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With Belt and Road initiative, China lays new path forward for global development


Source: Shanghai Daily    Published: 2016-9-13


LEADING experts aired their views on the manifold political and economic implications of China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative, as well as the cultural and financial challenges expected in its implementation, at a seminar held at the Shanghai Center of Photography on Sunday.

In his keynote speech, Professor Wang Yiwei explained the need to approach the Belt-Road strategy in light of inclusive globalization, or from the perspective of the transformation of Chinese civilization.

Wang is professor at the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China, and director of China-Europe Academic Network.

Wang cited the importance of explicating the Belt Road in terms of politics, economics and culture in a uniquely Chinese context.

Due to its richness in connotation, it should certainly transcend discrete disciplines and call for a holistic approach informed by integration of many diametrically different inquiries.

Much like the saying in traditional Chinese medicine that “when blood and vigor flows, pain is gone” (tong ze butong), Wang predicted that free flow of trade and commerce will lead to peace and improved governance.

The West has contributed significantly to globalization, but today it has essentially turned against globalization, due in part to self-centered outlooks.

As a matter of fact, the use of “One Belt and One Road,” rather than Silk Road or New Silk Road, is itself a nuanced, characteristically Chinese concept pregnant with new insights.

As it is, the “Belt” refers to an economic development area.

In the past a developing country would normally be engaged in production by using materials imported from overseas, and turning out finished products for export. The problems with this is that the whole process can be easily disrupted by issues elsewhere in the world.

The new approach suggested in the Belt and Road would involve wholesale transferring of manufacturing capacity, thereby significantly reducing the dependence on maritime trade.

Thus the Belt and Road initiative symbolizes a distinctly Chinese program, since free market, so stressed by Western thinkers and policymakers, cannot wholly address such issues as the lack of infrastructure in some sparsely populated areas in underdeveloped countries.

The Chinese model, driven by the twin engines of government and market forces, does not have such drawbacks.

For instance loans will provide some countries thirsty for development with a bucket of gold, which would enable them to then secure further funding from the market. This explains the popularity of the Chinese way of doing things in some developing countries.

By contrast the Western mode cannot possibly address the lack of infrastructure in these countries.

In addition, in China’s foreign aids policy, there are no political strings attached, unlike Western aids which are often no more than political or strategic tools, inherently disdainful of local conditions.

Take the US, for instance. For decades it has been pursuing the strategy of exporting weapons in return for oil, fueling regional hostilities.

Disillusioned with the West

Some developing countries, disillusioned with the West, would naturally turn to China.

The need for infrastructure development in some countries is pervasive.

In some African countries, for instance, there are no direct flights between two neighboring countries. This means people sometimes have to fly to Paris first in order to get to countries adjacent to their own.

This explains the Belt and Road stress on infrastructure construction, in the form of superhighways, high-speed railways and regional aviation networks.

Infrastructure development would help build indigenous capacity for production, which has been lacking in globalization as we’ve known it so far — hence the significance of inclusive and balanced globalization, rather than partial globalization.

Of course, success of the whole initiative can only be achieved incrementally, built on experiences on a case-by-case basis. Here China can borrow liberally from its experience in achieving its own economic development during the recent decades, for China’s industrialization and urbanization goals have been realized fairly recently — while Western practices, gained a century ago, are unfit for emulation today.

In Nairobi, Kenya, for instance, the country’s old railway fell into disuse, since it originally was meant to serve the interests of colonialism, not build local prosperity.

“We would continue to learn from the West, but increasingly our attention would be directed to developing countries, particularly those around us, for they are in need of acquiring production capacity,” Wang observed.

China is in a critical stage of development as it moves toward high-end production, while some countries along the Road are looking to China for funding, technology and talent, just as China did with respect to the West in the 1980s.

These countries could access loans that would help finance their purchase of Chinese equipment. Tapping into regional demand would go a long way towards kickstarting global growth.

Cultural confidence

Since China is uneven in its own development, with its heavily populated coastal east dependent on the resources of the sparsely populated west, its expertise in balancing its development is eminently transferable to other underdeveloped countries.

It’s best not to gauge individual projects in cost-efficient terms, but to assess their benefits in a larger context, using a holistic approach.

China’s generosity in extending aid to African countries in the past also seems to make these countries more ready to accept Chinese support.

But challenges also exist.

Professor Pan Zhongqi from Fudan University cited the challenges of creating and abiding with international rules in implementing the Belt and Road initiative, for China is sometimes criticized by the West for not being respectful of global rules and norms.

“We need to pay attention to the rules, and avoid punitive diplomacy, with the message that those who listen to us stand to gain,” Pan observed.

To succeed, China must learn how to woo the hearts and minds of peoples along the Belt and Road in view of their distinct histories and cultures, rather than just in terms of trade.

As the Belt and Road strategy involves countries very diverse in their culture and religion, working out rules on the basis of negotiations will be a great challenge.

“Could China resuscitate its ancient belief in liyi (ceremony and propriety) as the basis to achieve governance between different countries?” Pan pondered aloud. But Pan was sure that “We need cultural confidence, otherwise we cannot but be Westernized in our outlook and attitude.”

Pan mused that “the more I read Chinese books, the more I realize why li and yi could be an important dimensions to the Belt and Road concept.”

Professor Zhu Weilie from Shanghai International Studies University also noted the need of a superstructure in the conception of the Belt Road initiative.

He stressed the importance of the support of values, without which there can be no common ground for dialogue.

Professor Huang Renwei, President of Shanghai Association of American Studies, cited security threats that might emerge with the implementation of the initiative, and the need for significantly more funding to finance future projects. These were among just a few of the potential problems raised.

Solving these challenges will involve knowledge and expertise from multiple disciplines, and the pooling of talent in countries along the road.

Hopefully, all these efforts would help build a new global development model that is open, inclusive, balanced and mutually-beneficial.


Wang Yiwei is a senior fellow with Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.

Key Words: Belt and Road   China   development  

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