China’s Silk Road: The World’s New Economic Paradigm
Does ‘Brexit’ signal the end of Globalisation as some pessimists seem to suggest today? Definitely not, but it certainly poses a significant threat – and most certainly provides a puzzle for students of Complexity in International Relations too.
That development, together with the weak recovery of the global economy, terrorism, the ongoing refugee crisis in many parts of the world, the recent coup attempt in Turkey, shooting incidents in Germany and the United States, and many other complex international and regional situations around the world, all point to the fact that the end of the Cold War has not entirely brought about the peace and prosperity that was envisaged.
World leaders, therefore, have to engage continuously in efforts that would yield the security/stability required for sustainable development. One of such initiatives is China’s One Belt and One Road (or simply, Belt and Road) project. ‘But what exactly is the meaning of Belt and Road (B&R)’, is the obvious question many first-timers are likely to ponder over.
The Silk Road Spirit which symbolizes communication and cooperation between the East and the West is a historic and cultural heritage. Many centuries ago the industrious people of Eurasia explored and opened up several routes of trade and cultural exchanges that linked the major civilizations of Asia, Europe and Africa, which later became known as the Silk Road.
The ancient Silk Road began as a trading network of rough mountain paths and sea routes, with no national boundaries. For centuries, merchants travelled freely along those land and sea routes, trading goods and enabling the transfer of knowledge in the process. Trade and travel along the Silk Road changed the nature of manufacturing activity and services in much of the then developed world, as it enabled a cross-fertilization of ideas.
Today, China has set out to rebuild the Silk Road with the Belt and Road initiative. Three years ago (2014), President Xi Jinping announced the ‘One Belt, One Road’ concept, a key policy to connect trading partners along the ancient Silk Road. It is an ambitious foreign trade and investment project by all standards, spanning 65 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and covering 60 per cent of the world’s population.
The strategy spells out five areas of cooperation among countries along the one belt, one road corridor, namely infrastructural development, trade, policy, finance and people-to-people exchange. It is huge in scale and certainly doesn’t come cheap. China’s Silk Road Infrastructure Fund alone is investing $40 billion in the project which is expected to open up opportunities across numerous borders, whiles the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has also contributed $12 billion towards the initiative.
A formidable agent for social mobilisation, it is the media that has been identified as the vehicle to convey the Chinese dream to the rest of the world. The Media Cooperation Forum on One Belt and One Road initiative was held at the China National Convention Centre in Beijing about three weeks ago.
Quite significantly, the Forum on Belt and Road has become an international media platform convened by the Chinese media for mainly foreign media organizations each year since the inception of the project in 2014. This year’s event which had the theme “Towards a Community of Common Destiny”, was hosted by China People’s Daily, with more than 200 participants from 101 countries in attendance.
Dignitaries who graced the occasion included Mr Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Yang Zhenwu, President of China People’s Daily (host), Mr Jonathan Leff, Global Head of Financial News Strategy of Reuters, Mr Ahmed Elsayed, Chairman of El-Ahram (Egypt), Mr Guy Zitter, Former Managing Director of Daily Mail and General Trust (United Kingdom), Party Leaders and Governors of some of China’s Provinces. Almost all the eminent guests later took turns to address the Forum.
President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message, calling on the world’s media to play a positive role in pushing forward the Belt and Road initiative. “Media plays an essential role in communicating information, enhancing mutual trust and building consensus.
“We hope to utilize this platform to promote the development of international relations, deliver public opinion and deepen mutual trust, as well as to push forward the progress of the Belt and Road Initiative”, President Xi said.
He further indicated that the Belt and Road initiative is a strategic mission that aims at enhancing joint infrastructural development which will provide a new impetus for integration through people-to-people exchange and mutual learning.
The Chinese President said the Silk Road is a common treasure for people from all over the world, and that China’s intention is to create a garden that can be shared by all nations.
But of what ramifications is this initiative which some analysts already refer to as China’s equivalence of the Marshall Plan with which the United States reconstructed Europe after the Second World War? Bert Hofman, country director for China, Mongolia and Korea, East Asia and Pacific region at the World Bank, says the large-scale nature of the one belt, one road initiative “could stimulate Asian and global economic growth”. It has potential benefits for countries along the trail that have been impeded by underdeveloped infrastructure, low investment rates and low per-capita incomes.
And according to the China-Britain Business Council, it isn’t just Asia alone that will benefit from the initiative, but that Britain is also keen to cooperate with China. “To win business … we believe it is critical for UK companies to get involved in this initiative as soon as possible, in order to gain access to a wider tranche of the Chinese market and to third markets along the routes”.
The European Commission has also signed a memorandum of understanding on the EU-China Connectivity Platform created in June 2015, coordinating the European Commission’s Trans-European Networks strategy with new Belt and Road projects.
Mr Wu Hongbo, United Nations Under-Secretary General in his speech, described the initiative as “an ambitious project which seeks to map out a growth strategy that would wipe out poverty”. Infrastructural development and connectivity can stimulate growth and reduce poverty, he stated.
Mr Wu said the goals of B&R are in sync with the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as the UN Charter which all emphasise the need for co-operation and collective action that will engender international co-operation, openness/inclusiveness, peace and development.
Mr David Merrit, Executive Editor of Bloomberg News in-charge of the Asia Pacific Region, also indicated that Belt and Road is capable of creating far reaching economic opportunities.
In all these, one common element that comes out for sure is that the Belt and Road Initiative has far-reaching development potential across many geographic zones. It has the potential to link regional economies, promote peace, bring development to marginalized regions and people, and in the process alter Asia’s security and economic landscape in significant dimensions.
More than anything else, the project will have a major impact on China domestically and internationally if it succeeds. It is by all measure a new economic paradigm for the world, and according to experts it has the capacity to re-establish Eurasia as the largest economic market in the world – a situation that could cause a major shift in the global financial system.
Like any other enterprise that involves many stakeholders, the success of B&R will depend to a large extent on the adherence of all to the sound principles of partnership. Key among them are transparency and broad consultation which will promote trust-building, deepen collaboration, and facilitate unimpeded financial integration among countries along the Silk Road.
And in matters concerning transparency, there can be no enabling institution that surpasses the media. Both the domestic media in China and their international counterparts have a duty to examine the B&R initiative fairly and impartially. Monitoring the progress of the project and pointing out without fear or favour whenever the road is about to go crooked will be the media’s modest contribution to a worthy course.
By Mohammed Nurudeen Issahaq