Forum engenders wider acceptance of B&R Initiative
By David Maguire
There have been many important outcomes from the two-day Belt and Road Forum in Beijing but one of the most significant is a deeper awareness of the massive trade and infrastructure concept in the broader global environment.
President Xi Jinping has spent a good part of the past three years instigating and developing the initiative, selling it as the basis of China's tangible contribution to globally connected societies, and building multi-lateral political and investment networks and alliances.
The forum provided an important stage to coalesce the Belt and Road achievements so far and to continue the momentum, at the same time as restating its underlying purpose as a mechanism to stimulate connectedness across continents.
Mr. Xi described it as his "project of the century" and a modern version of the ancient Silk Road trading route which could usher in a "golden age" of globalization stretching from Asia, through Europe and Africa, to the Americas.
The final summit communique reaffirmed the commitment of attendees, including 29 world leaders and representatives of the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to free and inclusive trade and to oppose all forms of protectionism.
With the WTO at its core, they committed to promote a rules-based, equitable, multilateral trading system and to enable the general public to benefit from trade.
The media coverage leading up to and surrounding the forum has hinted at the development of a deeper realization and understanding about the magnitude of China's vision behind the multinational Belt and Road initiative.
Foreign media has reported it as a multi-billion-dollar Chinese infrastructure crusade which could "transform swathes of the developing world," a vision "acting like a centrifuge" with Asia as its core focus, and the world's "biggest building project."
Hailed in China as a landmark event in Chinese foreign policy, overseas leaders at the summit labelled Belt and Road as a "momentous project," "bold and visionary," a "seminal initiative" and the dawn of a new era of "synergetic intercontinental cooperation."
Notwithstanding the supportive forum sentiments and positive media critiques, the sheer scale of the Belt and Road vision will face innumerable natural and introduced obstacles, political, pragmatic and pecuniary, on each step of the journey, some of them rooted in mistrust or misunderstanding.
But it is timely that Mr. Xi is sailing through choppy waters into strong headwinds in proposing the wide variety of linkages that are the basis of Belt and Road.
He acknowledged at the forum the extensive challenges countries face over a myriad of issues within their own borders. These are often instigated outside their sphere of influence and include a clutch of conditions that shape an abiding new world order: a lifeless trade and investment environment, wavering commitment to economic globalization, increasingly unbalanced development, and instability from large-scale migration of refugees and immigrants. As well, there is the ever-present influence of wars, conflicts and terrorism.
Like it or not, the new age of technology and communications has fostered an immutable mindset of globality. Citizens of individual countries are unconsciously swept along with it as their leaders attend meetings of the United Nations, ASEAN, the G7, the G20, the World Bank, and World Trade Organization, etc, to agree on ways to solve crises and make for a better world.
The trend toward global collaboration is irrevocable, despite how some countries might dabble with protectionism, and the Belt and Road vision facilitates the long-term provision of tangible benefits to both developed and outlying communities.
Mr. Xi believes these will ease the burdens of oscillating fortunes and influences on individual nations by offering them help through a stronger interdependence. A shared, more cohesive development strategy such as Belt and Road could more closely align policies and integrate economic factors and resources.
He views the Belt and Road initiative as a "brand of cooperation" that, while instigated by China, belongs to the world as nations support its path through regions, stages of development and civilizations.
The two-day forum delivered many tangible and distinct results and was attended by representatives of over 130 countries. More than 270 outcomes in areas of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people-to-people exchanges were formulated. And China signed cooperation agreements with 68 nations and international organizations.
The mood emerging from the forum has been one of China as developer of a new set of IP that is gradually being understood by a broader market and which could be more universally adopted once there is more substantive proof of concept.
Despite the romantic notions of trading successes and finding new horizons, the Silk Road was never smooth and the challenges facing its modern day iteration namesake deserve to be mightily celebrated once they are overcome. And that will take persistence, which China has in equal amounts to its aspirations.
Dr. David Maguire is a regular radio and online commentator for China Radio International