The 25th of April will see heads of state, government, top diplomats and business representatives from all continents gather in Beijing for the 2nd Belt and Road Forum. Although organised by, and held in China, the Forum is the world’s most substantial gathering concerned with issues of trade, international development, multilateral cooperation, infrastructural innovation and cultural exchange. Not only is the Belt and Road Forum a larger event than G20 summits in terms of the number of countries involved, but its evolving format embraces a flexible and evolving approach to multilateral affairs that is largely absent in other multilateral gatherings outside of the UN.
As such, there is a great deal that can be discussed. Some of the main issues of concern that have an opportunity to be addressed include:
–Enhancing a rules based trading order at a time when some major economic players are embracing nationalistic protectionism
–Addressing how to more rapidly implement win-win trading agreements between developing nations hungry for economic growth
–Preparing the developing world to enter an age where quality becomes a priority over mass production
–Encouraging nations to decease trade barriers at a time when China in particular is welcoming historically high levels of imports and foreign direct investment
–Fostering greater cooperation across borders in areas concerned with technology, medicine and science
–Moving towards greater educational and cultural exchange among global trading partners
–Engaging in constructive discussions on how developing nations can move towards trading in currencies best suited to their unique interests and requirements
The very fact that a single Forum provides an opportunity for these crucial issues to be discussed at a high diplomatic level means that between the 25th and 27th of April, important ideas will be exchanged as well as important proposals which aim to find win-win and workable solutions to the most pressing challenges of the 21st century.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has specifically stated that his country welcomes input on key problem solving initiatives from as wide a variety of countries as possible, thus helping to emphasise that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a global effort that is built on multilateral foundations in which China seeks to enhance economic equality between nations at a time when protectionist proposals seek to create a more divided world.
Trade and economic cooperation in the pursuit of high quality development is the surest way to provide a better material environment for future generations as well as to avoid the military conflicts that plagued the previous century. Not only can military hostility be avoided by embracing the principles of peace through prosperity that help to define the aims of BRI, but the economically regressive results of cold war style rivalries can also be eliminated by embracing a spirit of cooperation that emphasises respect among all nations.
China has a record of promoting peaceful solutions to areas of conflict by encouraging win-win economic connectivity within the framework of BRI. Part of China’s three point peace plan for Myanmar and Bangladesh in the wake of the Rakhine conflict is delivering investment into both BRI partners whilst China continues to work with both countries on future connectivity projects that can help to generate long term sustainable economic growth. Such projects include the China-Myanmar economic corridor.
China and The Philippines have developed a new understanding in the South China Sea that will see both countries working jointly to benefit from the exploitation of maritime resources. As Iran and Pakistan just reached an agreement to jointly patrol their border, there is now an ever stronger possibility that Pakistan’s BRI project CPEC can now expand into neighboring Iran, thus creating a major east Asia to west Asia superhighway. Last year’s Ethiopia-Eritrea reconciliation after decades of hostility also demonstrates that the potential for greater BRI connectivity offers previously adversarial nations a great incentive to make peace for the sake of future prosperity.
China sets a strong example to both large and small countries by embracing and pursing a position of complete non-interference in the affairs of other nations. As such, China is able to set a positive example which runs contrary to a spirit of geopolitical coercion and morose geopolitical blackmail. As China continues to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, China’s existing record of rapidly eliminating poverty among an incredibly large population can help to inspire other nations to implement innovative methods to improve the condition of their people. At the same time, China is able to work with developing nations in order to tailor bespoke mutual proposals for development which address the specific material need and cultural characteristics of partner nations.
This flexibility that is part of the fabric of Belt and Road has helped countries as diverse as Indonesia, Kenya, Italy, Malaysia and Pakistan to upgrade, revise and improve multiple Belt and Road derived projects in accordance with specific needs. In this sense, Belt and Road encourages a positive and cooperative atmosphere among nations while eschewing any notions of competition and division.
This year’s Belt and Road Forum will witness historically high levels of participation from European nations. Italy has recently become the largest European nation to embrace Belt and Road while Greece’s participation in BRI has helped to expand the 16+1 format for BRI integration in Europe to a 17+1 format that looks to grow throughout the year and beyond.
The 2nd Belt and Road Forum is able to offer developing nations multiple options for increasing prosperity on a sustainable basis while also helping developed nations to engage in new trading opportunities that can help to replace stagnation with long term growth.