“THE BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE AND THE CONTEXT OF CHINA-AFRICA COMPREHENSIVE STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP”, BEING A PAPER PRESENTED BY THE DIRECTOR OF CENTRE FOR CHINA STUDIES, (CCS), ABUJA, NIGERIA. MR. CHARLES ONUNAIJU, AT A HIGH LEVEL DIALOGUE OF THE “BELT AND ROAD FORUM FOR INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATION”, WHICH HELD ON THE 14TH OF MAY, 2017, IN BEIJING, P.R. CHINA
Even as a major international cooperation development strategy with Chinese Initiative, the progress and success of the “One Belt, One Road”, (OBOR) will depend considerably to its public global ownership. China has made and continues to exert strenuous effort to internationalize the Belt and Road development strategy within the broad framework of “an inclusive process, driven by wide consultations, joint contributions and shared benefits”, with global responses so far very mostly positive but needs to be deepened and broadened.
According to the document of the “Action plan on the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative”, “the Belt and Road Initiative is systematic project, which should be jointly built through consultation to met the interests of all, and efforts should be made to integrate the development strategies of the countries along the Belt and Road. The Chinese government also drafted and published the vision and actions on jointly building “Silk Road Economic Belt” and “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”, to promote the implementation of the Initiative, instill vigor and vitality into the ancient Silk Road, connect Asian, European and African countries more closely and promote mutually beneficial cooperation to a new high and in new forms”. Furthermore, the document noted that the “Initiative aims to promote the connectivity of Asian, European and African continents and their adjacent seas, establish and strengthen partnership among the countries along the Belt and Road, set up all-dimensional, multitier and composite connectivity networks and realize diversified, independent, balance and sustainable development in these countries.
The range of the “One Belt and One Road” initiative is beyond the scope of the ancient Silk Road. The Chinese government Action plan said the Initiative is open to all countries, and international and regional organizations for engagement, so that the results of the concerted efforts will benefit wider areas”.
As the “Belt and Road Initiative” would integrate to the existing national, regional and international mechanisms to pick and sustain its momentum, Africa offers a compelling impulse to align the overall strategy of the initiative to the existential imperatives to build a global community of shared interest. The existing mechanism of the China-Africa co-operation, Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, (FOCAC), established in 2000 has already, built a reputable profile as a reliable, credible, dynamic and vigorous platform on which the two sides have anchored a robust process, whose core characteristic is measurable deliverables. With six ministerial conferences, two solid summits of Heads of State and governments and hosts of other several follow-ups actions, including the annual prestigious Think-Thank Forums, FOCAC is well positioned to dock and regionally domesticate the key development strategic plans of the Belt and Road Initiative, to achieve optimal result in the areas of infrastructure connectivity and broad people to people contacts.
Africa’s history of a victim of colonial plunder and its contemporary, but mostly dysfunctional State is too well known, but the aspirations and hopes of her people and the resilience of its civic safety social nets have remained now as in the period of the anti colonial struggles, the framework to build independent, balanced and inclusive socio-economic and political entities, capable of transforming and improving the quality of lives on a sustainable basis, making meaningful contributions to the well being of the human family and contributing quality culture to the world civilization.
This aspiration animated one of Africa’s regional blueprints for unity, peace, progress and development.
The historic document of the “Lagos plan of Action” adopted by the second extra-ordinary assembly of the heads of state and government of the defunct Organization of African Unity, (OAU) now, the African Union, (AU) at their meeting in Lagos, Nigeria, from 28-29 April, 1980 “reflected on the effect of unfulfilled promises of global development strategies”, which “has been more sharply felt in Africa than in the other continents of the world.
