Mekonnen Hailu /ABN/BM
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious program to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks along six corridors with the aim of improving regional integration, increasing trade and stimulating economic growth.
The name was coined in 2013 by China’s President Xi Jinping, who drew inspiration from the concept of the Silk Road established during the Han Dynasty 2,000 years ago – an ancient network of trade routes that connected China to the Mediterranean via Eurasia for centuries. The BRI has also been referred to in the past as ‘One Belt One Road’.
The BRI comprises a Silk Road Economic Belt – a trans-continental passage that links China with south east Asia, south Asia, Central Asia, Russia, and Europe by land – and a 21st century Maritime Silk Road, a sea route connecting China’s coastal regions with south east and south Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East and Eastern Africa, all the way to Europe.
The Belt and Road Initiative is a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government involving infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations.The initiative defines five major priorities including policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and connecting people.The program is expected to involve over US$1 trillion in investments, largely in infrastructure development for ports, roads, railways and airports, as well as power plants and telecommunications networks.
The BRI’s geographical scope is constantly expanding.So far, it covers a number of countries, accounting for about 65 per cent of the world’s population and around one-third of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).It is known that Italy is the first G7 country to sign to the scheme. As a midsize European country, Italy is keeping a subtle balance between the European Union and China since its signing of a memorandum of understanding on joining Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Understandably, this member of the G-7 might bear a great amount of multidimensional pressure and skepticism from outside due to the divided interpretations of the BRI within Europe, as well as the fact that Italy’s participation could somehow dilute the U.S. influence in the region.The Chinese government had signed 173 cooperation agreements with 125 countries and 29 international organizations by the end of March 2019, according to the latest BRI report in 2019 released by the country.
It has been said that the BRI offers unique opportunity to Africa. According to the World Bank, BRI offers a unique opportunity to address the large infrastructure gap in developing countries that hampers trade and economic development. Africa has hailed BRI in fostering connectivity and thereby accelerating integration and economic diversification on the continent.
Speaking at the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing, Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia Tan Jian said the BRI is a platform to promote global cooperation and common development based on win-win results. According to the ambassador, the initiative is in line with the United Nations sustainable development goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 that is a blueprint for African development and prosperity.
On the relevance of the initiative to the AU’s Agenda 2063, James Wakiaga, economic advisor at the UNDP, stated that the BRI is vital to address the infrastructure deficit in Africa. The Belt and Road Initiative is very important particularly in terms of closing the infrastructure gap and speed up structural transformation and diversification in the continent.
According to Professor Kassahun Berhanu from Political Science Department of Addis Ababa University, the initiative is envisioned towards increased understanding, enhanced recognition of multiculturalism and diversity, and peaceful collaboration for achieving mutually rewarding goals and objectives.
In May 2017, Kenya launched its first Chinese built high-speed railway so as to connect Nairobi to the major port city of Mombasa. The 290-mile railway was built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation. The project was financed almost completely by the China Eximbank. The railway is planned to extend to Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, South Sudan, and Ethiopia.
The BRI can be the engine of global growth and development if the giant economies of China and Japan – respectively the second and third largest – and other great economies like South Korea join hands to build a better future in cooperation with other countries along the Belt and Road.
As far as Africa is concerned, for many decades, the continent’s growth has been uneven and constrained by lack of infrastructure development. From this perspective the BRI is believed to be a good opportunity to overcome the hurdle and enable to promote transnational business, investment as well as tourism. Such infrastructures will spur other local developments and provide new jobs. In addition, apart from Chinese companies, multinational companies (MNCs) from other nations may also be attracted to set up subsidiaries to tap into new growth opportunities for the continent.In conclusion, the China’s Belt and Road Initiative isa very long-term undertaking with multidimensional impacts for the host nations and for China.
Mekonnen Hailu (EICPublic Relations Director)