Belt and Road: Ten Years of Steady Development, Paving a Road to Global Inclusive Development and Shared Benefits
Ten years after its inception, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has developed into the most promising cooperation initiative that spans much of the world and the most far-reaching and popular international public good and cooperation platform with the largest scale. Guided by the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind, Belt and Road cooperation facilitates the building of communities of shared interests, shared responsibilities and a shared future, characterized by mutual political trust, economic integration and cultural inclusiveness among partner countries. It is of epoch-making significance in safeguarding world peace and stability and promoting global development and prosperity.
I.Ten years of Belt and Road cooperation brings benefits to the world.
The Belt and Road cooperation has made unprecedented achievements in terms of sectors, forms and depth, hence becoming a driving force for global prosperity and development.
Belt and Road cooperation is a project of the century that benefits all humanity. The BRI serves the common interests of mankind and resonates with all countries and all peoples. Since its launch, the BRI has embraced the principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, sought the synergy of all countries, and pursued a community with a shared future for mankind. Ten years on, the BRI is actively pursuing the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, helping to eradicate poverty and hunger, boosting economic growth, advancing social progress, upholding fairness and justice, strengthens ecological conservation, and promoting sustainable development. As of March 2023, China had signed more than 200 cooperation documents on Belt and Road cooperation with 151 countries and 32 international organizations, reflecting the immense appeal of the BRI and the aspirations of people around the world. The principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits has been widely accepted by the international community, and the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind has been embraced by partner countries. The BRI has become the most reliable path to a better life for people around the world. According to a World Bank report, the BRI is expected to lift 7.6 million people out of extreme poverty and 32 million people out of moderate poverty globally by 2030.
Belt and Road cooperation is a platform of joint contribution for expanding the global economic pie. Belt and Road partner countries are mostly developing countries and emerging economies, with wide differences in factor endowments and low levels of infrastructure, resource and industrial development. Based on its experience and achievements in reform and opening up, China has a lot to offer for the BRI. Through openness and innovation, Belt and Road cooperation fosters new drivers of development, unleashes the growth potential of various countries, and raises the level of economic development. Over the past decade, trade in goods between China and countries along the BRI routes has doubled from US$1.04 trillion to US$2.07 trillion, with an average annual growth rate of 8%. Non-financial direct investment by Chinese companies in countries along the routes has risen from US$11.5 billion to US$20.97 billion, an increase of 80%. By the end of 2022, Chinese enterprises had invested a total of US$57.13 billion in the economic and trade cooperation zones of countries along the routes, creating 421,000 local jobs. According to a World Bank report, the newly built BRI transport network has increased the total FDI in countries and regions along the routes by 4.97% compared to that before the launch of the BRI. A Pakistani academic predicted that the BRI is expected to generate an additional US$1.6 trillion per year by 2030, accounting for 1.3% of global GDP.
Belt and Road cooperation represents China’s wisdom on global governance with wide consultation. The international political and economic landscape is undergoing profound changes. The engine of global growth is inadequate, unable to support the sustained and steady growth of the world economy. Outdated global economic governance is failing to adapt to the changing global economy. The uneven global development is unable to meet people’s expectations for a better life. And international economic and trade rules have yet to be restructured. Countries around the world, especially developing countries and emerging economies, are calling for the reform of the global governance system, in the hope that it will be improved and become more conducive to common development. In contrast to the disorder and deficit in global governance, the Belt and Road cooperation, as a new model of open and inclusive international economic cooperation, offers a new way to improve the global governance mechanism. Over the past decade, Belt and Road cooperation has connected the East and the West as well as the South and the North through tangible infrastructure and invisible digital economy, and promoted global integration and development through joint contribution and cooperation. China has put forward the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, which call for strategic independence, unity and cooperation, promote the participation of developing countries in global governance reform, enable developing countries to benefit from the new global governance system, and address the imbalances in global development.
