Embarking on a New Voyage of Belt and Road Cooperation

By Wang Yi

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF), held in Beijing from 14 to 15 May 2017, was a great success. It is the largest and highest-level international event ever initiated and hosted by China since the founding of the People’s Republic. Its success demonstrates China’s rising international standing and growing global influence. President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech at the opening session and chaired the Leaders Roundtable, which was attended by 29 heads of state or government and representatives of three major international organizations. Many countries sent senior officials to the opening session, the High-Level Dialogue and other BRF events. The forum brought together around 1,500 participants from over 130 countries of five continents and some 70 international organizations, making it one of the most broadly represented international gatherings in recent years. Its success is also a strong indication of the international community’s warm response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative of cooperation and mutual benefit for all. The BRF is without any doubt a milestone for Belt and Road cooperation.

I. A globally influential and highly productive event.

The BRF is held at a time when the world is grappling with weak global growth, headwinds against economic globalization, deep changes in the global governance system and growing uncertainty in the international situation. Against this backdrop, China set the BRF theme as “Belt and Road: Cooperation for Common Prosperity”. The theme is a call for openness, inclusiveness, cooperation and mutual benefit and also an appeal for joint efforts to boost global economic growth, strengthen confidence in economic globalization and find ways for building a community of shared future for all mankind. The fact that the theme has been warmly received by the international community speaks volumes for China’s leading role in improving global governance and promoting international cooperation.

The BRF has served to broaden international consensus. Since President Xi first put forward the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, more than 100 countries and international organizations have expressed support or participated in the initiative, making it the most popular public good worldwide. That said, there are still countries that do not fully understand what the initiative is about and a very few others even have misgivings about China’s intention. At the forum, President Xi called on all parties to promote the Silk Road Spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and win-win cooperation. He reviewed the fruitful results of Belt and Road cooperation over the past four years and elaborated on the guiding principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits for Belt and Road cooperation. He also recalled the historical roots of the initiative and shared his views on its future prospects. His statements helped reduce misunderstanding and expand consensus. 

The Joint Communiqué of the Leaders Roundtable released at the end of the forum is the first authoritative international document on the building of the Belt and Road. The communiqué encompasses both general concepts and principles, and plans of action on the ground. It highlights the internationally agreed goals, principles and measures for Belt and Road cooperation. Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized that President Xi’s envisaged blueprint for Belt and Road cooperation responds to the call of the times and heralds bright prospects. Leaders of other countries, including Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Belarus, described the Belt and Road Initiative as an ambitious, long-term and historic undertaking and the BRF an event of great practical significance and far-reaching historical impact. According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Belt and Road Initiative shows great strategic wisdom and foresight and will not only help achieve sustainable development but also help sustain peace. President Xi’s speech at the opening session was like a torch that lit up the world. In their speeches, many leaders quoted Chinese sayings cited by President Xi, such as “building the road is the first step toward prosperity” and “people of one mind can remove Mount Tai”, to show their appreciation and support for the Belt and Road Initiative. Prior to the forum, China had already signed cooperation agreements on jointly implementing the Belt and Road Initiative with more than 40 countries and international organizations. During the forum, China signed similar documents with another 20-plus countries and international organizations, thus enlarging the circle of friends for the initiative and creating strong momentum for jointly building the Belt and Road.

The BRF has identified the way forward for collective efforts. As the initiative gets fully rolled out, it is imperative to set a correct course and draw a good roadmap. President Xi pointed out the overarching objective is to build the Belt and Road into a road of peace, prosperity, opening up, innovation and inter-civilization connection. He underscored the need to build a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation and foster a security environment built and shared by all. He reiterated the importance of deepening cooperation on industrial, financial and infrastructure connectivity so that integrated economies and interconnected development will bring benefits to all parties. He called on all parties to build an open platform of cooperation and foster a broad community of shared interests, pursue innovation-driven development and build a digital Silk Road of the 21st century. President Xi also urged all parties to establish multi-tiered mechanisms for cultural and people-to-people exchanges so that inter-civilization exchanges will replace estrangement, mutual learning will replace clashes, and coexistence will replace a sense of superiority. His proposals respond to the call of our times and to the development needs of countries involved. They represent the way forward for Belt and Road cooperation in the long run and are widely commended by BRF participants. During the forum, China and many participating countries had reached important consensus on priorities and pathways for future cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, spelling out specific actions and setting out a clear roadmap to make this vision a reality.

