Observations on Working Together for High-Quality Development of the Belt and Road Initiative

Ning Jizhe

The grand Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping is an innovative endeavor to carry on the heritage of the ancient Silk Road, which is a fruit of human history and civilization, drive forward the development of a community with a shared future for mankind, which is the right path of the evolving world situation, and inspires the historical trend of peace, development, and win-win cooperation, which is a boost to the strategy of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Belt and Road cooperation is not only a big platform for China’s major-country diplomacy and global international cooperation, but also a major strategy and priority task for China’s opening-up. As stated by President Xi Jinping at the 3rd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation on 18 October 2023, China will work with all parties involved to deepen Belt and Road partnerships of cooperation, usher this cooperation into a new stage of high-quality development, and make relentless efforts to achieve modernization for all countries.We will put into practice what is called for in the important remarks of President Xi Jinping, take stock of the successful experiences of Belt and Road cooperation in the past 10 years and implement the key outcomes of the 3rd Belt and Road Forum in order to make continuous progress in the high-quality development of the BRI. Here are some preliminary observations: 

1.Have a global vision and build a community with a  shared future for mankind.

Mankind is an interdependent community with a shared future. China will be better off only when the world is better off and vice versa. Over the past 10 years since the launch of the BRI, China’s economic and trade ties have grown stronger with the partner countries, the Chinese enterprises with overseas investment have contributed to the economic development and people’s livelihood in the host countries and the imports of goods and resources from the partner countries have also promoted China’s opening-up and development. Over the past decade, China’s economy grew at an average of over 6% annually. Pre-Covid global economic growth averaged at 3.8% annually. China’s economic growth contributed 30% to global economic growth. The BRI has served as a practical platform for building a community with a shared future, shared interests and shared responsibilities for mankind with political mutual trust, economic integration, and cultural inclusion. It demonstrates China’s generosity and ambition for an even better world and meets the aspiration of all Belt and Road countries for working together against difficulties and for harmony. Looking forward, we will proceed from the  trend of human development, the pattern of global interactions and the history of China’s development, properly view and handle relations with the outside world, always consider Chinese people’s interests in the context of the common interests of the people in all countries in order to go deeper in the building of a community with a shared future for mankind. 

2.Be committed to peaceful development and make full use of both domestic and international conditions.

The development of a community with a shared future for mankind with the practical platform of the BRI is designed to push forward China’s reform and opening-up and long-term development. The BRI is a major initiative for China to open up across the board under the new historical circumstances. The past decade has seen transformation of the world unseen in a century, the havoc of Covid-19 and the climate change-related transitions. That has ushered in a new period of turbulence and transformation for the world and a crucial stage for the Chinese economy to transform development model, improve economic structure and shift growth drivers. At this critical stage, the world needs peaceful development, common development and recovery, and China urgently needs to build a new development pattern whereby high-quality development is to be achieved through opening-up at higher levels. 

As an initiative for economic cooperation, peaceful development and common development, the BRI is so timely.  Instead of the beaten path of some countries to achieve modernization through war, colonization and plundering, China has been working on development as the largest denominator and pursuing mutual benefit and win-win outcomes through peaceful development and cooperation, which benefits the people of partner countries and the Chinese people as well. The implementation of the BRI is hugely beneficial both externally and internally, bringing good to all countries in the world and also adding impetus to high-quality domestic development. Take the China-Europe Railway for example. With over 80,000 train trips already completed and over 7 million tons of goods transported, it links over 200 cities of 25 European countries to more than 100 Chinese cities and connects with Western China’s new land and maritime corridor and the China-Laos Railway, thus greatly promoting China’s regional opening-up and coordinated development and turning the old underdeveloped borders into the frontiers of opening-up.  

Going forward, we will as always be committed to the goal of China’s foreign policy which is to safeguard world peace and promote common development, and work for greater and more solid progress in the high-quality development of the BRI, in order to make new contributions to global economic development and create a favorable external environment for China’s modernization.

3.Work together to expand the great platform for international cooperation. 

Following the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, the BRI has overcome the differences between civilizations, cultures, social systems and development stages, blazed new paths for country-to-country interactions and built a new framework for international cooperation. 

