Both in its scope and ambition, the Belt and Road Initiative is a watershed in mankind’s search for a framework of co-operation in which the struggle for common needs finds accommodation to the diversities of humanity. It recognizes the general and common desire for a better life and acknowledges diverse values and unique sensibilities, to with which each patch of the earth is derived, nourished and thrived. It follow the contours of early contacts, through which China shared with neighbors and partners, engagement in mutual commerce, trade, dialogue and extending the world views and view point beyond the enclosures of their immediate domains.
In recognizing these ancient routes of civilizational interactions that have earlier lifted the content and quality of humanity, president Xi Jinping outlined more ambitious global roadmap and framework of far more sophisticated engagements in which ideas, cultures, goods and services would be diffused in a community of shared destiny through seamless interconnectivity facilitated by elaborate networks of overland and maritime infrastructures.
President Xi Jinping, barely a year after he was elected the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and seven months after his election as president, outlined the strategic vision that China and Central Asia should co-operate to build a Silk Road Economic Belt during a speech in a university in Kazakhstan in September, 2013.
A month later, he proposed in a speech in Indonesian parliament, a construction of 21stCentury Maritime Silk Road to promote maritime co-operation. Additionally he called for the establishment of Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) as compliments to the project of the “Belt and Road Initiative”.
Since the announcement of the strategic vision it has quickly gone from the drawing board to a practical roadmap of strategic network of infrastructure projects, some partly concluded and others at various stages of progress. In as much as there is no single strategy or country that can change the world, it is however, clear that the “Belt and Road Initiative” is China’s major attempt to help change the world economic order. There are obvious danger and many risks in the strategy. It is well known that the “Belt and Road ” area includes many developing countries with high risks economically, politically, socially and in other ways. However, for any country to develop economically it would need the infrastructure, the capital, technology and the market and China is offering itself as part of the solution. A glimpse at the “Belt and Road” framework and the scope it traverse, means that the population, GDP and trade covered are thrice or more, the size of China.
Therefore, if just half of the Belt and Road area take up the growth momentum and repeats what China has done over the past 30 years, the world will be very different in the next 30 years. Already documents released so far on the Belt and Road, indicate that it is not confined or limited to old Silk Road areas. The global prospect of the initiative promises a radical change of the global economic order. In this respect, what is new, versus the old, is that the world’s economic landscape has changed so much since the second world war but many of the world’s multilateral institutions, such as the world bank, the international monetary Fund or the world trade organization, remain very much the same as they were, some 50 to 70 years ago. They need to change and something is needed to stimulate that change. The Belt and Road and the China’s led Asian infrastructure and investment Bank, (AIIB) come into the picture.
For many developing countries, especially in Africa where the infrastructure deficit has considerably hampered vision of sustainable and inclusive growth, the initiative offers a fresh vista to overcome the bottleneck of lack of infrastructure and paucity of funding, in tackling the key challenge to sustainable development of win-win co-operation, the flagship of China’s deepening and broad involvement in Africa and provide the material momentum for accelerating the creation of a communities of shared destiny.
Within the context of the Belt and Road project, a vision of people to people contacts underwritten by a network of infrastructural linkages would blossom, driving a cultural diffusion in which humanity would increasingly look like a beautiful garden where flowers of different colours and shapes bloom.
The Belt and Road is outstandingly, China’s 21stcentury great contribution to humanity and so far, the scheme has not manifested the geo-political and security calculations implicit in America’s post world war, Marshal Plan, in which Washington’s generous financial provision for the recovery of war-ravaged Europe, was accompanied with elaborate geo-political and security ramification that locked the continent and beyond, into U.S national security interest.
The Belt and Road is an open, participatory and inclusive framework of broad co-operation that would enhance the structural road map of unimpeded trade, sharing and learning of technology and culture, in a free exchange of mutual interaction. The Belt and Road is the first unremitting effort to construct the material condition of mankind long cherished desire to learn and co-operate with each other, in spite of the diverse geographical divides. It fulfills the outstanding vision of early Chinese leaders, that when China secures its own fortune, it will share the fruits with the rest of humanity.
It is instructive at this juncture to recall that even before China, and as early as 1988, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,(UNESCO) has launched a ten- year program of “Integral study of the SILK Road; Road of Dialogue”, with a major focus to enhance cultural exchanges between the East and the West, and build mutual exchanges among the people of the countries in the Eurasian continent.
Following that early initiative, UNESCO has followed with other Silk-Centric initiatives, which includes scientific research, international symposia, Cultural relic exhibitions and even SilK Road tourism promotion fair.
In 2008, the United Nations Development programmme launched the “SILK Road Revival plan”. The plan which included a total of 230 projects and investment sum of 43 billion US dollars was designed to construct roads, railways, ports and customs along the Eurasian routes.
