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Silken Opportunities
 NO. 49 DECEMBER 3, 2015

The Sixth World Forum on China Studies opens in Shanghai on November 20 (XINHUA)

The Belt and Road Initiative, first proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims at strengthening ties among countries and regions along the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. It was one of the hottest topics at the Sixth World Forum on China Studies in Shanghai in November.

The Belt and Road will run through Asia, Europe and Africa, connecting the vibrant East Asian economic circle with Europe. Many scholars at the forum believe the initiative will deepen cooperative ties between China and other participants and benefit the world. Here is a selection of their opinions:

Lu Nanquan (Deputy Director of the Russian Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences): The Belt and Road Initiative has attracted the world's attention as well as triggered various interpretations. It is therefore imperative to understand the intent behind the formulation of such a plan. In my opinion, the plan can serve the following purposes. First, it can facilitate China's integration toward economic globalization and enhance regional economic cooperation. Second, it supports the country's all-round opening up. Third, it helps foster new growth drivers. Fourth, it narrows regional disparities in China. Fifth, it creates a reduction of a dependency on the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca by means of the maritime Silk Road. Lastly, it promotes reform to meet new challenges in international cooperation.

To put it simply, the Belt and Road Initiative is meant to build a well-recognized platform for economic cooperation and diplomacy, and to stabilize economic growth through all-round opening up. The success of the plan depends on whether it can create a mutually beneficial situation.

Nasanbat Tumur (a senior research fellow with the Institute of International Studies at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences): As a landlocked country located between China and Russia, Mongolia is willing to develop comprehensive strategic partnerships with northeastern Asian countries and actively push forward regional exchanges and cooperation with the two major powers.

Shortly after China put forward the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, Mongolia decided to launch the Prairie Road project in 2014. The Prairie Road project aims to take advantage of Mongolia's location linking China and Russia, thereby making Mongolia a bigger player in regional economic cooperation.

On November 11, China and Mongolia issued a joint statement, saying that both sides will deepen their comprehensive strategic partnership and promote signing a treaty on aligning China's Belt and Road initiative and Mongolia's Prairie Road plan. This is in addition to enhancing financial cooperation between Mongolia and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund in big infrastructure projects.

By aligning China's Belt and Road Initiative and Mongolia's Prairie Road project, Mongolia can develop expressways, rail networks and natural gas and oil pipelines. Transport and shipping services can be offered between the two countries thereby contributing to Mongolian domestic economic growth.

Besides cooperation in mining resources development, infrastructure construction and finance, both countries can work together in water-diversion projects, dust storm management and tourism. Northern Mongolia is rich in water resources while the southern part is short of water. Some Mongolian water experts advise the Mongolian Government to take a page from China's rich experiences in water diversion and work with China to start a north-south water diversion project.

In addition, the China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor, a plan linking up the Silk Road Economic Belt, the Prairie Road project and Russia's transcontinental rail plan was proposed by the three countries' presidents in September 2014. The trilateral cooperation plan is, in fact, viewed by scholars as a branch of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

Sergey Lukonin (Director of the Center for Economic and Political Studies of China at the Russian Academy of Sciences): By 2030, the Silk Road Economic Belt will be implemented with some limitations. Bilateral free trade agreements and zones may be achieved, but a single integration space will not be created. However, even a limited implementation of the project will lead to significant changes to both the world's and China's economies.

As for China's economy, the following results are possible. First, China's problem of excess capacity will be alleviated and GDP growth will be supported by creating an additional demand for Chinese industrial products in Central Asia, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Second, an additional driver for increasing Chinese hi-tech product output will be created. Third, China's inland areas will be developed by re-industrialization and creation of new industries with a marketing focus on Central Asian countries, EAEU, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Fourth, the number of internal migrants will be reduced with the development of inland provinces. Fifth, China will not become an absolute innovation leader, but perhaps some breakthroughs in applied sciences in the areas of energy saving, software and communications can be made. Sixth, the efficiency of Chinese businesses will be improved in a truly international environment.

As for the global economy, the following results are possible. First, with China's foreign direct investment in the Silk Road Economic Belt, its multinational corporations as well as small and medium-sized enterprises will enter the region. There, they will provide construction, consulting, trade, technology, engineering, software and other services. Second, the Chinese yuan will be internationalized. The yuan will become one of the major currencies in the Silk Road area, but it will not replace the U.S. dollar or the euro. Third, transport infrastructure in the region will be improved, enhancing economic development and political stability as well as living conditions for the local people. Fourth, potential military conflicts will be reduced as aggressive behavior will jeopardize the whole project and hurt the common interests of the countries involved. Therefore, confrontation among competing countries will decrease, while competition in business will increase.

Of course, challenges are inevitable. Contradictions are possible between industrialized countries in the use of national equipment and standards in the implementation of the Belt segments. There is a possibility of a shortage of funds for their full implementation. The effectiveness of the projects is also questionable. After the construction of a facility, who will maintain and finance it? Will it be self-sustaining? Also, during the implementation of the initiative, Chinese companies need to perform perfectly in social responsibility, environmental protection and compliance with the local laws and so on. Finally, security and stability are a key factor in the successful implementation of the initiative. China needs to show goodwill and always look for compromises in all areas.

Aghavni Harutyunyan (a senior research fellow with the Institute of Oriental Studies of Armenia's National Academy of Sciences): Xi has put forth new concepts like the Chinese dream and the Belt and Road. The Chinese dream aims to realize the great renewal of the Chinese nation by achieving Two Centenary Goals—to build a moderately prosperous society by 2020 in time for the Communist Party of China's 100th anniversary and turn China into an all-around modern and socially advanced country by 2049, when the People's Republic of China marks its centenary. To achieve these goals, China needs a peaceful and stable international environment. Therefore, Beijing will work together with its neighboring countries and the international community, sharing more development opportunities with them.

The Belt and Road Initiative actually may become the embodiment of the Chinese dream in the international format. It aims to build an economic corridor connecting the nations of Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Belt and Road Initiative calls for nations along the Silk Road routes to strengthen political contacts, boost trade and financial integration, create free trade zones, construct transport networks and energy pipelines and promote people-to-people communications.

Beijing clearly emphasized that through the implementation of the Chinese dream and the Belt and Road Initiative, China does not want to create a new organization, or to seek hegemony in Asia and beyond. It does not aspire to establish a sphere of influence or interfere in the internal affairs of other states. Beijing will not threaten the outside world. On the contrary, the transformation of China into a strong and rich state will bring significant benefits to other nations.

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan

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