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What BRI Means for the World

Jun 21, 2023
  • Wang Yiwei

    Jean Monnet Chair Professor, Renmin University of China

The ancient stories of Yugong moving the mountain and Jingwei filling the sea are well known to many Chinese. Today, we no longer need to move mountains or reclaim seas to achieve connectivity. Instead, we believe that like-minded people are not be separated by mountains and seas. We advocate a five-pronged approach: policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and strengthened people-to-people ties. I have written a book — “The World is Connected: The Logic of the Belt and Road Initiative” — which tries to explain the wisdom in traditional Chinese medicine that is shared by the BRI: “Connectivity takes away pain.”

When I went to Europe, I was often asked: Why not call it China’s New Silk Road Initiative? The BRI includes the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The key words of the BRI are “economic belt” and “21st century”, rather than “Silk Road” itself. The goal of the BRI is to activate the Silk Road spirit of peaceful cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit, rather than simply to revive the ancient Silk Road. The BRI advocates the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, which means it is a shared plan for the world.

The concept of the Silk Road was proposed by German geographer Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen, while the BRI is President Xi Jinping’s creation. The BRI’s meaning goes far beyond the trade and cultural exchanges of the ancient Silk Road, with a spatial layout that includes unified connectivity over sky, earth, sea and the internet. The Silk Road Economic Belt is a transnational economic belt in the same vein as the ancient Silk Road. Yet its scale exceeds the general economic belts, with the visionary goal of building a new model of regional cooperation and forming communities of interest and with a shared future connected with neighboring countries.

Many countries and organizations have proposed concepts along the lines of New Silk Road initiatives, such as the Silk Road Revival Program, created by UNESCO and the United Nations Development Programme; the Silk Road Revival Program, launched by the UNDP in 2008; Japan’s Silk Road Diplomacy Strategy; the United States’ New Silk Road Initiative; Russia’s New Silk Road; Iran’s Railway Silk Road; and Kazakhstan’s “New Silk Road” project. But only the BRI has truly activated the memory and spirit of the ancient Silk Road, creating a vision for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the common rejuvenation of civilizations along the routes.

Someone asked me: In ancient times, silk represented the highest achievement of the unique Chinese agricultural civilization. What products will China provide today? What is the basis of the BRI? Today, in industrial-digital era of civilization, China has a system with mature industrial chains and can produce many things for the world. For China, the BRI is a choice with lowest cost and highest efficiency. Moreover, China’s implementation of industrial digitization and digital industrialization has resulted in a parallel curve overtaking effect, bringing hope to latecomer countries. It changes the situation under which developing countries always follow the modernization practices of Western countries and have no hope of surpassing them.

 President Xi Jinping said, “China can only be good if the world is good; if China is good, the world can be better.” The BRI is a platform for common development and cooperation. It is a vivid practice to achieve a global version of common prosperity, aiming to advance the great cause of the modernization of mankind and make the world a better place.

Most of BRI countries are in a stage of rapid industrialization or early stages of industrialization, and will account for a major share of the world’s carbon emissions in the future. If green BRI construction is not implemented, the global emissions reduction targets cannot be achieved to alleviate climate change.

Why can China give? Why does China need to give? And what are the benefits to China? First, as the world’s major factory, China has complete industrial chains. It has the lowest construction and production costs and the highest efficiency. In just a few decades, China has completed the industrialization process that took hundreds of years for some developed countries to achieve. It gained fresh experience. Second, China needs to participate in the formulation of standards and regulations, integrate into overseas markets and build its influence. Third, China can provide well-tailored solutions, rich experience in domestic transformation, and new development concepts.

As the largest developing country in the world, China has always taken a development path suited to its national conditions, through the optimal demonstration areas, piloted and then expanded, in a matter-of-fact way. The BRI is not just about building roads, but about building industrial clusters and economic zones through infrastructure construction and connectivity, to achieve coordinated development in all countries involved. 

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