BRI aimed at global common development

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2023-10-27

Banners promoting the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation on a street in Beijing on Oct. 20 Photo: Chen Mirong/CSST

The Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation was convened on Oct. 17–18 in Beijing. At the opening ceremony of the Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced eight major steps China will take to support the joint pursuit of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, and stressed that China will work with all parties involved to deepen Belt and Road partnerships of cooperation, usher this cooperation into a new stage of high-quality development, and make relentless efforts to achieve modernization for all countries.

Xi’s speech has sparked heated discussions within academia, as scholars believe that high-quality Belt and Road cooperation is of significant value to advancing global development, ensuring global security, and facilitating exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations worldwide.

Substantive benefits

This year commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Over the past decade, Belt and Road cooperation has yielded historic results, bringing benefits to over 150 countries. As Xi said, “Belt and Road cooperation was proposed by China, but its benefits and opportunities are for the world to share.”

According to Xing Guangcheng, director of the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Belt and Road cooperation has not only benefited China and other directly involved countries, especially developing nations, but it has also indirectly created favorable conditions for countries that are not directly involved. Xing further noted that even countries initially rejecting the initiative have also experienced economic benefits from it. He emphasized that the BRI has provided a harmless and very rewarding, feasible model for international cooperation.

Feng Zhongping, director of the Institute of European Studies at CASS, pointed out that interconnectivity, which includes policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and closer people-to-people ties, is the soul of the BRI.

Among other aspects, infrastructure connectivity is a priority. Belt and Road cooperation is centered around establishing a global network of connectivity, encompassing economic corridors, international transportation routes, information highways, railways, roads, airports, ports, pipelines, and power grids. Notable examples include the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Peshawar-Karachi Express, power plants such as Sahiwal and Port Qasim, and the Karot Hydropower Station. The steady advancement of key infrastructure projects has opened up vital arteries for economic development in the participating countries.

“These infrastructure undertakings have lowered logistics and transportation costs for Belt and Road countries and raised their economic prospects, while bringing the hope of poverty reduction to remote and impoverished regions,” said Gu Jiayun, deputy dean of the School of Asian Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Apart from signature projects, numerous small-scale people-centered programs, such as bridge maintenance, well drilling, and street lamp installations, have met pressing needs of local people.

Gu added that in Belt and Road countries, Chinese enterprises strictly fulfill their social responsibility and integrate into the production and life of local communities. This includes not only training local talent and creating job opportunities, but also building schools and repairing roads and bridges. Through these down-to-earth efforts, they have made significant contributions to improving the livelihoods of the communities.

Crucial principles

As Xi highlighted, important guiding principles for high-quality Belt and Road cooperation have been laid over the past decade, which include the principle of “planning together, building together, and benefiting together,” the philosophy of open, green, and clean [or integrity-based] cooperation, and the goal of pursuing high-standard, people-centered, and sustainable cooperation.

“Planning together, building together, and benefiting together” not only matters to the BRI, but is also an important component of the outlook on global governance with Chinese characteristics, said Ren Lin, director of the Department of Global Governance at CASS’s Institute of World Economics and Politics.

“China proposed the BRI in the hope that many countries can do it together,” Xing said. “The initiative is not compulsory, and all matters should be handled through consultation.”

Zhang Yunling, a CASS Member and director of the Institute of International Studies at Shandong University, said that in the process of advancement, the BRI expects participating countries to play the principal role and take the initiative in local construction, while paying attention to balance in economic, social, and environmental terms to achieve sustainable development. “That’s what will make the BRI sustainable,” Zhang added.

In the opinion of Zhang Zhenjiang, a professor from the School of International Studies at Jinan University in Guangdong Province, the BRI is an initiative for global development, which China proposed on the basis of its own development experience. It calls on like-minded countries to take part, thereby accelerating global development through extensive consultation and joint contribution for shared benefits. This determines that it should be an open international public good.

Since Chinese modernization is the modernization of harmony between humanity and nature, and is committed to addressing the relationship between humanity and nature, BRI cooperation aligns with the global trend of green and low-carbon development, Zhang Zhenjiang said.

