Reconstructing China and the World

----The Rationale behind the Belt and Road Connecting China and the World

Human history shows that the rise of great powers inevitably goes hand in hand with the introduction of cooperation initiatives and value systems to lead the world into the future. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by China carries out such a mission.
The advancement of the Initiative indicates that China has departed from the thinking that has logicality run through its modern history, such as the acquisition of Western knowledge while preserving the essence of Chinese philosophy, and the aspiration of catching up with and overtaking the West. China has become a world leader and an advocate of a community of common destiny, no longer concerning itself with whether the grass is greener on the other side.

Now the international community no longer refers to China’s rise in an abstract way. Instead, people talk about the Belt and Road. And, consequently, international discourse has expanded from the perspective of the modern era to the ancient Silk Road that existed more than 2,000 years ago. This development undermines Western-centrism. Indeed, the concept of creating a community of common destiny for all mankind goes far beyond the idea of universal values.

The Belt and Road is short for the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the oceangoing “21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.” As the name suggests, the BRI contains three key words: 21st- century, belt and road.

Lending credence to the 21st century, the BRI envisions a network of railways, roads, airlines, ocean shipping, pipelines, utility grids and communication networks that would form a comprehensive, multi-dimensional transportation network. Communications connectivity is its essence: The Internet of everything, human–computer interaction and the integration of air- and ground-based systems.


The “belt” relates to various models of China’s reform and opening-up policy, including economic belts, economic corridors and economic development zones. Jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt will proceed starting with individual projects that are expected to help spur larger-scale regional cooperative development.

Next is the “road”. The Chinese attached great importance to the building of roads during the country’s rapid economic expansion in the past decades. As a popular saying goes, building roads is the first step to prosperity. As such, freeways must be built for more rapid development; and more and more individuals should be connected to the Internet to accelerate the generation of wealth.

Furthermore, ancient Chinese philosophy associates the “road” with the “tao” (the “way” or more loosely, the “principle”) , believing that the road is the means to bring about the tao. Chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching (The Book of the Way of Virtue) by ancient philosopher Lao Tzu has this to say: Tao begets One (nothingness; or reason of being), One begets Two (yin and yang), Two begets Three (Heaven, Earth and Man), Three begets all things. A community of common destiny is the tao or “way” of today. The Belt and Road is not just one belt and one road. It is many, open, inclusive and shared by all.

All in all, the BRI is the culmination of China’s experience with “reform and opening up” over the past three decades and embodies the wisdom of a civilization of 5,000 years. Despite the initiative’s distinctive Chinese characteristics, it is becoming ever more appealing to other countries and is indeed of global significance.

The international community has given the Belt and Road proposal an enthusiastic response since its launch more than three years ago, demonstrating the profound changes occuring in the relations between China and the rest of the world.

1. Sharing China's experiences for shared prosperity

“China ought to make a greater contribution to humanity,” the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong said in 1956. People say that the BRI is fulfilling Mao’s expectations by disseminating China’s experiences in reform and opening-up, advancing industrialization and alleviating poverty. China wants the countries along the Belt and Road to be able to reduce their cost of learning, encouraging them to follow a path of development most suited to their conditions, to seize development opportunities and even pursue leapfrog strategies.

1.1 China’s “reform and opening-up” policy: accelerating reform by opening up, and opening-up through reform.

The rationale behind the BRI is to shift from opening China up to the world (mainly the developed world) to opening up the world (especially countries along the Belt and Road) to China. This process will accelerate the opening up of the world, in particular, South-South cooperation.

In fact, the Initiative has been pushing reform in countries along the Belt and Road and transforming the current international landscape.

Some African leaders, for example, urged their countrymen to change their habits given that Chinese high-speed rail does not wait for passengers. It is reported that Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta visits the Mombasa–Nairobi express railway and the Port of Mombasa once every three months to see how the Chinese exert leadership in construction projects.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank ((AIIB), a China-led international financial institution created to offer finance to infrastructure projects as part of the BRI, has also to some degree exerted influence on the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. The latter had taken reform measures to followAIIB’s aspirations to be “lean, clean and green.” All the while, a silent transformation is taking place within the global financing system because of the internationalization of the Renminbi.

The BRI is creating an open, inclusive and balanced regional economic cooperation architecture that benefits all and advances reform of global systems.

