President Xi Jinping's keynote address to the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation laid out a bold vision for a new era of international cooperation by positioning China as a champion of a more inclusive and balanced form of globalization.
The speech set the ambitiousness of the initiative against the scope of Chinese history, linking the Silk Road's origin over 2,000 years ago to the opening of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) last year. He spoke of the 15th-century Chinese navigator Zheng He and treasure ships, the ancient cultures of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, as well as Buddhism's spread from India to China and beyond. He noted that the ancient Silk Road embodied the spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and benefit—goals expected with the creation of the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (Belt and Road). Goals that prove that interdependence and a desire for a better future by aligning development strategies and leveraging the strengths of participating nations enhance cooperation.
Xi's speech reiterated a defense of economic globalization given in his keynote address delivered at the World Economic Forum's meeting in Davos in January. In his Belt and Road forum speech, Xi offered a significant alternative to the rising anti-globalization sentiment symbolized by the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. He also offered the world predictable and stable leadership in the wake of continuing U.S. unpredictability and instability caused by the United Kingdom's exit from the EU.
Against a growing anti-globalization trend, Xi's speech accentuated China's view of both its responsibility to the world and its rising international influence. Xi laid out China's aspiration to lead economic globalization and global economic governance toward a direction of win-win cooperation and mutual benefit. As Xi noted, "Opening up brings progress, while isolation results in backwardness…We should build a platform of cooperation and uphold and grow an open world economy."
Xi offered a sweeping vision of new mechanisms for increased economic integration, more funding for connective infrastructure, and new instruments for policy coordination with regions of the world regularly neglected through infrastructure development, trade and people-to-people exchange programs. Additionally, he called for the establishment of a fair, equitable and transparent system of international trade and investment rules so as to develop a broad community of shared interests.
Xi's speech provided a clear contrast between Chinese-style economic globalization development objectives and those of the West. Global growth requires new drivers, development needs to be more inclusive and balanced, and the gap between the rich and the poor needs to be narrowed. The Belt and Road Initiative meets all of these requirements with its pursuit of intercontinental cooperation and economic integration. It is currently the world's largest economic integration plan. Spanning over more than 65 countries across four continents, the Belt and Road Initiative has the potential to raise the standard of living for almost 70 percent of the world's population. If the Belt and Road Initiative is even as half as successful as expected, it will still be the biggest infrastructure and economic development project the world has seen in generations and as significant in global impact as China's own reform and opening up in the late 1970s.
While the Belt and Road Initiative is still a work in progress, Xi's signature program must be seen as a positive enterprise that may very well usher in a new era of economic globalization for the 21st century. The very fact that the Belt and Road Initiative is getting so many different responses is a watershed event for Chinese foreign policy and underscores China's global leadership. Foreign leaders, NGO representatives, experts and policymakers are all discussing and, most importantly, accepting this China-led policy proposal. The Belt and Road Initiative should be welcomed as a counter to growing protectionism and anti-globalization efforts.
The author is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston
Copyedited by Dominic James Madar
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