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Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road” Initiative

By Ben Byrne  /  May 19, 2017;

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Belt and Road Forum
Photo: Damir Sagolj/Pool Photo via AP

The “Belt and Road initiative” is a development strategy proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping that will focus on improving connectivity between the Peoples Republic of China and the rest of Eurasia, parts of East Africa and Oceania. The strategy consists of two major components; the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the ocean going “Maritime Silk Road.” It is estimated that the project will attract investments of between US$ 4 – 8 trillion (£3 – 6 trillion) over an indefinite timescale.

At a forum convened to inaugurate the proposal attended by world leaders including Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickramasinghe, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Xi said that throughout the process all countries involved“should respect each other’s sovereignty, dignity and territorial integrity, each other’s development paths and social systems, and each other’s core interests and major concerns.” He added, “The ancient silk routes thrived in times of peace, but lost vigour in times of war. The pursuit of the Belt and Road initiative requires a peaceful and stable environment.”

Tegegnework Gettu, United Nations under-secretary general and associate administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, said at the forum that the proposal was “a very impressive move by China.” Gettu, from Ethiopia, said the initiatives were already bearing fruit, citing the construction of railways, roads and hydropower stations in countries which include Ethiopia, Kenya and Angola.

Under the proposal unveiled at the forum, bridges will be built in Bangladesh, railways will connect China and Russia, and pipelines and ports will be constructed in Pakistan. A controversial component is the proposed US$ 50 billion (£ 39 bilion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will go through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Due to its concerns regarding CPEC, the Indian government refused to attend the forum. Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said that India could not accept a project that compromised its sovereignty. He also warned of the danger of debt for countries who may struggle to pay back the loans required for huge infrastructure projects funded by Chinese companies and banks.As well as the corridor through Pakistan, India is worried more broadly about China’s economic and diplomatic expansion through Asia, and in particular across countries and waterways that it considers within its sphere of influence.

Following the forum, the European Union dealt a blow to the plans by refusing to endorse part of the project because it did not include commitments to social and environmental sustainability and transparency. “We made clear that, for Europe, the Belt and Road initiative can only be a success if it’s based on transparency and co-ownership,” said one high-level EU diplomat, “apparently to China’s surprise, the EU was united on this”.

Other Western diplomats have expressed unease about the plan as a whole, seeing it as an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally. Major critics have shot down the plan as simply a neo-colonial ruse to boost China’s own economy by shifting industrial capacity to less developed surrounding nations who will be pulled tighter into Beijing’s economic sphere of influence. He Jingtong, a business professor at Nankai University in Tianjin, ridiculed these ideas: “I think none of this holds water. If you look at history, tell me when has China been a colonial power? If it hasn’t been in the past, why should it be now?”

Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, gave a lukewarm response to the proposal. “While this initiative might benefit some countries’ economic development,” he said, “the international community has an equally important responsibility in ensuring that human rights are not sidelined in the face of economic interests and trade relations with China.”

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