The BRF has made more cooperation projects possible. Thanks to the collective efforts of all parties involved, the forum produced more than 270 cooperation outcomes under five categories and 76 sub-categories, with a focus on policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity. This fully shows that the Belt and Road Initiative is action-oriented and project-based, which is its defining feature. China has signed agreements on infrastructure and transportation cooperation with countries such as Cambodia, Turkey, and Pakistan. Good progress has been made in major projects like the China-Europe Container Block Trains, the Jakarta-Bandung railway, and the Belgrade-Budapest railway. A connectivity network on the Eurasian continent is taking shape. China also signed inter-governmental agreements on economic cooperation and trade with 30 countries and a bilateral free trade agreement with Georgia. China is working with relevant countries to build business and industrial parks and cross-border economic cooperation zones, thus adding fresh vitality to global trade and the world economy. China also signed cooperation agreements with Thailand, Malaysia, Poland, Afghanistan, UNESCO and UNEP in such areas as nuclear power, water resources, telecommunications, science and technology, environmental protection, education, culture, health and medical care. All this will expand areas of Belt and Road cooperation so that peoples of participating countries will have a true sense of involvement and enjoy benefits that the initiative brings. BRF participants applaud the fact that China does deliver on its commitment under the Belt and Road Initiative instead of simply paying lip service. They also speak highly of the Belt and Road cooperation model which features coordination, innovation, connectivity of development strategies and leveraging of complementarity and focuses on development and prosperity for all. 

The BRF has served to strengthen the support system for Belt and Road cooperation. Belt and Road cooperation is a long-term endeavor that requires a solid and reliable support system. President Xi announced that China will host the second BRF in 2019 and set up a liaison office for that purpose. This among others will lay a solid foundation for the long-term development of Belt and Road cooperation. China pledged an additional RMB 100 billion to the Silk Road Fund and encouraged financial institutions to conduct RMB overseas fund business with an estimated amount of RMB 300 billion. The China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China will set up special lending schemes worth RMB 250 billion equivalent and RMB 130 billion equivalent respectively. China will establish a Multilateral Development Financial Cooperation Center together with multilateral development banks and an IMF-China Capacity Building Center. China will work with relevant parties to formulate guidelines for financing development projects under the framework of Belt and Road cooperation. These measures and mechanisms are a strong boost to confidence and enthusiasm of all parties involved in Belt and Road cooperation. 

To provide long-term support for Belt and Road cooperation, China is building platforms for comprehensive services related to science and technology, environmental protection and media. The above measures are widely appraised at the forum. World leaders attending the BRF indicated that the measures demonstrate the historical commitment and firm resolve of China, which was the first to put forward the initiative, to jointly build the Belt and Road with other interested countries. The leaders also agree that Belt and Road cooperation is a joint endeavor that requires more actions on the ground by all participating countries.
The BRF has served to expand China’s global network of partnerships. During the forum, President Xi had bilateral talks or meetings with all participating heads of state or government, effectively expanding China’s network of partnerships, especially with countries along the Belt and Road. At their meeting, President Xi and President Putin agreed to strengthen China-Russia cooperation in all areas, speed up connectivity between the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union and further enrich the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination. When President Xi met with Italian and other European leaders, they reached an important consensus on supporting multilateralism and advancing China-EU partnerships for peace, growth, innovation and progress of civilizations. President Xi also worked on the leaders of China’s neighboring countries and called for stronger mutual trust and greater cooperation between China and the countries they represent, hoping Belt and Road cooperation will help maintain good momentum of stability and development in the vicinity of China. President Xi also had cordial meetings with leaders of African and Latin American developing nations and conducted in-depth exchanges of views on cooperation opportunities under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative and on how to promote China’s relations with these countries.

