By Ding Gang Source: Global Times Published: 2017-5-10
According to a study issued by the McKinsey Global Institute in 2015, the world`s economic center remained in the East like in the year 1000. The US replaced Europe as the center of the world`s economy after WWII. But with the wheels of history turning into the 21st century, China has reinstated itself as the global economic center.
Upon mentioning the Belt and Road initiative, people will be naturally reminded of China`s glorious history before 1735. But today`s Belt and Road doesn`t merely mean a change in global economic strength or a shift in the world`s economic center, nor is it a simple duplicate of the ancient Silk Road.
The significance of the new Silk Road can be better embodied in the list of attendees for the upcoming Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, which includes 28 heads of state and government as well as hundreds of high-level officials from 92 countries.
The Western media outlets are sensitive. They immediately noticed that many leaders of Western countries are absent from the list. But, they are also insensitive. They neglected the fact that most of the countries participating in the Belt and Road forum are those "discovered" by the West in its world exploration over the past 500 years or so.
The Age of Discovery that started over 500 years ago has expanded the influence of Western civilization and laid down standards and rules for today`s modernization. The world history, written by Westerners, is filled with stories of how the West discovered the world. The countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, including China, are all "discovered" by the West and the process of their discovery was always cruel and bloody.
China`s rise represents the historical rise of the "being discovered" group, as reflected in the change of China`s share in the world`s GDP. In 1820, China`s GDP accounted for 32.9 percent of the world`s overall GDP. The figure sharply decreased to 2.3 percent in 1980, but it will rise to 18.9 percent by 2020, based on latest estimates.
Drastic changes have taken place in the global economic structure. During the period from 1980 to 2007, developed economies took a 59 percent share in the world`s GDP in terms of purchasing power parity while the share of the developing and emerging economies was 41 percent.
The ratio is changing. The latest forecasts by the IMF show that by 2018, the share that developed economies and developing economies respectively hold in the world`s GDP will be reversed.
Against such background, the Belt and Road initiative was envisioned. It`s supposed to bring about the climax of the drastic changes in the global economy. In the next decade, it`s expected that the annual trade volume between China and countries along the Belt and Road route will exceed $2.5 trillion, providing support for about 1 billion people in the emerging middle class across Asia, almost equivalent to the total population of all Western countries.
Different from the globalization that began in Europe 500 years ago, the Belt and Road initiative is by no means a one-way flow of wealth enabled by the exploitation of the empires. It aims to build up an active economic and trade corridor and an interconnectivity network in Asia, Europe and Africa via stimulating the potential of these regions, creating an unprecedented convergence effect.
Not only can countries along the route share the fruits of China`s rise, but they can also provide the driving force for the development of other countries. China has also signed more than 130 bilateral and regional transport agreements with countries involved in the Belt and Road initiative. Statistics from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce show that by the end of 2016, Chinese firms have established 77 industrial cooperation zones with 36 countries, the vast majority of which are developing countries and a few of which are even underdeveloped countries.
With the advancement of the Belt and Road, globalization will move forward in a more balanced way and the new Silk Road will lead us to rediscover the world.
The author is a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.