SYDNEY — China’s new “Belt and Road” strategy has enormous potential to create positive benefits for China’s neighbors but the plan will take time and a very careful approach is needed to make sure potential is maximized, according to one of Australia’s leading China commentators.
Merriden Varrall, director of Australian think tank the East Asia Program at the Lowy Institute, said the “Belt and Road” initiatives was an extension of partnership ideas that were first mooted in 2013.
“This is an extension of the work forum on Chinese diplomacy towards the periphery in October 2013 — quite important if not unprecedented since 1949. It suggests a real awareness of the importance of the peripheral neighbors and how China engages with them,” Varrall said.
“This ‘Belt and Road’ is not the only part of that but an extension. It’s that heightened awareness of how important that is. It reflects the growing significance that these peripheral countries have for China’s national development,” said Varrall.
Varrall said the Belt and Road initiatives has a very multi- faceted approach and needs to be coordinated because different projects along the route could affect each other.
“How does China translate something so vast and comprehensive successfully into action without one action over here having some unintended consequences for something else over there?” Varrall said.
“Chinese policy makers and Chinese commentators are aware of this but it’s putting this into practice. On a project level China still has some challenges with how it does some overseas bilateral aid projects so doing that kind of thing on a regional scale I think there is going to be real challenges for China and how to make sure this doesn’t have unintended consequences.”
Varrall said it was important for China to communicate its vision to the region and the rest of the world and explain the details of each project.
“China and the region, and China in particularly is going to have to continue — obviously Xi Jinping speech at the Boao Forum was a very important step — to communicate very clearly to the region and to the world, why it is doing it, how it’s going to do it, and what it’s going to do.
“There are real challenges in the implementation, there are great potential for benefits but the way in which the projects are designed and implemented, and by whom and in consultation with whom.
“China is very committed to the principle of partner countries driving their development projects. The challenge is making sure to get the representative views of the people who will be benefited or affected by the projects.”
“There is enormous potential for positive benefits but it will take time and a very careful approach to make sure they are maximized,” said Varrall.
“China’s approach to development has trade as an important component and they would be thinking of that holistically,” she added.
“It’s is an extension of an awareness of the importance of those periphery countries to its own development both security and economic and that it’s an ambitious plan and there is a lot of room for serious challenges to its success but that’s not to say that it can’t succeed,” she concluded.