BY XU XIUJUN
After the Belt and Road Initiative—the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road—was proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, it gradually evolved from merely a concept to concrete practice, embarking on a road of high-quality development. For more than five years, China has adhered to the principle of consultation and collaboration for shared benefits and the laws of the market economy and internationally accepted rules, building the Belt and Road with high standards. The reason why the initiative has been accepted by more and more international participants is that it conforms to the new situation of globalization and has composed a concerto of connectivity with broad participation and complementary advantages.
Serving as a platform, the Belt and Road Initiative strengthens the connectivity between China and the rest of the world, as well as between various regions within China. It adapts to the trend of countries needing to build closer relations with each other in the era of globalization, and provides a new path for deepening coordination and cooperation between different countries and regions. It is a multilateral development practice that covers wide areas calling for broader interaction.
The Belt and Road construction, open to all countries and regions, is committed to building an interconnected and inclusive world. As an international initiative featuring cross-regional and global cooperation, its partners cover five continents and promote coordinated land and maritime development. It not only works to connect major cities along the routes and build economic corridors with the support of international channels, but it also links key ports to jointly build a safe and efficient seafaring transportation channel.
With the advancement of six economic corridors (the New Eurasian Land Bridge, the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor, the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor, the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor), the expanding participation of countries and regions, and the deepening cooperation in third-party markets, the Belt and Road Initiative will gradually build an international network.
Domestically, it helps strengthen connections among local regions as well as bridge Chinese local governments and the external world. As the world’s largest developing country, China has long had an imbalance between urban and rural areas as well as among different regions. It is necessary to give full play to the comparative advantages of various regions, strengthen the interaction between different parts of China and comprehensively improve the open economy.
At present, almost all provinces in China have clearly defined the targets of their participation in the Belt and Road Initiative in accordance with their respective regional characteristics and industrial advantages. They have formulated specific plans for deepening cooperation with other provinces, cities and foreign governments.
Countries along the Belt and Road routes have different resource endowments and strong economic complementarities. There are broad areas and prospects for future cooperation. Currently, the initiative is focusing on and making progress in mainly five key areas that are closely linked and complement each other, namely policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity.
Policy connectivity is an important guarantee for Belt and Road construction. Participating countries have promoted an in-depth synergy of strategies. At the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) held in May 2017, leaders and representatives from governments and international organizations reached a series of consensus, agreeing that follow-up measures would be consolidated at a higher level. By the end of 2018, China had signed Belt and Road construction cooperation agreements with 122 countries and regions and 29 international organizations.
As one of the priorities, construction to enhance infrastructure connectivity such as railways, highways, waterways, airways, pipelines and information highways has achieved a great deal in mutual cooperation, contributed to local economic and social development and laid an important foundation for further Belt and Road construction. By the end of 2018, the number of freight trains on the China-Europe rail service network totaled 13,000, connecting 49 cities in 15 countries.
With the implementation of the Initiative on Promoting Unimpeded Trade Cooperation Along the Belt and Road, remarkable results have been achieved. In 2018, the total import and export volume of goods between China and other Belt and Road countries reached $1.3 trillion, a year-on-year increase of 16.3 percent, surpassing the growth rate of China’s total foreign trade by 3.7 percent during the same period and accounting for 27.4 percent of annual trade volume. In November 2018, the first China International Import Expo was held, setting up a new platform for countries along the Belt and Road routes to expand their exports to China.
In terms of financial connectivity, China’s financing cooperation with countries along the routes has deepened, while the role of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund (SRF) has improved. In order to promote building a long-term, stable, sustainable and diversified financing system, 27 countries have approved the Guiding Principles on Financing the Development of the Belt and Road.
In the three years since the establishment of the AIIB, its membership has increased from 57 to 93, with $7.5 billion in approved loans, attracting investments of nearly $40 billion for relevant infrastructure projects. Since its establishment four years ago, the SRF has attracted committed capital of about $10 billion and achieved a capital increase of 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion).
Cooperation in education, culture, tourism and other fields has progressed in order to promote people-to-people connectivity, with a number of specific plans formulated in related fields. In the past five years, China has signed nearly 80 bilateral cultural and tourism cooperation documents with countries along the routes, while members of the Silk Road NGO Cooperation Network have expanded to 310. China has trained a large number of talents in relevant countries through Silk Road scholarships and the establishment of institutions.
Benefits for all
As the initiator of the Belt and Road construction, China attaches great importance to mutual benefits and win-win cooperation with other countries. The starting point and the foothold of the Belt and Road Initiative are unified to promote the common prosperity of countries along the routes.
Mutual benefits and win-win cooperation are a practical way to carry out economic cooperation with countries around the world and the core principle of building the Belt and Road, which not only meets the current requirements, but also reflects the actual needs of countries along the routes.
Although the Belt and Road Initiative has many goals, there is an indispensable relationship between them, ultimately uniting them for the common prosperity of countries along the routes and around the world. All relevant countries and peoples have equal access to both cooperation and the fruits of that cooperation.
Practical results have already been achieved that allow countries along the routes to share China’s development opportunities and the rewards of Belt and Road construction. By the end of 2018, of the 279 proposals agreed upon at the first BRF, 269 had been completed or converted to normal operations, while the remaining 10 projects were underway. The implementation rate exceeds 96.4 percent. The second BRF, to be held this year, will seek new results in pragmatic cooperation.
Thus, the Belt and Road Initiative is a path to promote common development, mutual cooperation and common prosperity. It is also a coordinated development road for cities and countries along the routes for achieving connectivity.
(The author is an associate researcher with the Institute of World Economics and Politics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)