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The Belt and Road Initiative 10 Years On

Oct 11, 2023
  • Li Yan

    Deputy Director of Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

This year marks the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road — the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping. The decade has witnessed not just the progression and refinement of the initiative from broad outlines to fine detailing but also significant changes in international conditions. Reflecting on the accomplishments of the BRI in the last decade in conjunction with those global changes — and subsequently projecting the prospective challenges for future development — indisputably bear profound real-world relevance.

Examined through the prism of transformations in the international scenario, it’s clear that the Belt and Road Initiative has played a crucial role in promoting global peace and stability. It has yielded three notable achievements:

First, in an era characterized by intensifying geopolitical and major power competition, the BRI, upholding a spirit of openness, inclusivity, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation, has emerged as a proactive agent in safeguarding world peace. The initiative was advanced at a period of global transformation, with its actualization phase coinciding with substantial shifts in Sino-American relations and grave challenges to the prevalent themes of peace and development. As it has advanced the initiative, China has adhered to policies of openness, collaboration and mutual benefit, consistently using it as a vital framework for actualizing the vision of a human community with a shared future and indisputably contributing positive vitality to the pursuit of world peace amid uncertainties.

Contrary to some nations that predominantly emphasize major power competition and engage in forming blocs, the Belt and Road Initiative, through its innovative philosophies, has played a positive role in aligning various nations toward a consensus on peace and ensuring that the world’s development is directed on the right path.

Second, in an environment where globalization faces significant opposition and where the prevalence of decoupling and supply chain disruptions is evident, the BRI, embracing the principles of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration, has emerged as a pivotal platform for bolstering international cooperation.

The retreat from globalization has been a defining characteristic of international evolution over the past decade. Western nations, pursuing decoupling and supply chain disruptions in their own self-interest, have notably fractured the structure of international connectivity and collaboration. In addressing this, China has prominently highlighted five focal areas as it has propelled the Belt and Road Initiative: policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people-to-people connectivity. China has concluded more than 200 cooperation agreements with 151 countries and 32 international organizations, spanning domains such as trade, technology, society, public welfare and culture as it has fundamentally accelerated international trade and overseas investments. These accomplishments have effectively repudiated decoupling and supply chain disruptions, preserving the comprehensive stability of international industrial and supply chains and fostering global momentum through extensive associations and widespread collaboration.

Third, against a backdrop on which human existence and development are confronting numerous unprecedented challenges, the Belt and Road Initiative is amalgamating efforts from various entities and synthesizing international resources, establishing itself as an effective framework for enhancing human welfare.

In the last decade, regional wars and conflicts have persisted, and the rise of non-traditional security challenges, such as climate change and pandemics, have intensified and converged with the looming conclusion of major power collaboration, thereby impacting human existence and development amid international fluctuations. Under these circumstances, China is promoting the BRI with a philosophy of open, green and clean cooperation, thereby effectively consolidating diverse international strengths and resources with its escalating influence and appeal.

In particular, the initiative stresses alignment with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and synchronization with the developmental strategies of various nations, offering tangible cooperative endeavors in areas pivotal to human welfare such as sustainable development, poverty alleviation and education. Consequently, it has evolved as a significant model for the UN’s specialized agencies and various countries’ developmental agendas. In this context, the Belt and Road is more than just an initiative; it has inherently evolved into a structured foundation that enables nations to engage in cooperative endeavors in social development, addressing the deficiencies of existing international frameworks.

In the future, the swift unfolding of centennial transformations will pose new challenges to the future development prospects of the BRI, subjecting it to unprecedented competition.

First, its accomplishments are encountering the repercussions of intensifying international security risks. As the successes of the BRI continue to accumulate and its scope steadily broadens, ensuring comprehensive security in the development of the Belt and Road Initiative will be increasingly challenging. Potential security vulnerabilities may emerge from attacks by international terrorist entities, and countries involved in the BRI will face the ramifications of increasingly complex changes in the political landscape. The complexities associated with legal compliance and societal norms are becoming increasingly multifaceted. In the forthcoming developmental phases of the initiative, maintaining equilibrium between development and security has substantial practical importance.

Second, the contest of narratives will persistently shadow the ongoing evolution of the initiative. The BRI has long been the target of vilification and defamation by international factions opposed to China. As the battle for international discursive dominance and informational warfare escalates, the impending stigmatization and politicization of the BRI is highly likely. Elevating the efficacy of international communication and sculpting China’s narrative will be pivotal in underpinning the sustainability of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Third, the Belt and Road Initiative will confront symmetric competition in an unprecedented manner. The substantial achievements of the initiative have prompted correlated nations to replicate it and even enter into unscrupulous competition. Last year, for example, the United States inaugurated the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) and, more recently, collaborated with India to instigate the so-called India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor.

Deliberating on how to effectively orchestrate and execute specific projects under the aegis of progressive philosophies, how to proactively spearhead international resolutions to overcome developmental impediments and how to delve into harmonizing and aligning with the initiatives of other countries are pressing requirements the Belt and Road Initiative must address to triumph over the competition in its future trajectory.

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