What is the Belt & Road Initiative?
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. The Belt refers to the land-based “Economic Belt of the New Silk Road”, and the Road to “the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road”. The BRI is inspired by the ancient Silk Road, and is intended to build completely new, or expand existing infrastructure and trade corridors on a transcontinental scale connecting China and East Asia to Europe and Africa, with possibilities for future connection to the Americas. The BRI consists of 6 land-based economic corridors (as in the map):
A. China, Mongolia, Russia Corridor,
B. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC),
C. The New Eurasian Corridor,
D. China-Indochina Corridor,
E. China-Myanmar-Bangladesh-India Corridor,
G. China-Central- and West Asia Corridor (The New Silk Road)
The Maritime Silk Road is represented by F.
Beside railways, highways, ports, sea lines, oil and gas pipelines, the BRI includes new aviation routes, telecommunication cables and cooperation in space. The aim is to enhance connectivity among continents and regions to promote economic growth, trade, people-to-people cultural exchange and peaceful economic cooperation.
New principles for international relations:
⦁ Win-win and mutual benefits for all participants.
⦁ Credit for infrastructure and productive investments.
⦁ Non-interference in the internal affairs of economic and trade partners.
⦁ Respect for the cultural diversity of nations.
⦁ Reject geopolitics, zero-sum games, and spheres of influence.
⦁ Create “a community of shared future for mankind”, as President Xi describes it.
Since its launching, more than 120 nations have joined the BRI (as of July 2019). According to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, these countries represent more than half of the planet’s population (4.8 billion people). Their economies are worth a total US$ 21 trillion, accounting for about half of the world’s GDP. US$ 1 trillion are already allocated for ongoing and planned projects. In the September 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), held in Beijing, all members of the African Union joined the initiative. The attracting feature of the BRI, is China’s own economic development process and success in pulling 700 million of its own people out of poverty, making it a model for other developing nations.
Raising productivity & securing sustainability
One of the main obstacles for development and raising the productivity of societies in many regions of the world is the lack of basic economic infrastructure (transport, power and water in addition to education and healthcare). That’s why China is investing heavily in infrastructure projects in BRI partner countries. This lesson has China learned from its own development process.
China’s economic miracle hinges on three decades of incredible industrialization through investments in urban and rural infrastructure projects, mega-projects in transportation, water and power. Within this period, China has built 20,000 km of high-speed railways, surpassing the combined network of the Western European nations. It has constructed the world’s largest dams and longest irrigation canals. It has 37 operating nuclear power plants, 70% of which were built in the past decade alone, and a further 20 plants are under construction. China has also developed an advanced and ambitious space exploration program.
These achievements have made China a world leader in many sectors of construction and manufacturing. China has placed these capabilities, in addition to its enormous financial clout amounting to US$ 3 trillion, behind the BRI. It has also taken the lead in establishing international financial institutions to provide credit for development projects like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), with a capital of US$ 100 billion and the membership of 80 nations including Sweden, and The Silk Road Fund (US$ 40 billion).
An Initiative belonging to all nations!
Chinese officials insist that the BRI is not a Chinese exclusive club nor a Chinese Marshal Plan or aid program. It is what it is called, “an initiative”, which means that every nation and economic power on the planet can participate and benefit from it. China alone is not capable of solving all economic problems in the world, and the technological and industrial potential in the industrial sector nations is crucial for fulfilling the goals of eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development in the world.
Great opportunity for Sweden
Many industrial nations, like Japan and South Korea, are realizing the great opportunities the BRI is offering. Several EU members, such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal have expressed clear interest in serving as maritime hubs for the BRI and in cooperating in projects in Africa.
China’s economic boom has contributed greatly to growth in other parts of the world, especially after the recession that hit the world economy following the 2008 financial crisis. Sweden’s trade with China, like that of other European countries, has increased dramatically since 2008, although they have not embraced the BRI and remain skeptical to it. However, the potential presented by the BRI for Sweden and other industrial nations is unlimited, not only for trade with China, but by joining the development programs spurred by the BRI in Africa, Asia and South America.
The BRI offers a good opportunity for developing bilateral business exchanges between Swedish businesses, especially innovative small and medium sized enterprises (SME), and interested partners in the Chinese market and third countries that are part of the BRI. Sweden has a long-standing culture of innovation, which has become a key component of the globally recognized Swedish industrial excellence.