Belt and Road cooperation offers a way of civilization for world diverse cultures to proper. The diverse cultures of different countries complement each other. Belt and Road cooperation upholds the idea of being open and inclusive, seeks harmonious coexistence among civilizations, and follows the trend of diversity of human civilizations. Partner countries should work together to safeguard the independence and development of different cultures, deepen the links and mutual learning among fine civilizations, promote the coexistence and integration of diverse civilizations, advance the joint contribution and progress of world civilizations, and achieve the prosperity of human civilizations. In this way, the most fundamental, solid and long-term connectivity for the world will be established. Over the past decade, the Chinese civilization and other civilizations have learned from, respected and trusted each other. Civilizations as exchange channels have been established to enhance the world’s understanding of China’s open, inclusive and profound civilization, and to promote people-to-people exchanges and practical cooperation in education, science, culture and public health, so as to lay a solid foundation for people-to-people and cultural exchange. Over the past decade, to meet the urgent needs of partner countries, China has carried out welfare projects in culture, sports, education, archaeology, the environment, food, medicine and health, established Luban workshops and Confucius classrooms, developed science and technology, tourism, art and other cooperation projects to connect people’s hearts and minds.
II.Belt and Road cooperation advances amid changes and chaos in the world.
The changes unseen in a century are unfolding, presenting a complicated and challenging international environment for the Belt and Road cooperation, which is forging ahead with resolve amid changes and chaos.
i.The potential for recovery amid gloomy global economic outlook
In the post-COVID era, the foundation of the world economy has changed, the global landscape is evolving at a faster pace, and the global economy remains sluggish. As predicted in the UN’s World Economic Situation and Prospects reported earlier this year, the world economic growth would fall from 3% in 2022 to 1.9% in 2023, showing that the world economy remains under pressure. On trade, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, global trade reached a new high of US$32 trillion in 2022, but the outlook remains uncertain. Trade is showing signs of slowdown, which will worsen in 2023. In terms of investment, global cross-border investment continues to face downward pressure and divergence between developed and developing countries. Data available for 2022 show that FDI flows to least developed countries (LDCs) are likely to fall by around 30%. On debt, global debt risks loom large, and global debt levels remain high. The International Monetary Fund predicts that about 15% of the world’s low-income economies are mired in debt. A further 45% of low-income economies and about 25% of emerging market economies are at higher risk of debt difficulties.
In the context of an anaemic global economy, China has become the stabilizer and driver of global growth. From 2013 to 2021, China’s GDP grew at an average annual rate of 6.6%, higher than the 2.6% for the world and 3.7% for developing economies over the same period. China contributed more than 30% to global growth, ranking first in the world. Relying on China’s open market and drawing on China’s development momentum, the Belt and Road cooperation provides an additional boost to the post-COVID economic recovery and injects certainty into an uncertain world.
ii.Growing geopolitical risks from intensifying competition among major countries
The Belt and Road cooperation is advancing against the backdrop of intensifying competition between China and the US. The Biden administration fully inherited the previous administration’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy” to contain China, upgraded the “Quadrilateral Mechanism” consisting of the US, Japan, India, and Australia, and led the G7 to launch the “Build Back Better World” initiative and the “Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment”, and unveiled the “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity”, strategic moves against the BRI. It has launched publicity attaches on the BRI with focus on global issues such as climate change, digital technology, health and gender equality, and strengthened strategic containment against the BRI. The US efforts to draw countries in and its publicity attacks have increased skepticism of some partner countries in the BRI. The unscrupulous strategic containment by the US has become the biggest source of risk for the Belt and Road cooperation.
The strategic competition between China and the US has imposed many constraints on the Belt and Road cooperation. It hinders the BRI in global infrastructure development, holds back BRI projects in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and other regions, and undermines the participation in and recognition of the BRI by partner countries and other countries, and intensifies the complexity and competition around the BRI in Southeast Asia and South Asia. The Belt and Road cooperation is fraught with risks from geo-strategic competition that will persist for a long time to come.
iii.Unprecedented traditional and non-traditional security pressures
As the biggest “grey rhino” on the international stage in 2022, the impact of the Ukraine crisis has spilled over across the world, triggering multiple global security crises and exacerbating the traditional global security situation. As the global economy is weighed down by the Ukraine crisis, many countries in transition are experiencing intertwined social problems and frequent regime changes, posing prominent traditional security risks to the Belt and Road cooperation. In 2022, the Sri Lankan government went bankrupt and the Prime Minister of Pakistan was ousted, plunging both into political instability. The unresolved internal conflicts in the new Israeli government, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria, Yemen and other countries are destabilizing factors for regional security. Non-traditional security challenges keep emerging alongside traditional ones. Non-traditional security challenges such as the emerge global energy crisis, food security, separatism, international terrorism, and religious extremism have persisted, hindering the Belt and Road cooperation directly.