Indeed, rather result in an improvement in the economic situation of the continent, successive strategies have made the continent to stagnate and become more susceptible than other regions to the economic and social crises suffered by the industrialized countries”. As a result, the historic Lagos plan of action, observed that “Africa is unable to point to any significant growth rate or satisfactory index of general well-being in the last twenty years, and with a situation of this nature, have “determined to undertake measures for the basic restructuring of the economic base of the continent and resolved to adopt a far-reaching regional approach based primarily on collective self reliance”. Identifying a core denominator to leap frog Africa from the scourge of under-development, the “Lagos plan of Action”, posited that “the industrialization of Africa in general and individual member state in particular, constitutes a fundamental option in the total range of activities aimed at freeing Africa from underdevelopment and economic dependence. The integrated economic and social development of Africa demands the creation; in each member state of an industrial base designed to meet the interests of that country and strengthened by the complimentary activities at sub-regional levels and regional levels. Industrialization of his kind will among other things contribute to:
Further to underscore infrastructure connectivity as fundamental; to Africa’s integration, the “Lagos plan of Action”, recognized that transport and communications constitute a most important sector on whose other development depends not only, the growth in other sectors but also the socio-economic integration of Africa as well as the promotion of intra and extra-Africa trade”. In further recognition of the vital and strategic role of regional infrastructure connectivity, especially the transport and communication sector to the African economy, the Economic Commission for Africa conference of ministers in March, 1977, adopted a resolution calling for declaration of a decade for transport and communications. This resolution was subsequently endorsed by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and quickly accepted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, which duly proclaimed “the transport and communications decade for Africa”, 1978-1988.
African has had sound blueprint of frameworks to build Africa and extra-Africa network of connectivity to boost trade and other economic activities but has been historically hobbled by the critical deficit of credible international partnership.
The strategic Belt and Road Initiative, backed with a strong and dedicated political will by the Chinese leadership and enthusiastically welcomed by several countries, regional and international organizations offer the brightest possibility to give practical momentum to African integration and connectivity with Asia, Europe and the rest of humanity.
For the Belt and Road to fulfill its core mandate of policy co-operation, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people to people bonds, it would have to seek out Africa’s heartland, and connect it, to the original maritime Silk Road that traverse the coast of the continent.
Already, a sound co-operation mechanism, the Forum on China-Africa co-operation, (FOCAC) is up and running. Already, the active framework of the FOCAC process have several core issues of the Belt and Road strategy in its engagement of the China-Africa co-operation, especially intra-Africa connectivity that is filling the gap of the continent,s infrastructure deficit. Essential to the FOCAC process and the Belt and Road development strategy is the current discussion and engagement between China and Africa on production and industrial capacity co-operation.
The industrial cluster Belts that will ring around and through the networks of the connectivity along the routes of Belt and Road is compellingly aligned to the production capacity and industrial co-operation between China and Africa.
At the historic second summit of the Forum on China-Africa co-operation in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2015, Chinese president, Xi Jinping outlined ten cooperation plans between China and Africa. The plans which China would engage Africa are the followings:
To give effect to the cooperation plans, China offered 60 billion US dollars in funding support. Between the period of the summit and now, Africa has witnessed massive harvests of the practical translation of the co-operation plans into huge infrastructure, including several ongoing and completed ones.
Given the earlier experience of Africa with international partners “in the unfulfilled promises of global development strategies”, the China-Africa co-operation, especially through the mechanism of the FOCAC process have been refreshingly different. Built on a sure-footedness of mutual political trust, through the years of anti-colonial struggles and national liberation, it has grown phenomenally from strategic partnership to comprehensive co-operative engagement. At the 2nd FOCAC summit, president Xi Jinping said that “FOCAC has become a pacesetter in China-Africa cooperation, an example in South-South co-operation and champion for greater international attention to and input in Africa”.
The international development strategy of the Belt and Road which “aims at promoting orderly and free flow of economic factors, highly efficient allocation of resources and deepening integration of markets, together with encouraging the countries along the Belt and Road to seek economic policy coordination and carry out broader and more in depth regional co-operation of higher standards, would find a complimentary platform in the FOCAC process. Africa’s own regional cooperation and development plan, the “Agenda 2063”, proposed and articulated by the regional body, the Africa Union which it defined as “a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years”, seeks to accelerate the processes “for growth and sustainable development.
The existing mechanism of China-Africa cooperation has already integrated some of the key aspirations of “Agenda 2063”, and the machinery for their realization is already up and running, through the systematic and orderly execution of key co-operation plans.
In the enduring vision and aspirations of humanity to achieve an inclusive global order, with recognition and respect to both peculiarities and commonalities, the Belt and Road Initiative offer a road map where broad consultations are built into a norm of international consensus and forged in the practical network of economic inter dependence and pursuit of mutual development needs.
