Is the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) a geopolitical strategy and tool China has created to scramble for hegemony as what the US and some Western countries claim? This is the most contentious argument as the international community sifts through China’s intention of reaching out to the wider world in a momentous spree of infrastructure building and poverty alleviation.
The fact is that the BRI is a geo-economic rather than geopolitical construct and has nothing to do with geopolitics in form or content. China neither has the intention of forming alliances through the BRI nor plans to seek a sphere of influence. China seeks partners, not allies, in implementing the initiative. The US is grossly mistaken in regarding the initiative as a geopolitical concept.
Some in the West call the BRI China’s Marshal Plan. They are two different things that are not comparable. The Marshall Plan was an American initiative providing aid to West European countries with the political motivation of containing the spread of Communism at the start of the Cold War. The recipients were countries with the same political system as the US and the other goal of the plan was to facilitate the formation of a military alliance with European countries.
In sharp contrast, the BRI is more about investment. Countries of different political systems are welcomed to participate and it doesn’t aim at a military alliance. The significance of the BRI as a geo-economic concept lies in that it can help solve development problems some backward regions are grappling with and provide them enabling conditions for the same.
I recently visited some countries and regions along the Belt and Road routes. Take Peshawar in Pakistan, a city plagued by terrorism in northern Pakistan. The security there has certainly improved in recent years with the progress in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Local people know that terrorism would stand in the way of Belt and Road projects, so they consciously resist the designs of fissiparous elements, leading to reduction in incidents of terrorism.
In northern Myanmar, the construction of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor under the BRI has seen a marked improvement in security as the importance of peace and stability in facilitating the project dawns on the people.
The BRI can influence major-power relations. The US is planning a $60 billion fund that will bankroll infrastructure projects in Africa, Asia and the Americas and the European Union has also put forward its foreign policy plan to improve transport, energy and digital infrastructure links with Asia. These moves will help meet the huge demands for infrastructure in developing regions. Why can’t major powers cooperate to carry out these infrastructure development initiatives?
Japan and China have agreed to step up cooperation in infrastructure projects in third countries. Some Western countries such as Britain are eyeing closer cooperation with China under the BRI. The initiative is open and inclusive; the more participants it draws in, the more secure and healthier its development. It will serve as a platform to step up cooperation among major powers.
In short, the BRI is a promising mechanism for economic cooperation, a new tool for managing security and a platform that can be used to explore more major-power cooperation.
The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Yu Jincui based on a speech by Huang Renwei, executive vice dean of Fudan Institute of Belt and Road & Global Governance, at the Third Understanding China Conference recently held in Beijing.