Wang Yong, a professor from the School of International Studies at Peking University, noted that integrity is a key embodiment of the people-centered philosophy in social governance. The emphasis of integrity as the inherent requirement and necessary condition of the BRI’s steady and long-term development, underscoring transparent operation of all cooperative projects, will enable related projects to benefit the majority of the people around the world and root the BRI’s commitments to international cooperation and common development more deeply in people’s hearts.

Closer people-to-people ties

Exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations is a pivotal force for driving human progress and promoting peaceful development worldwide. By adhering to a view of civilization based on principles of equality, mutual learning, dialogue, and inclusiveness, and by upholding the shared values of humanity, Belt and Road cooperation has fostered a new landscape characterized by a strong people-to-people bond and cultural integration among countries across the globe.

In 2018, Renmin University of China (RUC) founded a Silk Road School at its Suzhou campus in Jiangsu Province. Over the past five years, the school has recruited nearly 200 outstanding students from 62 countries, including Pakistan, Russia, India, and Indonesia. RUC President Lin Shangli emphasized that the BRI is characterized by inclusive development, win-win cooperation, and consultative communication. Inclusive development means that participating countries are able to realize joint development on the basis of respecting each other while showcasing their respective uniqueness; win-win cooperation means they can benefit from their own development through cooperation, with greater room for development; consultative communication aims to resolve contradictions and conflicts between countries through dialogue, communication, and consultation on an equal footing, Lin said.

Over the past decade, Belt and Road cooperation has resulted in the vibrant interaction and flowering of diverse cultures. “Rich and colorful cultural years, art festivals, expos and exhibitions, Luban Workshops, people-to-people exchange programs like the Silk Road Community Building Initiative and the Brightness Action program, and deepening exchanges between non-governmental organizations, think tanks, media organizations, and the youth—all these flourishing activities have composed a symphony of friendship in the new era,” Xi said.

Zhang Zhenjiang said the ultimate aim of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation is to promote the free flow, peaceful coexistence, and common development of people in related countries and regions.

Abbas Jawad Kdaimy, an expert on Iraqi studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, said that the current scramble for discourse power over global governance is actually the debate between unilateralism and multilateralism in global governance reforms, or between the “Clash of Civilizations” theory, arising from Western powers’ attempts to maintain or expand their interests and values based on their hegemonic history, and the call for dialogue among civilizations for the sake of common development.

As the BRI suffers from stigmatization by Western countries, people-to-people exchanges have become a vital approach for China and countries around the world to practice the BRI and the Global Civilization Initiative together, Kdaimy said.

Looking forward

The eight measures laid out by Xi at the opening ceremony of the Forum, which include building a multidimensional connectivity network, supporting an open world economy, carrying out practical cooperation, promoting green development, advancing sci-tech innovation, supporting people-to-people exchanges, promoting integrity-based cooperation, and strengthening institutional building, have charted a clear course for Belt and Road cooperation with higher quality and at higher levels.

To these ends, Zhang Yunling highlighted the importance of formulating project norms and standards to differentiate regular economic and trade activities from BRI projects, instead of categorizing all collaborations as within the scope of the BRI. It is essential to clarify investment projects through stringent evaluation and verification before the signing of cooperation agreements, and rigorously stick to project standards [in the implementation process] in order to maintain the good reputation of the BRI.

Xing suggested enhancing the operability of the BRI. Currently, the implementation of the initiative is more mature in countries neighboring China. Therefore, Belt and Road projects in surrounding countries should be prioritized to build a community of shared future with neighbors first. Additionally, the initiative can be extended to include developed nations, who are competent for Belt and Road construction and will play significant roles if they choose to participate.

Kdaimy predicted that the BRI will further spur participating countries to strengthen economic cooperation, accelerate infrastructure construction, and foster institutional innovation. This will result in the creation of new economic and employment growth points, reinforcing their endogenous drivers and risk-resistance capacities for economic growth.


(Xue Li, Li Xiang, Da Rong, and Peng Bo contributed to this article.)

Editor:Yu Hui

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