For Africa, the Belt and Road Initiative is not just China-driven strategy for international development but an offer of China’s own example which means that if Africa and its more than 50 countries can take up, half of China’s growth momentum in the past 30 years and replicate it on the national and regional scale, it would achieve the sustainable growth that can guarantee decisive improvement in the quality of life for the peoples of the region.
The thrust of the Belt and Road strategy resonates to the core issues of Africa’s development challenge. Africa trade with herself less than with other regions of the world, Harnessing economies of scale which can only gain momentum through connectivity of both hard and soft infrastructure is not yet realized.
Facilities connectivity, policy coordination is basically at its infancy and in this instance, would gain reasonable acceleration and stable momentum if strategically linked to the “Silk Road Economic Belt”, and “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”. As the last resource frontier of the world, Africa has nearly all the strategic elements for the making of viable and productive Belt and Road routes.
The critical challenge of the instability of State in the region is offset by the resilience of the people and the safety valve of its traditional values. The state in Africa remains a serious challenge. The consultative and inclusive character of the Belt and Road process with the aim to achieve policy co-ordination, facilities connectivity and deeper market integration, require or presuppose the engagement of States with considerable institutional stability and credibility that can accommodate a long haul of dialogue, reassuring policy stability and continuity. A framework of relative domestic or national political consensus is of vital importance for sustaining policy coordination that can keep the trans-national and trans-regional issues and projects of the Belt and Road Initiative on track. However, the risks of the trans-national and cross-regional projects of the Belt and Road, paradoxically gives strength and viability to it. The nature of the Belt and Road as a public good, with multi-dimensional impacts on countries along the routes, communities and individuals, put it beyond the issues of traditional partisan bickering within participating states. The practical and incremental impacts of the Belt and Road, as its construction and other allied activities including people-to-people contacts are generated in its diverse theatres of operation; its irreversible gains would gradually consolidate and expand, as it garners popular support and enthusiasm among diverse audience on its route. However, the vehemence and intransigence of forces wedded to the privileges of the contemporary unequal, social order cannot be underestimated.
These forces, though numerically minor, but nestled in strategic national, regional and international elite circles are powerful and have considerable ability to disrupt the flow of public goods, either by deliberately distorting the facts or creating alarms, any of which has the potential to dampen public enthusiasm and weaken institutional support.
Undoubtedly, the social vision of the Belt and Road Initiative, and its inclusive framework has no implication for political sectarianism and ideological cleavages. Its broad framework is to generate consensus on the most critical challenge of humanity, which is to erect the basic physical and institutional infrastructure, upon which humanity can exert itself in the luxury of disagreements.
The dynamic of the Belt and Road Initiative in its contemporary form also linked it to the struggle of a sizeable portion of mankind in the South, who historically through several foras and platforms, have articulated a vision of inclusive international economic order, in which broad and shared development would bring all humans, crucial development dividends.
The China’s Initiative of the Belt and Road represents tangible and material culmination of the vision of humanity, to be united by strategic connectivity in which free flow of not only goods and services, but culture and people can create a community of shared interest and common destiny.
Even with its core routes in Asia, Africa and Europe, the Belt and Road, in as much as it engenders physical connectivity of the countries of the region resonate more forcefully as metaphor of a new and emerging international co-operation arrangement, far beyond the physical routes, it crosses. The Atlantic, though on relative economic decline compared to the boisterous pacific, can roar again as ports and harbors witness massive revival with sails of the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”.
The North and South America, whose massive awakening and immense contributions was the epic tale and cynosure of all mankind in the last century and up till now, must find a niche in the Belt and Road strategy to bring its innovative spirit and vast civilization on board of a new international order of competitive co-operation.
Without the toxic rhetoric of political and ideological confrontations, the Belt and Road strategy is shaking up the old international economic and financial architecture, compelling reforms of the existing institutions that underpinned the old order to accommodate the norms of the emerging international cooperation framework. The new complimentary institutions that would give the practical effects to the Belt and Road strategy, like the Asia infrastructure and investment (AIIB), the Silk Road fund, the BRICS New Development Bank have made their debuts amidst global enthusiasm. With considerable liquidity hedged in their belts, the strategy of the Belt and Raod international development road map has ample financial muscle to support its core project flagships.
