Report from Beijing: Third Belt and Road Forum Offers Opportunity for Global Peace through Development – Part One

Hussein Askary,

Vice-Chairman of the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden ([email protected])

The historic Third Belt and Road Forum (BRF) held in the capital of China, Beijing on October 17-18, in which the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden (BRIX) took part, opened the gate to a new opportunity for global development and potential peace. Building upon the achievements of the last ten years since the launching of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, the Chinese leadership and its partners from 152 nations and more than 40 international organizations diffused all doubts about the future of the BRI. Not only they will not “scale down” as wished by think tanks and media in the West, but they will double up their efforts and investments in this now largest global development initiative. In addition, new features will be explored and added to what has been achieved. The BRI, which was launched and backed by China in the past ten years, now belongs to the whole world.

Presidents and prime ministers Russia, Serbia, Hungary, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Republic of Congo, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Argentina, and Chile joined President Xi in this celebration. Former presidents, prime ministers, ministers from a total of 151 nations were present and made valuable contributions to the discussions of the BRF events. Chairwoman of the BRICS New Development Bank and former President of Brazil, Mrs. Delma Rousseff also attended, adding a new dimension of the role of the global south to the BRI process.

While the news in the world have been dominated by the wars and incredible suffering in Gaza and Ukraine, here in Beijing the discussion was dominated by peace-making and achieving prosperity for all nations. It has become clear from following the speeches of the world leaders present here at the BRF including UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, that the BRI represents a visionary and successful platform of bilateral and multilateral cooperation to achieve the development goals of all nations in a win-win fashion. This and other concepts were eloquently expressed by President Xi in his keynote speech at the opening session of the BRF. “We have learned that humankind is a community with a shared future”, Xi said, adding that “China can only do well when the world is doing well. When China does well, the world will get even better.” This overturns all the tables of zero-sum games and dangerous geopolitical schemes that have made the planet an unsafe place for humankind in the past decades. Furthermore, Xi said that the BRI will be based on the principle of “planning together, building together, and benefiting together”. Powerful nations will no more dictate to other nations the policies that do not match their own social, political, and economic structures and which go against their own interests and aspirations. Consultation will be the basis for the continuation and further success of the BRI.

No “scaling down”

In recent months, there has been a stream of articles in renowned Western thinktank circles arguing with certainty that the BRI has lost steam and even that the Chinese leadership has started rethinking the whole initiative, regurgitating previously unfounded speculations and suggestions that the BRI should be scaled down and focus on “small” rather than mega infrastructure project. Yes, China will finance and build a large number “small yet smart” projects but these are merely one of many points raised by Xi. The contribution to bridging the gargantuan deficit in infrastructure in developing nations as the BRI has done in the past ten year will continue to be a priority.

Xi said in reviewing the past ten year’s achievements:

“Over these 10 years, we have endeavoured to build a global network of connectivity consisting of economic corridors, international transportation routes and information highway as well as railways, roads, airports, ports, pipelines and power grids. Covering the land, the ocean, the sky and the Internet, this network has boosted the flow of goods, capital, technologies and human resources among countries involved and injected fresh vitality into the millennia-old Silk Road in the new era.”

Xi emphasized that these infrastructure projects have contributed to removing the “bottlenecks of development”.

To elucidate the needed work to be done in the next ten years, Xi presented 8 points to sum up the vision and practical steps of the BRI that will be backed by China. Here is a summary of the eight points and their significance:

  1. Xi pledged to build a “multidimensional Belt and Road connectivity network”, with the main projects being speeding up high-quality development of the China-Europe Railway Express (CEER). This is a signal that China is counting on strengthening its economic relations with Europe in general and the EU in particular. The CEER has been significant in securing connectivity between supply chains on both ends of the Eurasian landmass. Debunking all suggestions that there are conflicting transport corridors that side-step one or more nations for geopolitical reasons, Xi announced that China will “participate in the trans-Caspian international transportation corridor”, host the China-Europe Railway Express Cooperation Forum, and make joint efforts to build a new logistics corridor across the Eurasian continent linked by direct railway and road transportation. We will vigorously integrate ports, shipping and trading services under the “Silk Road Maritime,” and accelerate the building of the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor and the Air Silk Road.
  2. China will further enhance its trade with and within the BRI nations and the world economy through new “pilot zones for Silk Road e-commerce cooperation”, enter into free trade agreements and investment protection treaties with more countries. China will further open up its market for foreign investments in the manufacturing sector, enter new trade agreements, and in the next five years (2024-2028), China’s total trade in goods and services is expected to exceed USD 32 trillion and USD 5 trillion respectively.
  3. “small and beautiful” projects will also have their share in the priority list. China will promote both signature projects and “small yet smart” livelihood programs. The China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China will each set up a RMB 350 billion (US$ 47 billion) financing window. An additional RMB 80 billion (US$ 10 billion) will be injected into the Silk Road Fund. Xi reported that the day before the BRF summit, in the BRI CEO conference, cooperation agreements worth US$ 97.2 billion were concluded at the CEO Conference.
  4. Promoting green development such as green infrastructure, green energy and green transportation, and stepping-up support for the BRI International Green Development Coalition. China will implement the Green Investment Principles for the Belt and Road and provide 100,000 training opportunities for partner countries by 2030.
  5. China will advance scientific and technological innovation cooperation through the Belt and Road Science, Technology, and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan, hold the first Belt and Road Conference on Science and Technology Exchange, increase the number of joint laboratories built with other parties to 100 in the next five years, and support young scientists from other countries to work on short-term programs in China.
  6. Supporting people-to-people cultural exchanges and enhancing dialogue on civilizations with BRI partner countries. In addition to the Silk Road International League of Theatres, the Silk Road International Arts Festival, the International Alliance of Museums of the Silk Road, the Silk Road International Alliance of Art Museums, and the Silk Road International Library Alliance that have been set up, China has also launched the International Tourism Alliance of Silk Road Cities.

7 and 8 pertain to removing all ambiguities surrounding the definition, actions, methods, and goals of the BRI. China will release the Achievements and Prospects of Belt and Road Integrity Building and the High-Level Principles on Belt and Road Integrity Building, and establish the Integrity and Compliance Evaluation System for Companies Involved in Belt and Road Cooperation. Institutional cooperation to remove obstacles by working with its BRI partner countries to strengthen the building of multilateral cooperation platforms covering energy, taxation, finance, green development, disaster reduction, anti-corruption, think tank, media, culture and other fields. China will continue to host the BRF and establish a secretariat for the Forum.

Expressing the strong believe in the BRI as a long-term commitment of China, Xi expressed the tight relationship between China’s development goals and those of its partners and the world nations. “The modernization we are pursuing is not for China alone, but for all developing countries through our joint efforts. Global modernization should be pursued to enhance peaceful development and mutually beneficial cooperation and bring prosperity to all,” Xi said.

In part two, we will present the reactions to Xi’s speech and the views expressed by other world leaders present at the BRF. The integration and coordination of many national and regional development and inter-connectivity plans with the BRI were presented. Aspirations by nations to move into a second stage of the BRI through “industrialization”, especially in Africa were strongly advocated. New ideas of multilateral financing of BRI projects also emerging.

Stay tuned!