High-quality Belt and Road Cooperation at a New Starting Point

By Zhang Jun

At the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) held in Beijing last April, President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech, chaired the Leaders’ Roundtable and made proposals such as promoting high-quality Belt and Road cooperation and building a global partnership on connectivity. He also worked with other participating leaders to reach extensive consensus on improving cooperation principles and mechanisms and advancing practical cooperation. The Forum marks a new start of the Belt and Road cooperation along the path of high-quality development.

 The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is proposed by President Xi. The past six years shows that the BRI, as a major effort to translate Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy into practice, resonates with the trend of world development, and echoes the call of our times and the shared aspiration of countries for common development. It also creates new platforms for global economic cooperation and lends fresh impetus to global growth. With the BRI becoming well-received international public goods, high-quality Belt and Road cooperation will make substantive, steady and sustained progress.

First, Belt and Road cooperation is a major effort to translate Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy into practice.

Thoughts originate from practices and serve as an important guide for actions. The BRI has been involved, in a short span of time, from a vision into real actions, with major progress being made. It is because the initiative demonstrates President Xi’s diplomatic visions of building a global partnership, a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation, as well as a community with a shared future for mankind. It is also because the initiative goes along with the trend and rules of world development and has received positive response and support from the international community.

The world is now at a stage of major development, transformation and adjustment. How should we steer the course, so as to seize historic opportunities and tackle risks and challenges amid these changes that are unprecedented in a century? These are the key questions faced by all countries. Against this backdrop, we are promoting the Belt and Road cooperation to address the risks and challenges in today’s world by drawing wisdom from the ancient Silk Road. Along the ancient Road, the renowned visits of the Chinese envoy Zhang Qian to Central Asia in the Han Dynasty (202BC–220AD) and voyages of the Chinese navigator Zheng He in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) speak volumes about the Chinese beliefs in universal harmony, winning support by means of virtue and promoting peace among all nations, which is a valuable legacy of China and the world at large. As President Xi put it, the BRI carries forward what the ancient Silk Road represents, namely peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit, which is consistent with the vision of building a new type of international relations and reflected in the Joint Communiqué of the Leaders’ Roundtable of the second BRF.

Inspired by the history and oriented to the future, the BRI, with its prominent Chinese features and oriental wisdom, offers China’s perspectives on building a community with a shared future for mankind. Under the BRI, extensive consultation, joint efforts and shared benefits constitute the golden principle. Policy synergy, infrastructure development, unimpeded trade, financial cooperation and people-to-people bond are the five pillars. President Xi stressed on many occasions that BRI cooperation aims to promote economic cooperation, rather than build geopolitical or military alliances; it aims to uphold openness and inclusiveness, rather than seek exclusive blocs. It neither creates divisions along ideological lines nor engages in zero-sum games. China is committed to building bridges of connectivity among countries, as opposed to setting up walls of separation or pursuing its own development at the expense of others. The goal of “creating a prosperous and peaceful world with shared future”, as stated in the Joint Communiqué of the Leaders’ Roundtable of the second BRF, fully demonstrates the international consensus and vision on the long-term objectives of BRI cooperation.
As a foreign leader pointed out at the second BRF, the BRI helps to connect people on different continents who had no way of communication in the past and encourages mutual understanding and mutual learning among countries. It is a remarkable achievement of President Xi and the Chinese government. He went on to say that China, with no arrogance and bias, respects and values small countries, and delegates to the Forum were all impressed by the way they were understood and respected. These comments, echoed by participants, show that Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy, epitomized by the BRI, has gained support and benefited people across the world. To date, 136 countries and 30 international organizations have signed BRI cooperation documents with China, and 39 foreign leaders and representatives from 150 countries and 92 international organizations attended the second BRF. All parties have expressed, with concrete actions, their approval of and confidence in BRI cooperation as well as the vision and proposals of China.

Second, Belt and Road cooperation promotes common development and prosperity of China and the world at large.

The BRI is from China, but it belongs to the world. The initiative links up China’s development with the development of other partner countries, and the Chinese dream with the dreams of the peoples of those countries. It is an important platform for China and the rest of the world to jointly advance high-quality development and achieve win-win cooperation.

Belt and Road cooperation is called for by the actual needs of high-quality economic growth of China in the new era. China’s relations with the world are undergoing historic changes. China has been the world’s biggest trader in goods, the second largest recipient of foreign investment, the second largest outbound investor and is going on to be the largest consumer market. China and the rest of the world are enjoying ever closer connections, and need each other more than ever before. Standing at a new starting point, China needs to achieve high-quality development at an even higher level, take stronger measures to address the challenge of unbalanced and insufficient development, and open up wider to the outside world. Belt and Road cooperation is a response to the call of the age and serves as a platform for this purpose. Through the joint pursuit of the BRI, we are paying equal attention to “bringing in” and “going global”, and have boosted the economic growth of both China and the rest of the world, creating more outbound investment opportunities for Chinese enterprises and better environment for foreign companies to do business in China. At the CEO Conference of the second BRF, Chinese and foreign enterprises signed project cooperation agreements worth over US$64 billion. Belt and Road cooperation has helped China to move toward nationwide opening up that coordinates the coastal and inland areas and connects the eastern and western regions. In that sense, the BRI is the upgraded version of China’s reform and opening up.