In 2004, Japan sought to promote the five Central Asia and the three Transcaucasia countries as the “SILK Road Region,” and anchored the region in its then new diplomatic strategy. The “Silk Road Diplomacy”, as featured in Japan policy would focus on geo political consideration in which Tokyo would seek to establish foothold in Central Asia and Transcaucasia and at the same ensure access to huge energy deposits in the region.
The United State of America in 2011 officially inaugurated the “New Silk Road initiative,” which have Afghanistan at its epicenter. The geopolitical strategy of the United States is aimed to contain China, Iran and Russia, by creating an economic and political architecture, that ensure U.S domination of the Central and South Asia. U.S military dominance in the region is central to this plan.
In similar efforts to revive the crucial ancient silk road, Russia dubbed the “China-European transport corridor”, the new Silk Road, and hope to take important part in the construction of the corridor which starts from China, passes through Central Asia and Russia, up to Duisburg in Germany. Iran in 2011, also elaborated a plan to connect its railway with China that would run through Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and is to be called the “Iron Silk Road” or the “Railway Silk Road”. In 2012, the president of Kazakhstan Mr. Nazarbayev Nursultan launched the “New Silk Road” and which according to him, will enable Kazakhstan to resume its historical position as the largest transit hub in Central Asia and important bridge between Europe and Asia.
While, these various visions of ancient Silk Road, revolves around a network of connectivity of facilities to promote integration at different levels, none of these earlier efforts have the depth, ambition and reach of the Silk Road Economic Belt’ and the “21st century Maritime Silk Road”, now best known as “One Belt, One Road”, (OBOR), announced in Kazakhstan and Indonesia in 2013 by Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
At the moment, the Western-driven globalization is reaching a breaking point, with many nations, especially the developing and the least developed countries bitterly agonizing as having been left out or even crushed by globalization, a new paradigm of inclusive global integration is in desperate need, if the fragile global order would not enter a deadly tailspin. President Xi Jinping articulation of the One Belt, One Road Initiative, followed with practical road maps on fostering global integration through elaborate and ambitious network of over land and maritime connectivity, draws from the imaginative, innovative and creative acumen of the Chinese leadership in not only addressing itself to the challenges of deepening China’s domestic reform but in the broad vision and understanding of China’s responsibility to the world.
The one Belt, One Road initiative consists of two main parts and they include a huge agglomeration of land-based economic corridors known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Twenty-first Century Maritime Silk Road that would traverse the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean sea.
The early Silk Road Economic Belt’s overland corridors will connect northeastern China to Mongolia and Siberia through a modernized rail network. Then, this is followed by the China-Pakistan economic corridor which will connect China’s western region of Xinjiang to the Pakistani deep-water port of Gwadar on the Arabia Sea. The initiative would lead to the opening up of China’s Southwestern provinces to the Indian ocean by huge investments in rail, highways, ports, pipelines and canals in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma). To the south, which consist of the China-Indochina peninsula economic corridor, connecting southeast Asia 600 million inhabitants to China’s economy, there would be investment in ports and high speed rail.
Within the framework of the “One Belt, One Road”, China look forward to complete major rail projects that would likely connect Henan and Sichuan provinces along with Xinjiang region to hubs in Poland, Germany and the Netherlands by way of Central Asia, Iran and Turkey. The other new Eurasia land bridge will connect China to Europe through Russia. Part of the “Belt and Road” initiative would develop a corridor that will connect ports in Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique to the Red Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean and most likely to the Central and Southeastern Europe.
Writing in the “foreign Affairs”, Magazine published by the American Council on foreign Affairs in the September / October edition, Mr. Gal Luft, senior security adviser to the U.S energy security Council called “One, Belt, One Road,” a massive undertaking that would shape Eurasia’s future.
It will extend from the pacific to the heart of Europe, stimulate some four trillion U.S dollars in investment over the next three decades and draw in countries that account for 70% of the world energy reserves. “Mr. Luft chastised the United States of America” for futilely attempting to undermine the initiative or avoiding to engage with it”, and called Washington’s attitude, “wrong course”. The “Belt and Road” initiative, according Mr. Luft “will guide China’s economic and foreign policy for the foreseeable future and yet many China watchers in the United States have down played the initiative’s importance, suggesting that it is a publicity stunt meant to portray China as a benevolent power, or a vanity project intended to secure president Xi’s legacy”, This ” under-appreciation” of the ” One Belt one Road” initiative according to Mr. Luft has led Washington ” not only refused to acknowledge the importance of the Belt and Road but in some cases, the Americans have attempted to undermine it, as when the United States futilely opposed the creation of the Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank, (AIIB)”.
