The ancient Silk Road was a route that linked several major civilisations 2,000 years ago through trade and cultural exchanges.
Entering the second decade of the 21st century, the Silk Road is revitalised by the Initiative of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (Belt and Road Initiative, BRI) proposed by Chinese president Xi Jinping.
The BRI is proposed by China, but it aims to benefit the world. It provides a vision based on traditional oriental wisdom and modern thinking for regional and world economic cooperation and integration. By proposing broad trans-regional connectivity efforts, the BRI is trying to present a perspective of an interconnected Europe and Asia and beyond, with a view to strengthening the flow of economic factors and bringing prosperity to all. By proposing unprecedented transnational economic corridors, the BRI is aiming for the widest participation in the global value chain and bringing industrial and innovative capacities to developing countries. Cooperation will involve five key areas: policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people contacts, and they are identified by the BRI as priorities for joint action.
Supplemented with financing tools like the Silk Road Fund and the AIIB, the BRI is deemed a well-designed public product for economic cooperation and integration. Active responses and participation from the international community have made the BRI far beyond a national initiative. It has been recognised as a visionary and operational solution to pull the world out of economic sluggishness and for bringing the Euro-Asia continent into a more balanced, inclusive and sustainable development.
Economic initiative instead of game changer
While presenting a grand strategy for cross-regional development, the BRI tried to use economic rebalancing to generate new impetus for growth. In China, the eastern and coastal areas have taken the lead in economic reform and opening up, while the middle and western provinces are relatively behind. At the global level, East Asia and Europe are the two most dynamic economic centres in the Euro-Asia continent, while South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East have potential still to be unleashed. Diffusing the developmental benefits from the developed areas to the under-developed ones and putting through the connections of the east-west economic centres would release great geographic and resource potential.
Based on such an assumption, the BRI identified seamless connectivity as the driving force for economic rebalancing. Cross-border networks in terms of rail and road transport, energy pipelines, power grid, information and telecommunication nets are promising for the flow of goods, capital and people and could significantly raise efficiency in resource allocation and extend the value chain to more remote regions.
The BRI embraces its partners to carry on the connectivity agenda in line with their national priorities, and it supports the multilateral connectivity arrangement implementation such as the Asia Highway Network Agreement, the Trans-Asia Railway Agreement, by providing political support, investment guidance, cross-border facilitation etc. There is no hidden agenda for the BRI. What the BRI is pursuing is a kind of new partnership based on an equal-footing consultation, mutual respect and trust, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation.
The BRI is carried forward under the existing international order. The rules and laws under the current multilateral systems are well observed.
The Euro-Asia continent has never been so motivated and so full of hope for connectivity on all fronts and at all levels. The BRI’s contribution to such a positive scenario is well regarded. Those who keep talking about the BRI’s geopolitical implications or China’s hegemonic ambitions really need to change their cold war mentality.
Plan and build jointly
for the benefit of all
The BRI is designed as a framework for cooperation instead of one mega-project. The BRI just sets the vision and action direction. Partners of the BRI will plan and build the connectivity plan and identify the cooperation model jointly. Various projects that might widen the Belt and broaden the Road could be filled into the framework. Respecting sovereignty and following market rules are basic principles for the BRI cooperation. As for China, we will never impose any project on any country.
Meanwhile, as the second largest economy in the world, we are willing to provide necessary support and contribution for projects subjected to the BRI framework.
Early achievements encouraging
So far, over 100 countries and international organisations have given active response to the BRI. Over 40 countries and international organisations have signed cooperation agreements with China on BRI cooperation.
By synergising each other’s strategies and plans on connectivity, enhancing production capacity cooperation and promoting people-to-people exchange, a number of landmark projects were agreed upon and kicked off. The AIIB loaned US$5.3 billion to projects related to the BRI.
The Silk Road Fund pool reached $40 billion and launched batches of investment projects. China is engaged in industrial cooperation with more than 20 countries in building at least 56 trade and economic cooperation zones with over $18.5 billion investment, which has generated nearly US$1.1 billion in tax revenue and created 180,000 jobs for the host countries.
Chinese enterprises have so far invested more than $50 billion in countries along the BRI, which promoted the local economy and created great job opportunities, delivering real benefits to the people of relevant countries. Only last year, China’s trade volume with the countries along the route hit $1 trillion, and its direct investment in these countries amounted to US$14.5 billion.
In a few days, the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held in Beijing. Leaders or senior representatives from more than 110 countries and 30 international organisations will attend the forum.
The event will further build political consensus on the BRI, brainstorm interconnected development strategy, address the regional and global economic challenges, deepen partnership, and bring about a new landscape of development and prosperity for all. This would be an important milestone for advancing the BRI.
Thailand is an important country on the route of the BRI and an important partner for BRI cooperation due to its geographic location and its all-round traditional ties with China.
As an important component of the BRI, the China-Thailand Railway Project is of great significance to both countries. The railway would not only improve connectivity, but also bring economic zones and industry parks along two sides of the way, driving the development of Thailand’s Northeast.
Of course, this needs entrepreneurs’ enthusiasm and governmental policy guidance. The Thai government attaches great importance to the event and five ministers will attend the forum in Beijing. The Chinese side highly appreciates Thai participation and is looking forward to Thailand’s unique contribution to the upcoming BRI Forum.
We have full confidence that, through such engagement, a further strengthened China-Thai partnership on the BRI would be built, the China-Thai economical cooperation and culture and people exchange would be raised to new heights.
Ning Fukui is China’s ambassador to Thailand.