BRI: Challenges and opportunities | By Dr Muhammad Khan


BRI: Challenges and opportunities

THE transcontinental gigantic Chinese project known as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is primarily designed to connect three continents; Asia, Africa and Europe.

From European continent, there already exists an established linkage to American continents.

The Australian continent and countries of Oceania will be accessed through maritime passage.

In a way, the BRI is a global project with enormous opportunities for all those states and communities which will be linked and connected towards its successful completion.

There are two broad components of BRI; the Silk Road Economic Belt and New Maritime Silk Road.

The economic belt is primarily designed to connect China with countries of Central and South Asia and onwards to countries of Europe whereas, the new maritime silk road, will create a linking between China and the ASEAN region (countries of South East Asia), the Middle Eastern region, Africa and onwards to Europe.

Through six economic corridors all countries and regions will be linked with China in the process of completion of BRI, in fact a global connectivity and linkage.

The Chinese roadmap for the BRI is a well-conceived idea with a broader desire to create connectivity and linkages at three levels; the political engagement, economic viability and social linkages.

The political engagements also known as political relationships include a broad range of actions and activities through which nation states develop broad consensus on issues of common interests.

This is the foundation of other two aspects; economic and social relationship, indeed it is building bridges between nations and regions.

The economic viabilities and opportunities are incentives for the states which act as a pivot to other aspects in an era of globalization.

It is in fact the outcome of political relationship and a way forward to create long-term social linkages.

On its part, the social linkages are meant to reinforce and cement the political engagements and economic opportunities by creating the most needed social space.

At the time of conceiving BRI, the Chinese leadership must have thought of these significant aspects mentioned above.

These aspects can be broadly interpreted into opportunities and challenges.Covering the opportunities first, there are numerous opportunities.

The economies liked via BRI project are accounted for “one-third of global GDP and trade”. Similarly it is almost two-thirds of global population, covering bulk of international community.

The sheer size of BRI itself is the biggest opportunity initially for the nations and regions which will be connected through various economic corridors.

These economic corridors will provide further connections and opportunities for the states and regions otherwise not forming part of the initial plan of BRI.

Starting from South and Central Asia and reaching over to African continent, the projects planned within the ambit of BRI would benefit a massive number of deprived societies and communities and classes and “huge swaths of the world’s economies, with large positive spill over effects on global welfare”.

The unique opportunity, BRI will provide for various regions and states are the integration of unexplored and unexploited regions and their economic resources which have stalled the developmental process in those areas.

Resultantly, the people of these states and regions are behind the developed parts of the world from all aspects.

Through the systematic process of connectivity and infrastructural development, the BRI project will enable the exploration of local unexplored resources for their greater usages through trade and commerce which ensure local development and economic wellbeing of the people.

The outcome and the biggest opportunity will be the integration of these dormant and ignored regions and their resources into global economic prospects while enabling the people to economically empower themselves with multiple avenues open to them.

The process of connectivity and regional integration which constitute essence of BRI will greatly reduce the time and space problems, needed for the smooth flow of raw material as well as the manufactured goods from the place of origin to local and international markets.

Analysing the BRI project from the perspective of connectivity would reveal that, its major focus is on two aspects; the infrastructural development (connectivity) and the needed projects of energy.

In a way, it is a two way passage for boosting the process of trade and commerce from state to state and globally to international markets.

While being away from African and European continents China would be the primary beneficiary of this process.

Through improvement of capacity and network of roads and railways and other transport infrastructure would greatly facilitate the “cross-border trade, increased investment, and improved growth in BRI economies.”

While there are enormous opportunities, emerging from BRI, upon its successful completion, there are intrinsic challenges too which may hamper the smooth progress of BRI.

The primary challenge is an undeclared economic war between United States and China. The clashing interests of these two great powers are dividing the states and regions for securing their respective economic and political interests in an environment of uncertainty.

Besides, there is general impression that major economic benefits of BRI would go to China despite reliance of the project on the existing infrastructure of the local states and their own economic resources.

The general perception is that, there will be less benefit to other countries linked with BRI project besides draining their own economies and resources.

Even among the countries found willing to be part of BRI there exist suspicion, resistance, and public criticism, considering it as a Chinese project rather owning it.

Indeed, BRI is a transcontinental long-term project which will directly and indirectly benefit more than two-third of the global population.

In order to benefit from it, let’s concentrate on its sheer size, vitality, enormity, transcontinental connectivity and widespread political, economic and social linkages which will integrate global international societies by two ways; minimizing the conflicts and empowering through economic opportunities.

— The writer is Professor of Politics and IR at International Islamic University, Islamabad.


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