1.2. China’s industrialization: advancing infrastructure development and improving livelihoods

In 2010, nine years after joining the WTO, China overtook the US to become the world's largest industrial producer. Now its industrial output is 150 percent of the US and equals the sum of the US, Germany and Japan. This is where China’s confidence to launch the BRI comes from. Infrastructure, projects for the people's well-being and education sums up the features of China’s industrialization.

In terms of infrastructure, China has an edge in manufacturing, operation and management. Through the BRI, China is contributing to regional networks of high-speed rail, expressways and aviation, as well as the industrialization of infrastructure in Africa. Aiming at helping Africa break the vicious circle of poverty, China is also promoting the construction of projects for the people’s well-being and launching education and training programs. Starting with individual projects that are expected to help spur larger-scale regional cooperative development, and focusing on connectivity among ports, railways, roads and trade, the BRI aims to help Africa gain a drive for endogenous development, develop economic belts, push forward with industrialization and agricultural modernization, and thus promoting political and social progress in an all-around way.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a core component of the BRI, is helping Pakistan strengthen infrastructure, the country’s weak point. The project is envisaged to promote Pakistan’s industrialization and enable it to become a middle power.

1.3. China’s poverty alleviation: giving undivided attention to economic development

There have been many popular sayings in summing up China’s experiences of alleviating poverty. The Chinese attach great importance, for example, to the building of roads, freeways and online connectivity. Another popular saying about education goes like this: “We should not tolerate poor education even if we are poor.”

In some 30 years, China lifted over 700 million people out of poverty and contributed 70% towards the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goal on poverty reduction, creating a miracle in world development history.

In light of the priorities of African leaders, Up and Out of Poverty, a book written by Chinese President Xi Jinping, was translated into English and French and published at the end of last year.

At a China-Africa media and think tank symposium on 11th to 12th August 2016 in Mombasa, a Tanzanian journalist, quoting another of Xi’s books, The Governance of China, spoke highly of the “spirit of the nail.” You cannot drive a nail in simply by hitting it once, the book says, you need to hammer it repeatedly and with the help of the other hand. Perseverance, as an ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, put it, is to "Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish."

The abovementioned experiences demonstrate China’s ambitions in achieving innovative, coordinated, green, open, and shared development. This is essential to the building of a “green, healthy, intelligent and peaceful” Silk Road. If done well, China’s experience could help related countries take the road of sustainable development instead of following the beaten path of “pollution first, treatment later.”

That said, sharing China’s experiences should not only be done strictly on a voluntary basis and follow the principle of equality and mutual benefit, but also take into account local conditions, creating innovation-driven cooperative models while emphasizing localization.


2. China’s approach and aspirations

Referring to the distinction between mind and matter, the ancient Chinese text I Ching (Book of Changes) says: “Hence that which is antecedent to the material form exists, we say, as an ideal method, and that which is subsequent to the material form exists, we say, as a definite thing. Transformation and shaping is what we call change, carrying this out and operating with it is what we call generalizing the method ; taking the result and setting it forth for all the people under heaven is, we say, (securing the success of) the business of life.”

In other words, when you have an idea that will change the world, your next step must be to take action. Indeed, this passage serves as a philosophical elaboration on the BRI, the Chinese approach to globalization and global and public governance.

2.1 Globalization: inclusiveness, connectivity and nativeness
Departing from traditional neoliberal globalization, the BRI focuses on the connectivity of Asian and European continents, as well as land and sea.
Parag Khanna, a global strategist, argues in his new book Connectography that degrees of connectivity will determine competitiveness in the 21st Century. Global investment in infrastructure in the coming 40 years, the book says, will dwarf that of the past 4,000 years. Traditional globalization, primarily the removal of tariffs, can improve the world economy by 5% at most. However, a new form of globalization with a focus on connectivity will bring about 10-15 percent global growth.
As such, the BRI will act as a more powerful driving force for globalization. At the same time, it will promote the transformation of traditional globalization, making it an open, inclusive and balanced architecture that benefits all. In summation, the BRI is globalization of the real economy. It promotes development-oriented, inclusive and shared globalization.

2.2 Global governance: planning together, building together and benefiting together

The BRI is a new scheme to improve global governance as well as to rebalance the world economy. It reflects China’s principle of achieving shared growththrough discussion collaboration and sharing.

