China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ is good for the world, despite what Western critics say
Wenshan Jia says Western criticism of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ overlooks how increased cooperation and connectivity benefits the liberal world order, and how all countries can gain from it
China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” is an original plan to carry out a new type of “collaborative globalisation” above and beyond US-led type. It was proposed five years ago by President Xi Jinping after the tapering off of US-led globalisation in 2008. Xi offered three principles: mutual consultation, joint construction and shared benefits. China has since then fully executed 101 agreements with 86 countries, and total investment in the 24 countries along the belt and road regions has amounted to US$50 billion, resulting in 75 industrial and trade zones, and 200,000 jobs.
With its focus on infrastructure, the initiative is a model not only for developing countries, but also industrialised ones in Europe and North America, where ageing infrastructure needs replacing. It also adapts to each local, national or regional condition, situation and need. It is proving very democratic, more so than the lopsided US-led globalisation that spurred a populist, isolationist backlash across the Western world.
China has done a proper job of explaining to the West what the initiative is and extended a sincere invitation to each country to join. Many think tank scholars and major media outlets in the West have found it potentially lucrative and expressed relatively strong support.
Yet, instead of appreciating China’s efforts to both inherit the liberal agenda of globalisation and forge a new path for global development, many Western political elite, led by the US, have started a campaign to resist the initiative. From Australia to the US , and the UK to Germany, there are calls for the West to cut interactions with China to minimise or resist its so-called “sharp power”. The labels typically applied to China include “authoritarian” and “predatory”, citing Beijing for not upholding “freedom, democracy and individual rights”, the core values of the West.
This attitude towards the initiative reveals not only a contradiction in the Western mind, but also the narrowing or even closing of minds.
Isn’t it beneficial to meet the goals of forging connectivity and cooperation, as articulated in Xi’s effort to enrich and expand the meaning of the “free world” by liberating humankind from geographical, financial, political and cultural barriers? The world is no longer the West versus the rest, as we already live in a world connected by the internet. The initiative seeks to make the world more interconnected for both the West and the rest, contributing to the construction of a human community with a shared future.
Recently, the initiative has inspired and spawned a push for localisation, particularly the Indo-Pacific strategy led by the so-called “Quad” of the US, India, Japan and Australia. Some Western media view it as a rival or alternative to China’s belt and road. But I would argue that it can be part of China’s initiative as long as the three Chinese principles (mutual consultation, joint construction and shared benefits) are observed in the Quad strategy.
The belt and road was created to be an all-inclusive platform, so Beijing has no need to fear localisation as long as such strategies do not seek to contain China or disrupt its plan. It would be wise for the Quad and China to look for ways to collaborate.
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Quad countries need not take an antagonistic stance towards China; the anti-China smear campaign must be replaced by a discourse involving consultation and communication. The world has experienced more than enough damaging talk, not to mention wars.
The core principles of Xi’s belt and road strategy must be always applied in China’s interactions with local strategies. If China is, as German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told the Munich Security Conference in February, “the only country in the world with any sort of genuinely global, geostrategic concept”, then Western leaders should cultivate a genuinely global strategy in line with China’s vision, for the betterment of all humankind.
Wenshan Jia, PhD, is a professor in the School of Communication, at Chapman University (California) and a research fellow at the National Academy for Development & Strategy, Renmin University of China