By Jean-Guy Carrier Source: China Daily Published: 2019-4-24
The second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing on April 25-27 must aim to be as constructive as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which was launched in 2013.
The first BRF in May 2017 made China’s historic Belt and Road Initiative more open to the world, attracting 29 heads of government and accomplishing its aim of raising the international profile of BRI.
There is much for China to be proud of in the multitude of projects deployed under the framework of the BRI. Those getting the most attention have often been the riskiest endeavors, in poor countries receiving little foreign investment because of high financial or political instability. But that was always one of the aims of the BRI – to build modern infrastructure where it has not existed or has been neglected.
BRI has been dismissed by its critics as a series of “debt traps”, but no one has offered a solid alternative to the billions of US dollars being invested by China to raise poor countries out of the poverty traps perpetuated by lack of roads, markets, ports and social infrastructure. China learned the lessons of development in its own long march to prosperity, as it used debt combined with its people’s ingenuity in the most successful poverty-alleviation effort in human history.
The second edition of the forum will host 5,000 participants from more than 150 countries, including 37 heads of state or government. It comes at exactly the right moment to draw a line under the lessons learned in the last five years. More importantly, the forum must be the starting point for a more mature BRI, with clear objectives that are better aligned with national development strategies, and with international standards for environmental sustainability, anticorruption, and economic viability.
The program of the second forum indicates another lesson learned: that the dynamism and expertise of the private sector has to be one of the key drivers for the next phase of initiative. The second BRF should mark the creation of a “level playing field” for BRI where Chinese and non-Chinese companies can compete for contracts with more transparency and equal opportunity.
One way to accomplish this important step is to use the forum to emphasize and expand the role of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as a partner for financing BRI projects. AIIB is a bold experiment by China, where 80 national partners now participate in financing, governance and decision-making on projects. AIIB has adopted many of the international standards set over decades by leading development banks for competitive tenders on contracts, reliable environmental studies, anticorruption measures and good governance.
The message to the world from the second BRF will be clear that China will try to do what is need to implement the initiative smoothly. This includes learning how to apply international standards in BRI development projects.
The second BRF will be successful if participants can show the world how the vision driving BRI will continue to adapt and adjust to make it increasingly a win-win proposition for everyone involved.
The author is a non-resident senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute, Renmin University and executive chairman of the Silk Road Chamber of International Commerce (SRCIC).