The intertwined traditional and non-traditional security challenges pose many challenges to the Belt and Road cooperation. Russia and Ukraine are embroiled in a crisis that will not only affect Belt and Road projects in the two countries, but will also cause instability in promoting high-quality Belt and Road cooperation in the medium and long term. The political turmoil in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East and other countries along the routes affects the continuity and consistency of government policies and the progress of Belt and Road projects. Diverse, intertwined and transnational non-traditional security risks have made it more difficult to mitigate security risks for Belt and Road cooperation.
III.The decade ahead for the Belt and Road cooperation
Despite the complex and fluid international situation, the Belt and Road cooperation will not stand still, but will continue to show strong resilience and vitality, and bring new opportunities to the world with its own steady, and high-quality development.
First, coordinating efforts to consolidate the foundation of the international community. It is important to uphold the global governance system with the United Nations as the core, actively participate in global governance reform and agenda setting, enhance the synergy between the BRI and the development goals of international institutions, and raise the international profile of the BRI. Belt and Road cooperation must be put on a stronger multilateral basis to boost multilateral cooperation, embrace and practice true multilateralism, and expand the circle of friends. Multi-level, multi-faced and multi-channel people and culture cooperation mechanisms should be established to promote exchanges and cooperation in education, science and technology, culture, sports, health, youth, the media and other fields to meet people’s needs, consolidate the foundation of public opinion, and bring people’s hearts together.
Second, integrating the BRI into the dual circulations to promote the Chinese modernization. It is essential to deepen practical economic and trade cooperation, align with the development needs of partner countries, foster new growth drivers of cooperation in health, green development, digital and innovation, and share market opportunities and development dividends with countries along the routes. Efforts must be made to participate more deeply in the global division of labor and cooperation, optimize the two-way investment structure, promote bilateral and multilateral FTA negotiations with partner countries, and accelerate the development of a BRI FTA network. The BRI should be integrated into the domestic and international circulations, consolidate the economic foundation of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, promote Chinese model and Chinese experience around the world, bolster the global economy, and deliver development benefits to people around the world.
Third, enhancing innovation capacity and pursuing open cooperation. Cooperation in technological innovation should be enhanced with a focus on collaborative research in key areas such as climate change and clean energy, so as to unleash the positive effects of technological innovation in new types of businesses and achieve more win-win outcomes. Digital cooperation should be empowered by new technologies such as big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence to promote the Digital Silk Road and Silk Road e-commerce and accelerate the development of the digital economy in countries along the routes. A Green Silk Road should be built through green technology innovation, research and development to promote all-round cooperation in green development and boost green and low-carbon transformation in countries along the routes. Innovative cooperation models should be developed to expand third-party market cooperation, explore new ways of cooperation in investment and financing, and share the fruits of model innovation with countries along the routes.
Fourth, striving for progress while maintaining stability and strengthening strong security safeguards to prevent and control risk. Guided by the Global Security Initiative and the Global Development Initiative, China will balance development and security, work towards the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, and join hands with countries along the routes to ensure security and development. China will enhance risk responsibility awareness, clarify and properly handle the responsibilities among China, partner countries and enterprises, fulfill its own responsibilities, and seek win-win cooperation. China will improve its risk mitigation capacity, build mechanisms to protect overseas interests, establish risk assessment institutions for overseas projects along the routes, and strengthen institutional cooperation with partner countries in financial risks, integrity, international counter-terrorism and security, so as to protect Chinese enterprises as they go global.
Gu Xueming is President of Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, Ministry of Commerce.