II. The Belt and Road Initiative is of great practical significance and far-reaching impact.

The Belt and Road Initiative embodies President Xi’s thinking on China’s diplomatic work and represents a great practice of China’s distinctive major-country diplomacy. The BRF reviewed the fruitful results of Belt and Road development, lay out the vision of cooperation among countries along the Belt and Road and reaffirmed the practical significance and far-reaching impact of the initiative in tackling development challenges facing mankind and in advancing world peace and prosperity. 

The Belt and Road Initiative is a new launch pad for international economic cooperation. In a world that has long suffered sluggish economic growth, there is an urgent need to stimulate demand, find new areas of growth and identify new engines of development. The Belt and Road runs through Asia, Europe and Africa, linking the East Asian economic circle and the European economic circle. With an initial focus on infrastructure connectivity, the initiative aims to improve resource allocation and market integration by advancing connectivity of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people, and provide an open and effective platform where all parties can work together to promote mutual complementarity and interconnected development. Since the initiative was announced four years ago, interested countries and parties have taken steps to synergize their development strategies and launched a number of major cooperation projects. Regional trade and investment have increased at an annual rate which doubles the global average. A series of “early harvests” have been achieved and produced a demonstration effect. More and more countries are optimistic about the immense opportunities and promising future that Belt and Road cooperation may bring. They are willing to join the initiative and jointly build the Belt and Road for shared benefits. Building on what had been achieved in Belt and Road cooperation, the BRF has announced several additional measures to upgrade, deepen and expand international cooperation in the context of the Belt and Road, hopefully the measures will help promote world economic recovery and drive economic growth of all participating countries. The IMF estimates that by 2020, the total amount of trade in goods of the countries and regions along the Belt and Road will reach US$19.6 trillion, or 38.9% of the world’s total.

Under the framework of Belt and Road cooperation, China’s own development will impact countries along the Belt and Road in a positive way and such impact will increase. From 2014 to 2016, trade between China and those countries exceeded US$3 trillion and Chinese investment amounted to over US$50 billion. Chinese businesses have set up 56 business cooperation zones in more than 20 countries, which has generated nearly US$1.1 billion of tax revenues and created 180,000 jobs for these countries. The interconnected development of Chinese and other economies are gathering a strong momentum.

The Belt and Road Initiative will help rebalance economic globalization. Currently, with a growing backlash against globalization, countries are facing a critical choice between development behind closed doors or through openness and cooperation. The Belt and Road Initiative follows the trend of our times toward growing interdependence of human society. It helps improve allocation of economic factors by breaking down geographical barriers, and advance a sustainable economic globalization by creating new demand through more effective supply and reshaping the global structure of industrial production, investment and consumption. The Belt and Road Initiative is open, inclusive and aims to tackle global issues such as unbalanced growth, governance dilemma, digital divide and income disparities. The initiative sets the course for more open, inclusive and balanced economic globalization that benefits all. It also provides a new blueprint for a more fair and equitable system of global governance.

BRF participants spoke highly of the Belt and Road Initiative, calling it China’s formula for an open world economy, a balanced economic globalization and a better global governance. According to leaders of developing countries, the initiative will bring unprecedented opportunities to less developed countries that have been marginalized in the process of economic globalization to move faster toward industrialization and modernization. Representatives of developed countries indicated that the Belt and Road Initiative rejects the outdated, conservative, closed and exclusive approach and provides a new way forward that features openness, inter-connectivity and integration. It presents a new model of economic globalization, a massive “revolution in economic geography” in a globalized world, and a great example of how oriental wisdom can be applied for global benefit. 

The Belt and Road Initiative helps further boost China’s international standing. The Belt and Road is China’s project of the century. It takes into account China’s overall interests at home and abroad and promotes interconnected development of China and the world. The success of the BRF marks the beginning of a new round of China’s opening up and international cooperation. During the BRF, participants representing 16 Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities discussed cooperation opportunities with senior officials and entrepreneurs from over 100 countries. The Belt and Road Initiative offers a great opportunity for local regions to open wider to the outside world and promote economic and social development. As China implements its cooperation agreements with relevant countries and international organizations, there will be more opportunities for China’s equipment, know-how, investment and standards to “go global” and enormous space for its economic growth, and transformation and upgrading of all sectors. The Belt and Road Initiative, fully in line with China’s regional development strategies such as the coordinated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Yangtze River Economic Belt, will inject strong impetus to China’s economic growth under the new normal conditions and the interconnected development among China’s eastern, central and western regions. 