Firstly, the principle of planning together entails giving full play to the voices of countries along the Belt and Road in collaboration projects, giving due regard to the interests of various countries and building a community of shared interests.

These countries, irrespective of their size, strength and wealth, are equal, and all are entitled to raise proposals, reflect their concerns and exert influence on multilateral collaboration agendas. Meanwhile, no country is entitled to criticize the development path of other countries. Through bilateral or multilateral consultation, various countries can enhance the complementarity of their development strategies.

Secondly, China advocates building together which means sharing responsibilities and risks and creating a community of shared interests. After “planning together”, which is the first substantive step in the BRI, services should be provided for implementing the “going global” and “bringing-in” strategies. In order to strengthen the ability to develop themselves, relevant countries are encouraged to launch training programs after the introduction of foreign investment and technology.

Only after planning and building together can benefits of the Initiative be shared by the participating countries and a community of shared interests be built.
Through facilities connectivity, the BRI appears to be a remedy to the maladies associated with neoliberal globalization, leading the flow of hot money toward the real economy. This is meant to eliminate the roots of the global financial crisis and improve financial governance. Based on the belief that security engenders development and development enhances security, China advocates the concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.

2.3 Public governance: addressing both symptoms and root causes and enhancing coordination

The I Ching says that any circumstance hitting a limit will begin to change; change will in turn lead to an unimpeded state, and then lead to continuity. Today, unimpededness is the key to sustainable development and security.
Afghanistan is a clear case in point. Viewing the BRI as a blessing for the country’s peace and development, its government is intent on grasping this opportunity.

The Afghan government has expressed hope in reaping economic benefits from the country’s strategic geopolitical advantages. The country is ready to promote connectivity in the realms of fiber optic cables, transportation and energy, and take steps to promote policy coordination, comprehensive connectivity, infrastructure development, trade and investment facilitation, financial cooperation and people-to-people interations. Connectivity will highlight the country’s role as a hub of the Eurasian continent, and transform land-locked Afghanistan to a land-connected country.

Afghanistan can become a prime thoroughfare for China’s connectivity with Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and down to the Indian Ocean. With this promising future scenario in mind, China and Afghanistan are discussing the possibilities of extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan.
The BRI and the idea of building a community of shared destiny for humankind have been written into a United Nations Security Council resolution related to Afghanistan, hinting that the BRI – featuring oriental wisdom of comprehensive coordination and the treatment of both symptoms and root causes – could provide solutions for the long-term problems facing the Afghan government. Connectivity and regional economic and cultural development could ultimately change the country’s situation, breaking the curse of Afghanistan as the “Graveyard of Empires” and a geopolitical battleground, as well as the vicious circle of poverty and violence, setting an example for global and regional governance.

3. China’s commitment and its public goods for the world

Speaking of the man of perfect virtue, a Confucius saying reads: Wishing himself to be established, he sees that others are established, and, wishing himself to be successful, he sees that others are successful. The BRI embodies this spirit.

With the diminishing relative influence of America and Westernization, China as locomotive of global growth should make the best use of its advantages in production capacity, technology and capital. Its experience and economic models can also be turned into market and cooperation advantages. In doing so, China is offering a wide array of public goods to the world.

3.1 A material perspective: a material public good

China has been the world's major growth engine since the global financial crisis. Since then China has contributed an average of 30 percent of the world's economic expansion annually, twice as much as the share of the first runner-up the United States. China looks to continue its contribution to the world through the BRI.

The BRI provides strong support for the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in that it proposes building a global energy network and producing clean and green energy to meet global electricity demand. This undertaking has the potential to boost a region that will contribute 80 percent of global GDP growth and vault over 3 billion people into the middle class by 2050, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

Prior to the outbreak of the global financial crisis, the growth in international trade was about double that of the world economy. It is now, however, slower than the global economic growth rate. This dramatic change is an important factor leading to the reverse of globalization. The BRI is expected to generate an additional $2.5 trillion in trade volume annually over the next decade, a real boost or economic globalization.

Moreover, the BRI has promoted negotiations between China and relevant countries on free trade zones and investment agreements, 11 of which have been completed. In the process, the Initiative emphasizes integrating China into the development strategies of the countries along the Belt and Road and existing cooperation mechanisms, and promoting investment negotiations at the global level.

