China’s Bell and Road Initiative (BRI) program is inspired by the ancient silk road and its successful history, but unfortunately that part of history had not been well appreciated by the West. The BRI in the past five years have shown sufficient progress and significant achievements. They should not be ignored by anyone. The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank supporting the BRI has grown to 87 member countries and launched numerous construction projects. The BRI offers an opportunity not a threat to world economy. It is time for the few skeptics to do an honest analysis of BRI, and endorse the initiative.
The BRI Consists of two components, the Belt, a land based "Silk Road Economic Belt" (SREB), similar to the trade road linking Asia and Europe described above and an ocean based route "Maritime Silk Road" (MSR), inspired by the famous Zheng He Voyage as well as the heavy trade volume presently squeezing through the limited straits, ports and sea lanes. The past historical maritime accomplishments served as the basis and offered the confidence needed for modern China to offer the ambitious BRI as a global collaborative development program to stimulate the world economy and to advance the welfare of people all over the world. What is required of course is to build the physical infrastructure, roads, bridges, ports and canals, as well as upgrading the digital communication facilities, transport and logistics centers to support the financing, banking, transporting and trading endeavors.
The accomplishments of BRI so far are quite impressive but the interpretation of its impact alarming. We can cite some statistics reported in Organic Media to review the achievements attributed to BRI over the past five years (2013-2018). The first significant success was of course the inauguration of AIIB for banking business on 12-25-2015; now 87 country members joined and made $5.3 billion investments in 13 countries with 28 projects (and Silk Road fund signed 19 contracts amount to $7 billion). The first BRI forum held on 5/14-15/2017 with 57 States attending. Since the promotion of BRI, there were direct flights established with 45 countries having a total of 5100 flights per week. Total trade attributed to BRI was greater than $5.5 trillion, shipping to 600 ports over 200 countries. Total financial investments reached $28.9 billion and $80B non-financial investments. (Chinese firms raised $57.11 B in 52 countries) Eighty two trading centers were established. A total of 244,000 jobs were created. There were 16 free trade agreements including 24 trading regions and countries. Twenty four million Chinese visited BRI countries and ten million visitors visited China. Two hundred thousand students from 64 countries study BRI in China and 66,100 Chinese study in BRI countries. There are 81 educational institutions and projects and 35cultural centers established in BRI countries. ($39.3 million scholarship offered in first half of 2018)
The above statistics are impressive accomplishments in less than five years. One can easily imagine that the net impact to the world economy and cultural and trade interaction will continue to expand. However, there are naysayers about BRI in some sponsored media. Any country opposing BRI either does not understand its historical background and lack of inspirations or feels threatened to be left out of the BRI impact. In reality, BRI is a program that will benefit every country and every person on earth if moving forward. BRI is no doubt a visionary program offering a common dream to more than half of the world population. China is in the right position to lead the effort and seems to adhere to a global prosperity goal. China is smart to kick off both SREB and MSR at the same time, since they are complimentary to each other and they serve as mutual insurance to each other to warrant China’s initial $100B investment and other investors’ money.
Some people use geopolitical arguments to caution the downside effect s from BRI. For instance, Urumqi, Xinjiang in the BRI plan may be developed into a land port of transport and distribution center projected to grow a population to 100,000. From China’s perspective, it will be a huge success of lifting her people in the west above poverty, but at the same time this will raise the Central Asia economy multiple fold. Another cautionary warning was that any new port and strait construction connecting the Pacific and Indian Ocean will impact on Singapore and her control of the Malacca Strait. Currently, Singapore and Malacca Strait are operating to capacity; any complimentary infrastructure is likely to benefit Asean countries including Singapore. At this time, the significant absentee countries in BRI are the U.S., Japan and India. Japan is already signaling interest to get on the bandwagon and India may have come around to realize that her strategic concern over her borders with neighbors may let her missing out the rapid freight trains of BRI benefiting India tremendously.
The U.S. as usual always has opposing views on any issue and the BRI is no exception. The BRI is showing measurable progress, even over spilled to South America as several Central American countries embraced the BRI concept building a complimentary new canal and welcoming ocean fiber optic cable to benefit trading of their agricultural products. The U.S. should make an honest analysis on China’s BRI proposal; BRI certainly will increase China’s global influence over time, but pinning China as a hegemony intending to dominate the world by BRI is far-fetched with no concrete evidence. Russia would have similar concerns like the U.S. but Russia had eagerly joined the BRI program for her own good. Historically China had achieved her world number one economy position in the past not through military expansion like the colonial powers tried to do.
Suppressing others to maintain the U.S. economy to be number one in the world should never outweigh the American people’s wish (like other global citizens) to improve their standard of living. The middle class Americans have been stagnant in their status quo for too long to ignore a progressive program like BRI. Blaming rising foreign countries for American’s domestic problems is copout thinking. Waging trade war based on outdated anti-China theory and knowing that it leads to no winner is not a sound economic policy. China certainly presents competition to the world in her effort to modernize her country and lift her people out of poverty, but competition is healthy, a necessary ingredient for advancing human civilization. Humans should be smart enough to pick win-win projects and to break the zero-sum mentality in economic development. The BRI offers such an opportunity not a threat.