Beijing’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ will benefit the world

Even the Arctic is now part of China’s ambitious global trade strategy; holdouts such as the United States and India should temper their suspicions for the good of humanity

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 1:56am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 1:56am

President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road Initiative” has gone truly global. The Arctic and Latin America were last week added to the mammoth infrastructure, development and trade drive, leaving the United States, Canada, Japan and India as the only major economies not to join.

The initial idea of linking China to Europe and Africa through land and sea routes has got ever-more ambitious, despite the challenges. But grounded in a philosophy of nations cooperating for mutual benefit, there is no better strategy for worldwide growth, peace and stability.

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Such a vision requires leadership and China has shown that at a time that the US has turned inward-looking under President Donald Trump. That was evident at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, where the belt and road was the focus of speeches and meetings involving Chinese officials and the American leader earned scorn for sending mixed signals on free trade and globalisation.

As leading businesspeople and politicians gathered, Foreign Minister Wang Yi invited Latin American and Caribbean officials meeting in Chile to join the initiative. Beijing, releasing a policy document on the Arctic four days later, unveiled plans for a “Polar Silk Road” linking China with Europe and the Atlantic.

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Making such pronouncements is one matter; putting in place the conditions to enable them to happen is quite another. That is especially so when it comes to the Arctic, which will need massive investment in infrastructure like ports, roads, railways and power plants to enable trade and development.

The summer melting of ice as a result of global warming has spurred Beijing through allowing a faster sea route to Europe and the eastern Americas than the Indian Ocean and Panama Canal. There is also now an opportunity to exploit rich oil and gas reserves believed to lie beneath the seabed.

How much support China has for the idea has yet to be gauged and many obstacles lie ahead. But there has so far been great enthusiasm for the belt and road scheme, with more than 100 countries and international organisations having already joined.

Since first being put forward by Xi during a visit to Kazakhstan in 2013, scores of projects involving more than US$300 billion in investment have been launched and Beijing plans to allocate US$1 trillion in the coming decade. Japan and Canada have unsurprisingly expressed an interest in getting involved, but Trump has yet to respond to an invitation and India refuses to sign on.

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Countries that eye China’s growing power warily are bound to be cautious or even critical. Realising the plans will also not be easy. But Beijing has the resources and know-how, will and determination. By working together for a shared vision, all nations will benefit.