BEIJING — The Belt and Road Initiative China has proposed to revive the ancient trade routes that span Asia, Africa and Europe have invigorated China’s neighborhood diplomacy, a key pillar of its diplomatic layout.
The reason is the initiatives of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, unveiled by President Xi Jinping in 2013, are open and inclusive. They will not be a solo for China but a real chorus involving all countries along the routes, as President Xi put it.
TO BUILD COMMUNITY DREAM TOGETHER WITH SOUTHEAST ASIA
Over the past years, China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which have served as an important pivot of the Maritime Silk Road since ancient times, have mutually benefited from their free trade agreements on goods, services and investment, and are now jointly aiming for something bigger.
Their trade volume surpassed $480.4 billion in 2014, up 8.3 percent from the previous year, growing much faster than the average growth rate of 3.4 percent in China’s foreign trade volume.
China has set up technology transfer centers with Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand since 2013, while cooperation arrangements with Malaysia and Vietnam are also proceeding smoothly.
A total of 1,228 companies, research institutions and industry associations in such fields as agriculture and renewable energy have joined the transfer centers.
Infrastructure construction and connectivity enhancement within ASEAN are essential for the bloc’s goal to build an economic community and create a competitive market of over 600 million people with free flow of goods, services, investment capital and skilled labor.
As China’s Belt and Road Initiative meets the demands of ASEAN countries and have huge potential in fueling the bloc’s development, they have noticeably propelled the healthy development of China’s relations with its southeastern neighbors, steering them away from frictions over minor disagreements.
Chinese leaders have worked hard to align the Belt and Road Initiative with the development plans of the neighboring countries and paid successive visits to Southeast Asia.
In June last year, President Xi invited his Myanmar counterpart U Thein Sein to join the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative. This month alone has witnessed several high-level interactions between China and Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
A Lao official said his country’s national strategy has been upgraded to change its geographical disadvantages into advantages thanks to the Belt and Road Initiative and the planned China-Laos railway, which will help turn the landlocked country into a “land-linked country”.
Granting India full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at the 15th SCO summit held in Russia’s Ufa earlier this month has strengthened China-India ties and pragmatic cooperation.
Meanwhile, the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has won over most of China’s neighbors as founding members.
China and Southeast Asia are also jointly advancing people-to-people exchanges and the formation of an exchange and cooperation network composed of think tanks, NGOs, media, industrial and commercial circles.
TO CONNECT STRATEGIES FOR COMMON DEVELOPMENT WITH EURASIA
China borders Russia and Mongolia to the north and Central Asian countries to the northwest. These countries enjoy a friendly and mutually beneficial relationship with China and have an enormous stake in China’s security, energy demand and economy.
Since taking office in 2013, President Xi has visited Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia and other countries in the Eurasian region to show China’s priorities in neighborhood diplomacy featuring amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness.
Most of these neighbors, which have close economic ties with China, have expressed willingness to link their own development strategies with the Belt and Road Initiative.
Russia, a comprehensive strategic partner of China, has agreed to integrate its aspiration under the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) framework with the Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that dovetailing the Belt initiative and the EAEU’s development strategy bears immense significance for Russia and China, as it will help strengthen bilateral cooperation in advanced technologies, transportation and infrastructure.
Last year, President Xi and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev agreed to dock the Belt Initiative with the Path of Light economic strategy of Kazakhstan.
Mongolia also hopes to connect its ambitious Steppe Road plan, an infrastructure construction proposal to spur economic growth through trans-border transportation, with China’s Belt initiative.
Kyrgyzstan, located in the hinterland of Eurasia, expects to use its advantages to facilitate cooperation among countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt and play a positive role in the integration between the Belt initiative and the EAEU.
Meanwhile, the construction of the Tajik section of Line-D of the Central Asia-China gas pipelines is also a successful example of cooperation in building the Silk Road Economic Belt, which not only secures China’s energy supplies, but also benefits its neighbors.
TO BATTLE TERRORISM, BUILD ECONOMY ON WEST FRONT
Boosting the economy and battling terrorism are the top priorities in China’s plan to develop its west, which is not only less developed, but also the most volatile patch of land in China.
They are also the priorities in China’s cooperation with its western neighbors, for which the Belt and Road Initiative will unleash huge opportunities.
Regional countries have reacted positively to China’s proposals.
Pakistan, which lifted its ties with China to an all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation this year, was among the first to implement the Belt and Road vision by pledging to participate in the building of an economic corridor linking its Gwadar Port in the southwest to China’s northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang.
The megaproject, which is a network of highways, railways as well as pipelines to transport oil and gas, is economically vital to both China and Pakistan.
Cooperation over the project also provides China and Pakistan an opportunity to upgrade security cooperation and information sharing in the fight against the three evil forces of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism as Pakistan is considered a main gate through which terrorists manage to enter China.
To a large extent, the corridor, along which a large amount of economic resources and actors are concentrated, will expand trade routes between China, the Middle East and Africa, provide fresh and strong impetus for the region’s economic development, and is thus welcomed by some other regional players.
It also accommodates the interests of various players inside and outside the region, such as the United States, Russia and India.
It is hoped that in efforts to construct the project, all players will communicate and cooperate broadly to build a community of common destiny and achieve win-win results, while avoiding spurring suspicion of third parties.