BRI: Pro-active Constructive Economic Diplomacy


By Mr. Shakeel Ahmad Ramay, Member Board of Experts, Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad

China’s transition from a poverty-ridden country to second-biggest economy has taught one critical lesson “sustainable growth and development is only possible through cooperation”.China is cognizant of the importance of cooperation and is trying to create avenues to foster cooperation. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is interventions and it was initiated with the vision of shared prosperity by engaging in pro-active constructive economic diplomacy. China considers constructive economic engagement built on the principles of win-win cooperation is essential to pave the way for sustainable development and peace without indulging in conflict or war. It is contrary to the American approach of pre-emptive war or strike, which leads to nowhere. Thus, China kept BRI an open and transparent program, which led to the overwhelming response from the world. The official statistics show that 140 countries have joined BRI, and more than 32 international and regional organizations have also cooperated with BRI. Despite all the odds and negative propaganda, it is growing, and more countries and organizations are joining it. The expansion of BRIattracted more propaganda and negativity from the opponents. Now they have invented new tools like debt trap, human rights and environmental degradation etc.

Fortunately, the propaganda givesa new impetus to Chinese efforts, and China is further expanding and strengthening cooperation and BRI. China is not in the mood to compromise on BRI, which is evident from the recently held Asia-Pacific High-Level Conference on BRI Cooperation. President Xi Jinping, while addressing the conference,urged BRI members to work for open, green and clean cooperation through wide-ranging consultations. He further emphasized the importance of high-standard cooperation, focusing on improving the lives of people and promoting sustainable development. It is pertinent to mention here that people have always been a center to President Xi’s policy and speech. State Councilor and Foreign Minister, Mr. Wang Yi further highlighted that BRI is an open and transparent initiative. It is inclusive and welcome everyone to join, without any discrimination. Two speech provides the crux of the BRI and the efforts China is making to foster international cooperation and share its prosperity.

China’s commitment to cooperation and BRI is also evident from the investment during the COVID-19. When the world economy was shrinking and FDI was on decline, China kept investing in BRI programs. It provided a much-needed breathing space to many countries, including Pakistan, through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC related projects provided jobs to thousands of Pakistanis during the COVID-19, which was a great relief for Pakistan. It was made possible due to the continuity of work on CPEC projects. Moreover, China and Pakistan expanded cooperation during the COVID-19 and signed MoUs on agriculture and science and technology cooperation. Most recently, China and Pakistan also started work on the construction of two major dams in Pakistan. I am sure the same would be the case for other countries.

China also generously supported countries to combat the pandemic COVID-19. China provided necessary material to all countries, including 290 billion masks, 3.5 billion protective suits and 4.5 billion testing kits. China also provides the vaccine has already donated or sold more than 400 million doses of vaccine to 90 countries. However, the donation of vaccine, especially to less developed or developingcountries, was the main instrument of cooperation in the fight against COVID-19. It is worth mentioning here that China provided vaccine at a timewhen other leading countries were hesitating. China is also working tirelessly to convince the world to eliminate intellectual property rights and declare vaccine a common good. It is a dire needed step in the fight against COVID-19.

Despite all these efforts, China is still facing propaganda. Western countries are hell-bent blaming China for their own perceived assumption. They are also not hesitating to criticize Chinese assistance in the form of the vaccine. They are trying to dub it as vaccine diplomacy and are spreading rumors against it. Fortunately, China is not giving any head to it and keeps itself busy providing vaccines to other countries. Rather, China is putting efforts to turn this challenge into opportunity for humankind to build a more prosper world on sustainable development principles.

Mr. Wang Yi, State Councilor and Foreign Minister, deliberated on the subject. Mr. Wang’s speech can be summarized as,”although infrastructure constructions remain crucial, more attention will be paid to strengthen public health collaboration and ensure the reliability and security of supply chains, and enhance cooperation in innovation, technology and green development”. China considersthese interventions necessary as COVID-19 jolted the world economies and human life. Economic and health issues have aggravated the state of poverty. According to the World Bank report, Poverty and Shared Prosperity has projected that 88 million to 115 million people will be added to the extreme poverty (US$ 1.90) group. South Asia would be a major hit and bear the brunt of poverty. It was estimated that 63 percent of these extreme poor would be from the South Asia. If we change the poverty line from US$ 1.90 to US$ 3.20, the number will jump to 223 million at the global level, and South Asia will account for 71 percent. It is expected that the second wave of COVID-19, especially in India, will increase the number of poor.

Sustainable development and green recovery have been identified as key work areas to counter the COVID-19 and ensure that no one left behind. China considers it the most urgent and needed interventions to save the future of the human race and planet earth. Mr. Wang announces that China will be working to turn BRI into a green program. China had already started to work on it,and in 2020, China diverted 58.8 percent investment towards green energy and initiatives under the BRI.It is a concrete effort to transfer the BRI into a green initiative.  China is also making all possible efforts to align BRI with SDGs to realize the dream of sustainable development and no one left behind. On the domestic front, China, under the 14th Five-Year Plan, had committed to lower carbon intensity by 18 percent till 2025. Energy intensity will go down by 13.5 percent. The share of non-fossil energy will be dropped by 20 percent. Thus, it can be inferred that China will lead the way to combat COVID-19 and green recovery by practical steps. However, the key to success would be cooperation. Regrettably, China is not getting the required cooperation from the developed countries, especially from the USA, UK, Australia, France etc. Rather, they are trying to erect stumbling blocks in the way of China and BRI. It is evident from the communique of G-7 and NATO. G-7 had introduced the Better Build Back World (B3W) program, built on the anti-thesis of cooperation. It is exclusive and gives no weightage to other countries’ efforts. It is the unfortunate reality. The world needs to recognize that we all belong to one race, have acommon resource and most importantly we have common future. The challenges and common future of mankind urge us to cooperate. If we fail to cooperate, everyone will lose, no matter which country or ethnicity we belong.