For more than three decades after the historic 3rd plenary session of the 11th Central Committee meeting of the Communist Party of China (CPC) where reforms and economic modernization was taken up as central task, China opened up, absorbed capital, technology and built the fastest growing economy in the world, though, now on a moderate speed as it adjust to the “new normal” of activating fresh and more vigorous economic drivers. The unprecedented growth and development brought the country to the decisive role of a key driver of the global economy. With the success of the opening up, the Belt and Road Initiative is a definitive and concentrated expression of the “going global” strategy that is China’s first major attempt to help change the world economic order without the rhetoric and phraseology of anti-this and anti-that. The Belt and Road Initiative which crystallized the long-held vision of functional and dynamic South-South co-operation also integrates the North in mutual engagement that is devoid of the bitter animus that has earlier characterize relations as a bitter-sweet affair. The Belt and Road Initiative offers the sweeping tools of strategic importance for sustainable development as it brings along, the infrastructure, capital, technology and the market through which China is offering herself as part of a solution. And for a country to develop economically, it needs the infrastructure, the capital, the technology and the market, which the Belt and Road offers.
The areas covered by the Belt and Road Initiative in terms of population, GDP and trade are probably twice, or two and half times the size of China. If therefore, half of the Belt and Road area takes up the growth momentum and repeat what China has done in the past more than three decades, the world will be very different in next 30 years.
As more modern representation of the ancient Silk Road, the Belt and Road strategy is boldly a network of connectivity, market integration but also much more. The networks of ancient Silk Road witnessed routes across both land and sea, along which silk and many other goods were exchanged among people from across the world. Maritime routes were equally, an important part of this network, linking East and West by sea. However, these vast networks carried more than just merchandise and precious commodities. The constant movement and interactions of various populations also brought about the transmission of knowledge, ideas, cultures and beliefs, which had a profound impact on the history and civilizations of Eurasian and African peoples. Travelers along the Silk Road were attracted not only by trade but also by the intellectual and cultural exchange that was taking place in cities along the Silk Roads, many of which became hubs of culture and learning. Science, arts and literature, as well crafts and technologies were shared and disseminated into societies along the lengths of the routes and through this, languages, religions and culture developed and influenced each other.
The contemporary Belt and Road strategy, would drive dialogue of civilizations along its routes, deepen people to people contacts, diffuse cultures as common property of humanity and advance the core objectives of the United Nations and the five principles of peaceful co-existence.
The Belt and Road Initiative has the enormous prospects to redirect the “Clash of civilizations”, which the late American professor, Samuel Huntington held as the defining paradigm of 21st Century global politics” into dialogue of civilizations, replacing “fault lines between civilizations”, which according to him “will be the battle lines of the future”, to frontiers of co-operation, sustainable and inclusive development.
As indicated earlier in the paper, the dimension of Africa in the Belt and Road strategy has bright prospects, notwithstanding obvious challenges. The mechanism of the existing China-Africa co-operation (FOCAC) would seamlessly integrate into Belt and Road Initiative, and drive China-Africa co-operation to new levels.
President Xi Jinping in December, 2015 proposed the upgrading of the “new type of China-Africa strategic partnership to a comprehensive strategic co-operation partnership and also identified “a high degree of political mutual trust as the foundation of China-Africa friendship”. In a joint declaration to mark the high point of collaboration, the two sides affirmed 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”. And as political mutual trust is the foundation of China-Africa co-operation, the declaration reaffirmed “our commitment to the one China policy” and pledged that both sides “will continue to support each other’s efforts to safe guard national sovereignty, security and development interests and to promote the causes of national re-unification and regional integration, respectively”.
Docking the Belt and Road Initiative in the framework of the FOCAC mechanism, would enable it to secure a fresh dynamism and become successful blueprint for other regions in the actualization of the strategy.
However, lots of work remains to be done to create awareness and build a formidable constituency of support for the initiative. The work of think tanks, to attempt to domicile the new paradigm of international development co-operation to existing paradigm of the scholarly and media community should be deepened and supported. To sensitize governments in the region to strategically engage and own the Belt and Road strategy as part of the deepening of the FOCAC process, would require concentrated and vigorous activation of China’s diplomatic window in Africa.
In conclusion, we wish to pay tribute to the Chinese people, the Communist Party of China and its leadership of the Central Committee, with president Xi Jinping at the core for boldness, theoretical innovation and deep insight to the contemporary challenges of our era.
Mr. Charles Onunaiju
Director, Centre for
China Studies, (CCS)