However America’s attitude to OBOR might be not unconnected with the nature and structure of its foreign policy and its implicit ramifications of geo- strategic and political calculations.
Having failed to contain China in the ” rebalance” or ” pivot” to Asia, which president Obama initiated in 2011 and even out rightly excluding China form the Washington-led Trans-pacific partnership (TTP), United States view the Belt and Road as Beijing’s strategic response to the misfortunes of its geostrategic calculations in the region.
In his seminal work “The Belt and Road initiative: what will China offer the World in its Rise”, Professor Wang Yiwei of the school of international studies, Renmin University, China, captures the essence of the initiative, when he opined that “the Belt and Road Initiative emphasizes the principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, along with the notion of being open and inclusive. “According to him, the initiative, “Instead of excluding outside forces such as Russia, the U.S, Japan and some European countries, the initiative stresses the public spirit of international co-operation and its nature of being a public good, not a unilateral strategy of China.
Continuing further, professor Yiwei provides the composite expose of the initiative, stressing that “The Belt and Road”, is not an entity or institution, rather, it is a concept and initiative for cooperation and development. It relies on the existing bilateral and multilateral mechanisms joined by China and other countries, borrowing the historical symbol of the ancient Silk Road and using the existing and effective regional cooperation platforms.
Holding high the banner of peace and development, the initiative is aimed at actively developing economic partnerships with countries along the Belt and Road and joining hands with them to build communities of interest,destiny and responsibility featuring political mutual trust, economic integration and cultural inclusiveness”
Africa- China Co-operation and the “Belt and Road”
In his brilliant forward to a book, written by two American Scholars (China and Africa: A Centuryof Engagement by David H. Shinn and Joshua Eisenman), Professor George T.Yu wrote that ” whether China is a super power or a rising power with worldwide influence, there can be no disputing that China’s interests are wide- ranging, quickly expanding and on a global scale.
In an era of globalization, China has established enduring relationships on all continents and with numerous partners, both major and minor. However with the exception of Asia, no other Continent can rival the extent, the intensity, the speed and the impact of China’s relations in Africa.”
China and Africa cooperation since the founding of the Forum on China- Africa co-operation (FOCAC) 2000 has grown phenomenally and the heads of state and government summit of the forum held in Johannesburg, South Africa, last December greatly upgraded the Sino-Africa Co-operation.
At the summit, president Xi Jinping proposed the upgrading of the earlier “new type of China- Africa strategic partnership” to “a comprehensive strategic and co-operative partnership”, and outlined ten co-operative plans that covered the areas of industrialization, agricultural modernization, infrastructure, financial services, green development, trade and investment facilitation, poverty reduction and public welfare, public health, people to people exchanges and peace and security. Additionally, the Chinese leader provided 60 billion U.S dollars funding support to actualize the ten point cooperation plans. In the joint declaration, the two sides, China and Africa affirmed their belief that “China and Africa’s development strategies are complimentary and characterized by mutual benefit, equality, openness, inclusiveness, accountability and that they demonstrate the possibilities and opportunities of solidarity, mutual support and respect among developing countries.”
As a foremost global trader to which over hundred countries engage in optimum and beneficial trade, China has since the turn of the 21stcentury, become Africa’s largest trading partner.
China is obviously aware of the largely dysfunctional State structure of African countries, a legacy of brutal colonial domination, which distorted and disaggregated most of the African countries national economies. However, Beijing probably understood that such a monumental historical malady as the brutal colonial and imperialist disarticulation of African countries national economies, cannot be remedied by extant anti-imperialist phraseologies and mere revolutionary slogans. Through extensive and broad co-operation especially in plunging the gaping holes of massive infrastructure deficit in the continent, China is helping and supporting the building and improving the general capacity of African States and enabling an inclusive social order, necessary to generate consensus, stability and sustainable development. China is actively filling the gaps of social and economic deficit that has previously made national independence in Africa, mere ritual of flag-raising.
Even as most of Africa, especially the central and west Africa are beyond the original route of the Silk Road, the “One Belt, One Road” is now known to be comprehensive, inclusive and wide-ranging. Africa’s heartland in the Western, and Central regions of the continent is most open to the connectivity of facilities that is at the heart of the Belt and Road Initiative. Building of industrial clusters along the Belt and Road Initiative would generate economic activities that are unprecedented. Africa’s industrialization, a concern that China has expressed deep commitment would find a powerful catalyst in the Belt and Road project.
In the history of Africa global co-operation only China has perhaps viewed and treated the continent as not merely a theatre of humanitarian policy, but an important and equal partner that can stand on its own feet to make contribution to humanity.