the official launch of the 138-km Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway on October 2 is energizing many ASEAN countries to form ever-closer links with Chinese enterprises because China, unlike the US, truly delivers.

The author is an editor with the Global Times.