Over the past decade, an increasing number of countries have participated in the extensive consultation on the BRI. To date, China has signed over 200 BRI cooperation documents with more than 150 countries and 32 international organizations. Over the past decade, the diversity of BRI participants has flourished, covering not only developing countries and emerging markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America but also developed countries in Europe and Oceania, not only sovereign states but also multilateral international organizations like the United Nations, and regional cooperation organizations like ASEAN, the AU and Eurasian Economic Union, not only national governments but also transnational companies, businesses, financial institutions, and non-governmental organizations like business associations and social organizations as well. Together, they build synergies backed by strong social support, with governments building the platforms and businesses playing the main roles. Over the past decade, remarkable achievements have been made in the joint development of BRI. From 2013 to 2022, trade in goods between China and BRI countries hit 19.1 trillion US dollars cumulatively, with an annual growth rate of 6.4%, higher than the overall growth rate of China’s foreign trade and global trade. Two-way investment totaled 380 billion US dollars, with China’s direct investment in BRI partner countries exceeding 240 billion US dollars and more than 140 billion US dollars in the opposite direction. The annual business turnover of China’s contracted engineering projects in BRI countries stood at 130 billion US dollars, or 1.3 trillion US dollars in cumulative terms. 
The BRI has gained widespread recognition as an international public good that promotes expanded trade, increased investment, economic growth and common development as well as peaceful coexistence and friendly exchanges among the people. It has also become a well-received international cooperation platform that advances equality, openness and inclusiveness and provides opportunities and mechanisms for consultation, coordination, mutual benefit, and win-win outcomes. The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF in short) has proved to be an effective platform for promoting practical cooperation through dialogue and exchanges. The 279 practical cooperation outcomes from the first BRF in 2017 and the 283 outcomes from the second BRF in 2019 have all been in place. The third BRF last year produced 369 outcomes, of which half have already been implemented. In the future, adhering to the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, we will work together to seek common ground while shelving differences, pool our wisdom,  expand converging interests, and aspire for even greater achievements. 

4.Promote connectivity to build the grand network for international cooperation.

The building of the global connectivity network covering land, sea, cloud and the internet, led by economic corridors supported by main passages and information highways, and based on runways, highways, airports, harbours and pipe network, has promoted the circulation of commodities, funding, technology and personnel among different countries. In the past decade, remarkable progress has been made in all-round connectivity across multiple fields and there is still ample room for further development.

First, we have deepened policy coordination. Over the past 10 years, the BRI's coordination with Kazakhstan’s Bright Road economic policy, Indonesia’s Global Marine Fulcrum initiative and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, to name just a few, has been hugely productive. In the future, coordination should be further promoted bilaterally, regionally and multilaterally to provide better policy support for high-quality BRI cooperation. 

Second, we have sustained efforts to advance infrastructure connectivity. Over the past decade, the development of the framework comprising “six corridors, six routes, and multiple countries and ports” has been fruitful. Maritime connectivity has steadily improved, the Air Silk Road has made notable progress, and the international inter-modality transport channels have enjoyed continuous development. The landmark projects, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Hungary-Serbia Railway, the China-Laos Railway and the Jakarta-Bandung High-speed Railway, have produced notable demonstration effects. Moving forward, we will follow the principles of high-quality, sustainability, risk-resistance, affordability, inclusiveness and accessibility to comprehensively enhance infrastructure connectivity in the BRI partner countries.
Third, we have promoted efficient trade. Currently, out of China’s over 140 major trading partners, more than 110 are BRI partner countries. ASEAN has surpassed the EU to become China’s largest trading partner in goods. Moving forward, we will further expand trade and two-way investment with BRI partner countries to continuously enhance trade and investment facilitation and liberalization. 

Fourth, we have promoted diverse dynamics of financial integration. As of the end of 2022, the China Development Bank had provided direct high-quality financial services for over 1,300 BRI projects. The balance of loans of the Export-Import Bank of China for BRI projects reached RMB2.2 trillion, driving more than US$400 billion of investment and over US$2 trillion of trade. In the future, we will continue to further broaden channels and improve mechanisms to establish a more diverse, inclusive and sustainable BRI investment and financing system.
Fifth, we will consolidate and expand people-to-people connections. Several brand cooperation projects have already been initiated, such as poverty alleviation through the Juncao agricultural technology, the Confucius Institute or Classroom, Luban Workshops and the Brightness Journey program. In the future, we will deepen cooperation in various fields such as education, culture, tourism, sports and youth, women, media, and think-tank exchanges to solidify the social foundation for BRI cooperation.

Sixth, we have steadily advanced cooperation in new areas. Over the past decade, significant progress has been made in the development of the Health Silk Road, Green Silk Road, Innovation Silk Road and Digital Silk Road. Moving forward, we will promote “hard connectivity”, “soft connectivity” and closer people-to-people ties. We will advance signature projects and small-scale yet impactful livelihood projects, and enhance practical cooperation in both the traditional and emerging fields with a view to building a higher-level, all-dimensional network of connectivity.

5.Adhere to high-quality development and take international cooperation to a new level. 

Thanks to hard work by all the participating countries, the general framework has been in place for implementing the BRI, and solid and tangible achievements have been made. And a new stage has come for focused efforts to flesh it out with concrete projects. What has happened shows that high-quality BRI cooperation requires an open, green and clean approach. We should be committed to open, green and corruption-free cooperation to achieve high standards, sustainability and improved livelihoods as a way to continuously advance the high-quality BRI cooperation. 

First, guided by openness and inclusiveness, we shall firmly oppose protectionism, unilateralism and hegemony. We will work together to promote comprehensive, multi-dimensional and grid-based connectivity so as to advance the development of an open world economy.
Second, in line with the global trend of green and low-carbon development, we shall expand the consensus on working closely for the green BRI. We need to deepen practical cooperation in green infrastructure, green energy, green transportation and green finance. China has pledged to cease construction of new coal-fired power plants abroad, with a commitment to green development and the Green Silk Road. 

