The efficacy of BRI & CPEC | By SM Hali

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The efficacy of BRI & CPEC

THE Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) euphemistically referred to as the New Silk Road, was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping nine years ago and since then it has become a widely welcomed international project with a far-reaching and profound impact on the world.

It has played a major role in deepening international cooperation, promoting closer ties between countries and boosting global growth.

In effect, there is an underlying link between the BRI and the vision of building a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for humankind. Every project initiates with the vision statement and delineation of goals.

Since its inception, the BRI has received strong endorsement and warm support from the international community. So far, 149 countries and international organizations have signed BRI cooperation documents with China.

Xi originally announced the strategy as the “Silk Road Economic Belt” during an official visit to Kazakhstan in September 2013.

BRI comprises overland routes for road and rail transportation through landlocked Central Asia along the famed historical trade routes of the western regions as well as the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”, referring to the Indo-Pacific Sea routes through Southeast Asia to South Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

The initiative was incorporated into the Constitution of China in 2018 and has a target completion date of 2049, which will coincide with the centennial of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s founding, which would also see the fruition of China’s Second Centenary Goal of “building a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong and culturally advanced and harmonious.”

Financial pundits in the World Bank have conducted studies, concluding that BRI can boost trade flows in the 149 participating countries by 4.1 percent, as well as cutting the cost of global trade by 1.1 percent to 2.2 percent, and grow the GDP of East Asian and Pacific developing countries by an average of 2.6 to 3.9 percent.

Simultaneously, conservative economic experts like the London-based CEBR consultants, forecast that BRI is likely to increase the world GDP by $7.1 trillion per annum by 2040, and that “benefits will likely to be widespread”, as global trade increases from increasing infrastructure that reduces “frictions that hold back world trade”.

A flagship venture of BRI is the China Pakistan Economic Project (CPEC), which commences from the deep-sea port of Gwadar, located on the coast of Balochistan in Pakistan and terminates at Kashgar, the focal point of the fabled Silk Road.

The importance of BRI must be appreciated not only for littoral states like China, Pakistan and others but specifically, many countries located on the ancient Silk Road, particularly the landlocked Central Asia, have pinned their hopes for progress, prosperity, growth and development on an infrastructure akin to the historic Silk Road.

Their zeal is cognizable because developing industries demand new markets; technological innovations facilitate international cooperation; better transportation and logistics increase trade efficiency; and growing energy demands require international cooperation.

The advent of New Silk Road projects will act as a catalyst towards generating regional cooperation; building political flexibility; enhancing economic growth; offering trade diversifications; and investing in transportation, mining and energy sectors.

Central Asian republics, bounded by the closed economy of erstwhile USSR and limited by their geographical location, offering inadequate connectivity, are now being presented an epoch-making opportunity to play their destined roles in world economy.

Their enthusiasm is understandable because suddenly they are being offered the unique opportunity to become part of not one but a wide array of infrastructures, circumnavigating the entire globe.

Traditionally it was envisaged that the media had shrunk the world to a global village. Now it is the Silk Road Concept which is bringing nations, races, continents and people closer in a tight-knit community sharing their resources of production, services, energy, information and understanding.

Progenitors of the mega project praise the BRI for its potential to boost the global GDP, particularly in developing countries.

However, it also has its fair share of detractors in the shape of some influential countries like the USA, India, Japan and Australia.

They direct their criticism over human rights violations and environmental impact, as well as concerns of debt-trap diplomacy resulting in neo-colonialism and economic imperialism.

The United States proposes a counter-initiative called the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” (FOIP).

US officials have articulated the strategy as having three pillars – security, economics, and governance. At the beginning of June 2019, there has been a redefinition of the general definitions of “free” and “open” into four stated principles – respect for sovereignty and independence; peaceful resolution of disputes; free, fair, and reciprocal trade; and adherence to international rules and norms but there have been few takers for FOIP.

The points of contention by the critics are based on their myopic vision because they perceive China, BRI and CPEC through their lenses of ethnocentrism.

For Pakistan, the challenges to the CPEC occur owing to three factors, mainly the objections being raised time again by various domestic political sectors, the threat arising from terrorism and extremism, which deters investors and the slow pace of progress by Pakistan.

The first two factors are perhaps fuelled by international players, who would not like to see the fruition of the project.

These international players have varying interests, some would not like to see China being provided access to Gwadar and the various allied projects, while yet others would like to deny Pakistan the promised gains from the mega development schemes.

The efficacy of BRI and CPEC is that they will empower the regional countries to reach their true potential by providing employment, investment, trade and commercial opportunities.

Seldom in history has a project of this nature been offered to the developing countries which will alter their quality of life and facilitate them to emerge out of the abyss of poverty, deprivation and ignorance.

China’s benevolence and astute planning not just for itself but for all humanity especially those who are in dire need of uplift must be welcomed, since it is based on messages of goodwill, peace, harmony and development with no strings attached.

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