The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has faced great concern from the international community since it was proposed. On the one hand, many countries and international organizations have strong hopes for the BRI, and more than 100 countries and international organizations have signed at least 170 cooperation agreements with China. On the other hand, there are many doubts and criticisms about the initiative’s details, goals, influences, and prospects, something that China had not expected.
The five-year project has had a huge impact in the countries and regions along the BRI, but it is still developing and changing. It is constantly adjusting based on previous experiences and lessons to promote an inclusive and balanced global governance system.
How China Positions
The BRI is the general foundation for China’s opening and economic cooperation policy. China’s positioning of the BRI mainly includes the following aspects.
The BRI is a grand economic vision that promotes the development of China’s underdeveloped regions and expands its policy of opening to Eurasia and Europe
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China clearly stated in 2013 that it is necessary to “accelerate the construction of infrastructure connecting China with neighboring countries and regions, and work hard to build a Silk Road Economic Belt and a Maritime Silk Road, so as to form a new pattern of all-round opening.”43 The BRI is an important part of China’s reform and a means through which to accelerate its development. The coastal areas experienced rapid development for more than thirty years, and now the western region will strengthen its trade, economic, technological, and financial cooperation with Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and even Europe, in order to continue China’s opening up and achieve balanced and coordinated development between the different areas. In particular, China’s western provinces stand to gain from the BRI, as the project has further connected them with neighboring countries.
The BRI is not only a long-term project but also a profound summary of China’s economic cooperation with both Europe and other Asian countries over the past twenty years. After more than twenty years of joint efforts, China has become the main partner of Russia and Central Asian states, recently cooperating on various new infrastructure and energy projects. The achievements of the past twenty years have enabled these countries to integrate more closely into the world economy. The achievements have not only become a solid foundation for the BRI but have also clearly proven that the BRI is in line with the interests of Eurasian countries in seeking economic development and expanding economic cooperation.
The BRI is a proposal to strengthen economic cooperation between China and participating countries as economic globalization and regional cooperation change dramatically
The deep-seated impact of the 2008 financial crisis continues, the world economy’s recovery is slow, and development in countries across the world has been uneven. The structure and rules of international investment and trade are changing profoundly, and the problems all developing countries face are still serious. Although the United States suffered during the financial crisis and lost some of its economic power, it has been trying to lead the world’s new industrial revolution. During former U.S. president Barack Obama’s second term, the United States actively promoted Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations in an attempt to reshape international trade and investment. When Trump took office, the United States withdrew from the TPP and TTIP negotiations, forcing other countries to go their own way amid Trump’s proclamations of “America First.”
In this context, the BRI has aimed at promoting the free flow of goods and services, the efficient allocation of resources, and the deep integration of markets; encouraging countries along the BRI to coordinate economic policy and carry out broader and more in-depth regional cooperation of higher standards; and jointly creating an open, inclusive, and balanced regional economic cooperation architecture that benefits all.45 As a comprehensive transregional economic cooperation initiative, the BRI includes Asia, the Caucasus, Russia, and Europe. And countries cooperate in sectors as varied as transportation, energy, trade, finance, industry, and education, among other fields. This wide array demonstrates how BRI construction is highly flexible based on strategic coordination and policy communication between China and the countries involved, without mandatory institutional arrangements creating unnecessary strictures. The fundamental purpose of the BRI is to facilitate closer economic relations among the involved countries and deeper mutual cooperation among member states, as well as more space for development.
The BRI is a natural extension of China’s participation in and integration into the global system
Participating in and integrating into the global system have been China’s main goals for a long time. Since the implementation of the opening and reform policy, China’s integration into the global system has accelerated, its links with other countries have expanded, and its role in the international system has become more prominent. Thus, China is more deeply embedded in the global system. This reality requires China to sort out its domestic and foreign policies, adjust and change its relatively scattered cooperation policies, and better coordinate its relationship with all parts of the global system to demonstrate it can bear the responsibility of a great power and promote common development during times of peace. The BRI is China’s latest answer to these challenges. It began by improving economic cooperation with participating countries and has helped China maintain momentum while integrating into the global system.
The BRI is an important attempt by China to participate in and improve the global governance system
Since the end of the Cold War, many important political and economic changes have taken place internationally. New threats and challenges have emerged. Meanwhile, international rules and arrangements have failed to fully reflect the reality of the international order. Considering the basic demands of the vast majority of the members of the international community, the global governance system needs to be further improved. Promoting economic growth, safeguarding people’s livelihoods, deepening mutual cooperation, and preventing the spread of extremism and terrorism are essential goals.