Third, clean governance is an intrinsic requirement and necessary condition for the development of the BRI, and capital and projects should operate efficiently with transparency. The parties, governments and enterprises of China and the Laos have worked together for the demonstration project of clean development of the China-Laos Railway, with good outcomes of reduced costs and accelerated progress. In the future, we will summarize and disseminate the relevant experience and deepen the development of the clean Silk Road.
Fourth, in accordance with high standards, cooperation in all areas will be promoted to enhance the development of the BRI. The partner businesses and cooperation projects shall conform to the universally accepted international rules and standards, and business activities and project construction shall be in line with advanced international rules and standards.

Fifth, in keeping with the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, sustainability principles shall be incorporated into all aspects from project selection to implementation and management. So far, no country has fallen into a debt crisis as a result of BRI cooperation and no such thing will happen in the future. We need to build long-term, stable, sustainable and risk-controlled investment and financing systems to ensure project sustainability, both economically and financially. 
Sixth, we shall focus on poverty alleviation, job creation and better lives, and implement livelihood projects that are based on  people’s needs and increase their sense of gain and fulfillment. We will actively promote small but practical projects through foreign aid to improve people’s livelihood.

Looking ahead, we are committed to implementing the eight steps for high-quality BRI cooperation set out by President Xi Jinping at the 3rd BRF, namely, 1) building a multidimensional Belt and Road connectivity network; 2) supporting an open world economy; 3) carrying out practical cooperation; 4) promoting green development; 5) advancing scientific and technological innovation; 6) supporting people-to-people exchanges; 7) promoting integrity-based Belt and Road cooperation; and 8) strengthening institutional building for Belt and Road international cooperation. 

6.Pursue win-win cooperation and work for greater development and prosperity. 

In implementing the BRI, win-win cooperation is the only way to do big things well. As long as everyone has the will for cooperation and the action for coordination, natural moats can be turned into thoroughfares and underdevelopment can be turned into prosperity. 
We should note that win-win cooperation among BRI partner countries is based on complementarity. China’s strengths lie in industry, businesses, capital and infrastructure development. China has a complete industrial system, low-cost products, advanced applicable technologies, enterprises eager to go global, an overall savings rate of over 40%, and great experience and capacity for large-scale infrastructure development. The partner countries’ strengths lie in market, resources, labor and land. China and the partner countries have a lot to offer each other in terms of economy and industry, which lays the foundation for win-win cooperation in investment and trade and provides vitality to BRI cooperation. 

Over the past decade, China has worked on the basis of enterprises being the main players and the government being the guide, abiding by commercial rules and international regulations, thus deepening market-based industrial investment cooperation. By now, there are about 4,000 major projects of BRI cooperation, generating more than US$1 trillion in investment, most of which is market-based investment, so it does not create any sovereign debts for partner countries.
At present, global changes are accelerating and the international situation is undergoing profound adjustments. Anti-globalization is on the rise, and protectionism and de-risking activities have disrupted the international economic and trade order and market rules. A few countries are building walls and barriers, and unilateral sanctions have hindered international exchanges. In the long run, world multipolarity and economic globalization are irreversible trends, people’s aspirations for economic development and a better life will not change, and the trend of opening-up and international cooperation for win-win and mutual benefit is unstoppable. In the future, we must be committed to mutual benefit and win-win cooperation, deepen international industrial capacity and investment cooperation, expand bilateral, trilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation, focus on structural improvement and risk prevention, and draw strength from each other to ensure common development, prosperity and progress for all countries. 

7.Adhere to the Silk Road spirit and increase the soft power for the BRI.

The Silk Road spirit, characterized by peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit is the main driving force of the BRI. What has happened fully demonstrates that with the commitment to the Silk Road spirit, China has ensured that all countries are equal participants, contributors and beneficiaries in BRI cooperation, overcoming the differences among partner countries in nationality, faith and cultural background, and setting an example for win-win cooperation and common development, thus blazing a new trail for cooperation in achieving modernization. 

Faced with the unbalanced global economic development, the worsening global issues and the widening international gaps, more and more countries have come to realize that the situation of a few countries dominating the development of the world economy and economic rules must be changed, and that the destiny of the world should be managed by all countries together, international rules should be made by all countries together and global affairs should be governed by all countries together. Looking ahead, we must continue to draw wisdom and strength from the Silk Road spirit, work in accordance with high-standard international systems of market rules, build new international trade and investment rules that are fair, reasonable and based on win-win cooperation, actively participate in the reform of the global governance system, strengthen policy communication, think-tank research and publicity, and enhance the say and influence of China and other developing countries so as to continuously increase the soft power of high-quality BRI cooperation.  

 Ning Jizhe is Vice Chairman of China Center for International Economic Exchanges.