Global connect

Updated 2017-04-14 10:00:43 China Daily
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A ship from China rests at Pireaus port, in Greece, last month. China COSCO Shipping Corp became the major shareholder and operator of the port in August. The project is seen as an example of strategic cooperation between the two countries. It is described in Belt and Road Initiative blueprints.

One month and counting.

More than 20 heads of state and government, as well as 1,200 delegates from countries around the world will descend on Beijing for the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which will be held on May 14 and 15.

It's a landmark event for the Chinese initiative, launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013.

Since then, the initiative-which consists of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road-has resulted in cooperative agreements with China from more than 40 countries and international organizations, and Chinese companies have invested some billion in mainly infrastructure projects.

One of the aims of the forum is to move the concept from being a China-led initiative involving bilateral agreements to a multilateral concept that will help foster greater global connectivity.

Xi made his ambitions for the Belt and Road Initiative clear at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, when he defended globalization and called for countries to work together to tackle the world's many uncertainties.

"We should join hands and rise to the challenge," he said. "History is created by the brave. Let us boost confidence, take action and march arm-in-arm toward a bright future."

The main tangible elements of the initiative so far are the Silk Road Fund, for which the Chinese government pledged billion in 2014 for investment in countries along the routes, and also the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, whose founding members include many Western countries, including the UK, France and Germany, along with leading Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and Vietnam.

Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at Australian National University who was an adviser to former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, believes the forum will be about making clear that the initiative is for everyone, not just China.

"For it to work, it has got to be something that has wider ownership and acceptance than just being a Beijing initiative," he said.

"It has the potential to be something very significant. The countries participating will be involved in creating a vision and framework for globalization for the next few decades. So it is of immense significance."

Joint development

Tom Miller, senior Asia analyst at Gavekal Research and the author of a new book, China's Asian Dream: Empire Building Along the New Silk Road, agrees the aim will be to make clear that the initiative is very much about joint development.

"The mistake you can make about the Belt and Road Initiative is to think it is purely a Chinese project," he said. "It can't be just that, because whatever China is doing, it is doing with enterprises in other countries. So it has to be about joint development."

Edward Tse, founder and CEO of management consultancy Gao Feng Advisory, believes the Belt and Road is still at the formative stage, and the forum will include a progress review and provide a forward vision.

"It is critical for the whole initiative. These leaders are coming together to discuss where to go next. Belt and Road started off as a concept, but the concept changed very quickly into some very tangible ideas like the AIIB and the Silk Road Fund and some very real infrastructure projects," he said.

"We don't have 100 percent clarity as to what it is or will evolve into; on the other hand, the participants have a lot of aligned interests and will want to be part of it."

Some critics of the initiative have seen it as China trying to exert greater geopolitical influence.

Shen Dingli, professor of international relations and executive dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, rejects this notion.

"We have no geopolitical agenda. It is not a strategy. At first it was bilateral, but it can also be China working with two or more countries, and it can also include projects in which China is not involved at all," he said.

"If they want to be involved, Japan can also bid for projects and be part of it. It is a global interconnectivity initiative. China does not have to be involved at all, but it is the country that initiated it, that's all."

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