The success of the BRF also marks a start for China to play a greater and more influential role globally. China’s vision of innovation-driven, coordinated, green, open and inclusive development is fully reflected in the BRF outcome document. The China vision has been conveyed to and appreciated by more countries and peoples worldwide. China’s vision on security, development, cooperation, inter-civilization exchanges and global governance, which runs through President Xi Jinping’s statements and remarks at the BRF, resonates with members of the international community. It is yet another example of China’s greater say in global affairs. The development of the Belt and Road is increasingly becoming a leverage and practice ground for China’s major-country diplomacy with its own distinct features. More and more China’s ideas and visions will become international consensus through Belt and Road cooperation. More and more Chinese proposals will become global action through the building of the Belt and Road. China’s leading role in improving global governance and managing international affairs will also rise to a new level.

III. Belt and Road international cooperation has broad prospects. 

Once a goal is set, action is what is needed. The BRF is a call for action in pursuing Belt and Road cooperation. Building on the BRF success, we will pool the visions and strengths of all parties and work together to promote win-win cooperation through greater openness, and deliver more benefits to Chinese and other peoples under the Belt and Road Initiative.

We will fully implement the BRF outcomes to accelerate the building of the Belt and Road. We will strengthen policy coordination and development strategy connectivity with relevant countries and deliver on action plans and cooperation projects. We will take solid steps in building economic corridors, engage in deeper international cooperation in industrial capacity and equipment manufacturing and promote cross-border connectivity. We will work to enhance the quality of trade and investment cooperation, build more industrial belts, develop more areas of growth and establish more economic circles, promote interconnected growth between countries in Europe and Asia, and boost steady recovery of the global economy. We will promote a sustainable development of the Belt and Road and make greater efforts in such areas as policy-making, economic and financial support, institution-building and security safeguards so that the initiative will advance on a rock-solid foundation of comprehensive and multi-tiered support systems. We will pool the resources of the governments, businesses, think tanks, media organizations and civil society so that all sectors will work together to bring about a steady and sustained development of the Belt and Road.

The Belt and Road Initiative serves as a platform for building a network of closer partnerships. We will promote dialogue and reject confrontation, and build partnership, not alliance. We will strengthen equal and mutually beneficial cooperation with other countries and international organizations under the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, hopefully China’s economic restructuring and upgrading will contribute to the development of other countries and our efforts on these two fronts will reinforce each other so that China’s partnerships with other countries will be more robust and further enriched. We will expand our network of partnerships with countries along the Belt and Road, starting with our neighbors and then reaching out to the rest of Asia and Europe and eventually to other parts of the world to build a closer and stronger global “circle of friends”.

We will take the vision of win-win cooperation as a guiding principle in building a community of shared future for mankind. The Belt and Road Initiative is defined by openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation. Such vision will also guide China’s distinctive major-country diplomacy. While building the Belt and Road, we will endeavor to turn China’s envisaged new type of international relations, which features win-win cooperation, into an international pursuit and practice. We will work with other members of the international community to jointly address global issues and challenges, explore a new model of global governance and promote a global governance system that is more fair and equitable so that we will make new contribution to building a community of shared future for mankind.

The Belt and Road Initiative is like a splendid symphony in two movements, one focusing on the past, the other the present. It also represents a dream of Chinese and other peoples. The dream will come true if we continue to explore the best possible way to advance the initiative and strengthen cooperation with all parties. The BRF has brought us a good opportunity to make the Belt and Road a reality. The Belt and Road Initiative is also like a giant ship powered by our aspirations of peace and development. I am convinced that with all its stakeholders on board, the ship will ride the wind of cooperation and mutual benefit, break the waves and sail to its destination of greater peace and prosperity.

Wang Yi is Minister of Foreign Affairs of China.