TW Viewpoint | The Belt and Road InitiativeJune 5, 2019 | Stuart Wachowicz
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) refers to the overland Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road – a network rail and sea connections that has the potential to link Asia, Africa and Europe into the largest trading block on earth. It offers the very real opportunity to increase the collective prosperity for all who partner in this visionary enterprise.
The BRI was officially announced in the autumn of 2013 during President Xi Jinping's visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia. Even more remarkable than the visionary proclamation is the fact that within a five year period, much of the vision has already become a reality, with planning, engineering and construction completed at a pace that could only be dreamed of in most nations. By February 2019, already 14 000 trainloads of trade goods had passed between partners. Ports and pipelines are in place allowing strategic supplies to bypass the primary shipping lanes in the South China Sea and Straits of Malacca if a foreign power were to attempt closing either of those routes, as was threatened as late as February 2013.
The BRI aims to eventually link up to 65 countries, accounting for at least 30% of the worlds GDP, 62 % of global population and 75% of known energy reserves. (Belt and Road Initiative, World Bank, March 29, 2018)
In a very real way the Belt and Road is not dissimilar from the vision expressed by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in the development of the Atlantic Charter in 1941. The Charter laid out a future world order, emphasizing that nations would not make territorial gains from war, and to reduce the threat of war, nations would cooperate and support one another to develop prosperity through free or freer trade, and would develop agencies that would assure their collective security, like the United Nations. Economic development would be supported through agencies that became known as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and the World Trade Organization. Rules would be set to ensure fairness and opportunity for all to prosper, making war undesirable.
The current leadership of the world’s biggest power is undoing the agencies and institutions resulting from the Atlantic Charter, perhaps forgetting that the vision of Churchill and Roosevelt resulted in the greatest period of global prosperity and security the world has ever known, and also enriched the United States of America. Now “trade wars” and tariffs have replaced the concept of freer trade, creating the present economic instability.
China has offered a solution, one that has the potential to create a trade network in agricultural and manufactured goods, and a flow of raw materials that will be to the long term advantage to all.
Europe especially stands to benefit. Recently European nations, as well as those of South and Central Asia, and Africa have begun to embrace and agree to participate in the Belt and Road concept, seeing the potential of flow of investment, as well as providing markets for their agricultural and manufactured goods. Given continued harsh rhetoric on trade coming from Washington, more and more African and Eurasian nations are seeing the potential of this massive intercontinental network.
Recognizing the ancient Chinese cultural preference of mutually beneficial partnerships, rather than the current western proclivity to see only competition, will prove financially and socially more beneficial than talk of trade barriers.
Peaceful partnerships with well-defined rules will always provide greater benefit and pay bigger dividends than any other approach. The West, in seeing Asia as a competitor instead of a partner, is running the risk of being left behind and on its own, with the rest of the world united in ventures like the One Belt and One Road.
What we are witnessing is a shift from more than two and a half centuries of Anglo-American dominance over trade relations to an eastern led initiative which will likely result in a future massive global trading relation fostering growth of industry and resource development and greatly enhance trading relationships with peoples of many cultures. This seismic shift in the balance of power was foretold long ago in the pages of the Bible.