Home CPEC SECOND BELT AND ROAD FORUM

SECOND BELT AND ROAD FORUM

IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT

On the eve of 25th April 2019, China inaugurated the Second Belt and Road Forum. With all its grandeur and exciting reception, it was an invitation to the world to come and observe the progress that has been made since the inception of One Belt One Road Project and its flagship program CPEC that directly engages countries of South East Asia and the Middle East. The event was attended by representatives of over 150 countries while 37 Heads of State were present to be part of the regime. President Xi Jinping has truly made a mark for himself. The Chinese Government has made solid progress in promoting the idea of Global Co-operation in reviving the Silk Route in terms of trade and economic exchange. Different parts of the world are responding differently to BRI (Belt Road Initiative). Canada, USA and UK gave the least attention while Europe seemed to be warming up; most of the countries of South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East have now become the most ardent supporters of BRI owing to the aggressive campaigning of the Chinese Government. Overall, it’s a story of positives and negatives. Pakistan, in particular, continues to enjoy a unique position in the expansion of BRI. The second forum on BRI gave out a strong message that there is no lack of commitment among the major players of the world in the success of One Belt One Road Project.

In an attempt to gauge the magnitude of milestones achieved by BRI, one can easily look at the volume of trade agreements that have crossed 80 Billion $ as of today. The theme of the Second Forum was “Global Cooperation”. State Heads of 10 ASEAN countries were available to promote BRI and their willingness to invest and reap the benefits. Another success on the event was the presence of leaders from Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan. The forum was also fully recognized by the United Nations with the presence of its Secretary General. Apparently, the slogan of BRI to promote global cooperation instead of parochial nationalism is in line with the aims of the United Nations. The Deputy Head of National Development of China commented, “a more open and efficient international cooperation platform; a closer, stronger partnership network; and to push for a more just, reasonable and balanced international governance system.”37 Heads of States and representatives from over 150 countries actively engaged in the details of progress that has been made in BRI and the prospects for the next 5 years. The Forum was a comprehensive event to strengthen the trust of partner countries and attracting affluent investors.

One of the most notable features of the Second BRI Forum was the presence of European diplomats. Initially, during the first forum that was held in 2017, European countries like France, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Norway had shared their reservations regarding the expansionist policies of the Chinese Government. With the slow-down in the European economies, BRI now seems like a more plausible alternative. 12 out of 37 Heads of State were from Europe in the Second Forum. China has successfully sparked the interest of European countries and their greatest triumph is the signing of cooperation agreements worth billions with Italy and Portugal. China’s One Belt One Road project has crossed over to Europe and its branches are looking healthier than ever.

Global and Regional Cooperation among countries and maximization of trade and services was the epitome of the second BRI Forum. Donald Trump has blatantly attacked International Trade and the charters of the World Trade Organization which promotes free Trade of Goods and Services. Increased tariff lines and banning imports from specific countries to safeguard national interest is the hallmark of Western powers in the current era. The UK has opted out of the European Union and continues to explore the possibility of finding economic prosperity in the controversies and frustrations sparked by Brexit. India, after the event of Pulwama, raised the Customs tariff on imports from Pakistan by 200%. Similar scenarios are visible in Africa, Middle East and South America. With such grave nationalist agendas, BRI is a breath of fresh air. The Second BRI Forum was a display of commitment of major powers of the world to give globalization another chance. Certainly, globalization goes hand in hand with regional cooperation and expansion of trade and commerce. BRI was looked at, at least in the start, as the tool of neo-colonial expansion of a rising superpower i.e. China. But, the argument seems to be turning into something much more wholesome and progressive. The Chinese philosophy behind BRI is that it is not only a project to promote global and regional trade, but also, exchange of cultural, economic, technological and strategic ties. This is more than just trade, it a strategic partnership for tremendous mutual gains.

Pakistan is still at the helm of affairs. There has been considerable progress but there is a long way to go. The Government of Imran Khan has sought review of the terms and conditions associated with CPEC. As the economists and financial experts of ace organizations, criticized CPEC as a debt trap for countries like Pakistan, hence, the current regime has made it a priority to make the conditions of CPEC beneficial for both the nations. The tax breaks given to Chinese companies and the loan structures, which seemed skewed towards big Chinese firms, have now been put to the table for fair play. The Second BRI forum formally addressed these concerns. The Chinese Premier openly explained that the Chinese Government is committed to transparency, integrity and mutually beneficial prospects of BRI. Prime Minister Imran khan is giving a new face to the collaboration between the two countries. During the event, Imran Khan applauded the efforts and vision of President Xi Jinping and shared his views and progress on CPEC since 2013.

The Chinese Government has signalled to the world that BRI is an all-inclusive project. For decades, Chinese manufactured goods and their services were considered sub-standard as compared to their Western counterparts. Clearly, the tables have now turned. China and BRI now represent a brand that is attractive to all businessmen across the globe. During the forum, Xi Jinping announced the addition of 100 Billion Yuan just to attract more investors and stakeholders into BRI. Moreover, the Second BRI Forum was a challenge to the state-centric politics and trade profiteering of the United States. If all goes according to plan, especially within the context of previous forum to the present one, China is set to become the real champion of Globalization of the modern world. (The Writer is Chairman of Jinnah Rafi Foundation)