Belt and Road cooperation injects positive energy into multilateralism. With profound changes in the international situation, unilateralism, protectionism and bullying acts undermine global growth and the international order, disrupt global value and industrial chains, and take a toll on global fairness and justice. The world is at a crossroads. The BRI demonstrates that China is living up to its responsibility as a major country, and best illustrates the profound connotations of multilateralism by practicing the principle of extensive consultation, joint efforts and shared benefits. It insists that the BRI is open, inclusive and transparent, rather than an exclusive club, and that the participation of all interested countries are welcome. At the second BRF, parties established BRI multilateral dialogue and cooperation platforms in a number of areas, working towards an open world economy and upholding multilateralism with concrete actions. The BRI and its core ideas have been included into the documents of major international institutions such as the UN, the G20 and APEC. The keynote speech made by President Xi at the opening ceremony of the second BRF and the Joint Communiqué of the Leaders’ Roundtable were highly spoken of. The fact that the number of friends and partners of Belt and Road cooperation is increasing testifies to the shared international aspiration for multilateralism.

Belt and Road cooperation helps to create greater space for global economic growth. Identifying new growth drivers remains the common mission of the global community after the outbreak of the international financial crisis. The UN, the G20 and APEC all took infrastructure development as a new growth engine. President Xi was the first to put forward the proposition of interconnected development. Focusing on infrastructure connectivity, Belt and Road cooperation taps into the potential of both supply and demand sides, and facilitates effective allocation of production factors through interconnectivity, translating global consensus into concrete actions. In this process, some land-locked countries have gained access to the sea, some have built their first railways or expressways, and some have established their own automobile or rail equipment industries, winning a better position to integrate into global value, supply and industrial chains. Moreover, economic growth has been catalyzed by projects such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, China Railway Express to Europe, China-Thailand Railway, and China-Laos Railway. According to a World Bank report, Belt and Road cooperation will reduce the cost of global trade by 1.1 to 2.2 percent, and increase the trade volume among BRI participating countries by 4.1 percent. Some international research institutions believe that in 2019, Belt and Road cooperation will contribute at least 0.1 percent to global economic growth. It was widely agreed at the second BRF that BRI cooperation boasts plentiful opportunities. UN Secretary General António Guterres pointed out that the BRI is a major opportunity that should not be missed by the rest of the world.

Belt and Road cooperation helps the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Committed to a people-centered approach, China has been focused on the fundamental issue of development in Belt and Road cooperation. Connectivity in the five priority areas of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people-to-people ties is intrinsically linked with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Greater complementarities between the BRI and the UN 2030 Agenda will help all countries, developing countries in particular, eradicate poverty and hunger, and promote industrialization and green development. This serves the goal of “leaving no one behind” in the Agenda. The economic corridors and trade routes under the BRI have lowered costs of international trade and represent a concrete move in support of the UN agenda of “international trade for development”. The implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda was high on the agenda of the Leaders’ Roundtable, and the Joint Communiqué adopted at the Roundtable reaffirms a strong commitment to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. China and the UN agencies signed several cooperation agreements, lending new impetus to the implementation of this important Agenda. 

Third, Belt and Road cooperation aims at high-quality, steady and sustained development. 

Belt and Road cooperation is a long-term undertaking that will become only better than it is now. Over the past six years, we have painted the big strokes of the BRI. Now is the time to refine the details, promote high-quality cooperation and ensure its steady and sustained progress from a new starting point. 

To promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, the key is to stay committed to the principle of extensive consultation, joint  efforts and shared benefits, to open, green and clean cooperation, and to high-standard, people-centered and sustainable development. These three-pronged commitments, which represent what we have learned from previous Belt and Road cooperation and reflect China’s new approach to development, have received positive response from the international community. These commitments, which are included in the Joint Communiqué of the second BRF, have become the core guiding principles for future Belt and Road cooperation. 

To promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, it is necessary to build a global partnership on connectivity. This means parties need to complement their connectivity initiatives and plans to enhance policy coordination and form greater synergy. It also calls for closer cooperation in specific areas to jointly build a connectivity network centering on economic corridors, supplemented by major transportation routes and information expressway, and reinforced by major railways, ports and pipeline projects. To build such a partnership, countries must seek win-win outcomes, support an open world economy and multilateralism, and reject protectionism and unilateralism. The BRI has been synergized with the development plans of the UN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the African Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, and Kazakhstan’s new economic policy of the “Nurly Zhol”, Mongolia’s Development Road program, Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum and initiatives of other countries. Such a global partnership of connectivity is bound to have a bright future. 

To promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, it is necessary to boost interconnected development of all countries. With greater infrastructure connectivity, more land-locked countries will become land-linked, and more developing countries will integrate into and benefit from the global value, industrial and supply chains. The China Railway Express to Europe, known as the “Steel Camel Caravan” linking markets in Asia and Europe, connects more than 100 cities on the Asian and European continents and will be further aligned with the New Land-Sea Corridor. Through Belt and Road cooperation, wheat produced in Kazakhstan has now found its way to Southeast Asian markets through rail-sea multimodal transport, goods from Chongqing of China can arrive in Jakarta of Indonesia within just two days, and the travel time between Addis Ababa and Djibouti has been shortened from seven days to 12 hours thanks to the launch of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway. There will be more successful stories like these in the future. 

To promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, it is necessary to follow a people-centered approach. A development-driven, people-oriented approach is essential for promoting high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. Within the BRI framework, 82 economic and trade cooperation zones have created nearly 300,000 local jobs; over 90 percent of the employees building the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway were local; Pakistan has addressed its power shortages across the nation. These vivid examples speak volumes about the BRI’s vision of improving people’s wellbeing. During the second BRF, a host of cooperation outcomes were achieved in areas of education, science and technology, culture, health, think tanks, civil organizations and media. This will surely help countries improve people’s livelihood and promote social development. 

To promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, it is necessary to stay committed to sustainable development. President Xi Jinping called for efforts to build a green Silk Road. To this end, we will make green development one of the key features of Belt and Road cooperation and pursue green, low-carbon and sustainable development. At the second BRF, parties reached extensive consensus on climate change, green infrastructure and green finance. They agreed to establish the BRI International Green Development Coalition and the BRI Environmental Big Data Platform, released the Green Investment Principles for the Belt and Road, and launched the Belt and Road Green Lighting Initiative and the Belt and Road Green Cooling Initiative. Relevant financial institutions decided to issue green bonds and release the Green Finance Index. The implementation of these outcomes will bring new opportunities to the BRI. 

To promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, it is necessary to develop high-quality cooperation projects. A prominent feature of the BRI is that it is enriched by ideas and supported by plans and result-oriented actions. We need to make sure that BRI projects are built successfully and with high quality. At the second BRF, we pledged to build high-quality, resistant, sustainable, affordable, inclusive and broadly beneficial infrastructure. Our strong commitment fully demonstrates our confidence in making that happen. Going forward, we will work on both hard and soft connectivity to improve the framework of “six economic corridors, six connectivity networks, and multiple countries, ports and parks” in different parts of the world and actively build a road of peace, prosperity, openness, innovation and a road that brings together different civilizations. We have agreed to align our cooperation with universally accepted international rules and standards and to pursue economic, fiscal, social and environmental sustainability so that they can withstand the test of time and live up to people’s expectations. 

To promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, it is necessary to improve cooperation mechanisms. While making good use of bilateral cooperation mechanisms and promoting bilateral practical cooperation, we need to further explore cooperation in third markets and complement each other’s strengths to conduct consultation as equals, jointly shoulder responsibilities and enjoy benefits together. We need to persist in advancing multilateral cooperation platforms under the BRI and demonstrate our commitment to multilateralism with concrete actions. Various parties are now looking forward to the next BRF. We must seize this opportunity to ensure the sound development of this multilateral platform and make it the most premier international platform leading Belt and Road international cooperation. China, together with other countries and international organizations, has launched multiple multilateral dialogue and cooperation platforms in finance, taxation, energy, digital economy, intellectual property rights, environmental protection, think tanks, media and other areas. More input is needed in this regard to enable these multilateral platforms to provide strong support for Belt and Road cooperation. 

Promoting Belt and Road cooperation is an evolving process. It is therefore natural that it has encountered some risks and challenges. But these are problems that have emerged in development and can be surely resolved through development. We will humbly accept constructive suggestions of all parties. To dispel some misunderstandings, misinterpretation and misjudgment, we are ready to deepen understanding and expand consensus through communication and dialogue. For those who are biased, distort facts and make slanders, we believe that fair-minded people can tell right from wrong. Confusing the right and wrong and skewing facts will not fool the international community, and will end up being rejected by those who uphold justice and believe in truth. As the head of a Western think tank said recently: China is the only country that not only puts forward a blueprint for global development, but also offers a plan to deliver it. Criticizing the BRI is easy, but who else can come up with solutions and provide resources in support?

The BRI is a bond that links China with the rest of the world. It is also a journey that is solidly based and leading to the future. At a new starting point, we are fully confident that the BRI will have a brighter future.

Zhang Jun is Assistant Foreign Minister.