Speaking at a conference in Beijing on August 17, 2016, President Xi Jinping said that the BRI can be seen as an opportunity to promote transnational connectivity, raise the level of trade and investment cooperation and advance cooperation in sharing international capacity and equipment manufacturing. In essence, he meant that the BRI can create new demand by increasing effective supply and rebalancing the world economy.

Against the backdrop of a sluggish global economy, China’s huge manufacturing and construction capacity accumulated under procyclical fiscal policies can be utilized to support countries along the Belt and Road in advancing their industrialization and modernization and to improve their infrastructure.

3.2 An institutional perspective: an institutional public good

The Silk Road Found, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) and other multilateral financial institutions initiated by China have helped to bring about reforms on quotas and governance in the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These financial organizations and the BRI are a product of institutional design reflecting the idea of “originating in China but belonging to the world.” Apart from pushing for reform of the international monetary and financial systems, the AIIB is opening a new path for global governance – lean, clean and green.

Institutionally, the BRI focuses on the establishment of a network for mutual benefit, working out new modes of cooperation and creating a multifaceted cooperation platform. It also promotes policy coordination, road connectivity, unimpeded trade, currency convertibility and strengthened people-to-people ties. Building a "green, healthy, intelligent and peaceful" Silk Road is what the Chinese approach contributes to global governance.

3.3 A conceptual perspective: a conceptual public good

Rekindling the Silk Road Spirit -- "peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit" -- the BRI is a journey in search of a 21st-century value system and a way to build a community of common destiny, demonstrating oriental wisdom on global governance.

On March 17, 2017, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2344, calling for more coherent support by the international community to Afghanistan and urging further efforts to strengthen the process of regional economic cooperation, including measures to facilitate regional connectivity, trade and transit. These include regional development initiatives such as the BRI and regional development projects. The resolution urged all parties to provide a safe environment for the implementation of the BRI, step up efforts to develop policy connectivity and promote pragmatic cooperation. The resolution states that all parties should further regional cooperation in the win-win spirit to promote safety, stability and development in Afghanistan and the region, and build a community of shared destiny.

Prior to this, the Chinese concept of building "a community of shared future for all humankind" was incorporated into a U.N. Security Council resolution for the first time. The 55th UN Commission for Social Development approved a resolution by consensus, which calls for more support to Africa's economic and social development by embracing the spirit of building "a human community with shared destiny."

The idea of building a community of common destiny is congruent with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. It is also the core concept underlying a win-win approach featuring wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits in global governance. This approach goes beyond the idea that mankind has only one earth to live on, and countries have only one world to share. The idea highlights shared and interlinked destinies, not only materially but also with regard to hearts and minds toward beliefs and institutions. Regarding the latter, China advocates the idea of seeking common ground while shelving differences, and better still to increase common interests and dissolve differences. This is aimed at creating a new type of international society, a highly interdependent community of common destiny, a civilization featuring universal harmony and a world that is equally shared by all.

The famous opening lines of the14th-century Chinese historical novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, read: It is a general truism of this world that anything long divided will surely unite, and anything long united will surely divide.

Today, to unite means going beyond the limits of nations and their diverging interests to build a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation. The vision of fostering a community of shared future for mankind focuses on the development of human civilization and the promotion of a civilized order. This vision transcends the narrow perspectives of nation states, and establishes a holistic view of mankind. .
Human society is at a new starting point. Should our world become more open and inclusive? Or increasingly closed and polarized? This is the question of the 21st-century. China’s answer is that the world is connectable and offers a five-point connectivity proposal, namely, policy co-ordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people bonds.

Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius started with the freedom of seas to lay the foundations for international law. Instead of fighting wars over the land already carved up by Portugal and Spain, he offered a more inclusive approach which helped the Netherlands become the “Sea Coachman.”
More recently, Parag Khanna argued in his new book Connectography that competitive connectivity is the arms race of the 21st century.

Facilities connectivity, in particular, demonstrates the attribute of the BRI as a public good and its orientation towards development and improving livelihoods. According to statistics from the World Bank, developing countries now spend approximately US$1 trillion annually on infrastructure. It is estimated that at least an additional US$1 trillion of annual investment by 2020 is needed to maintain the current growth rates and meet future demands. An estimated $57 trillion in infrastructure investment will be required globally between now and 2030.

According to an economic model created by Justin Yifu Lin, former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, a rough rule of thumb is that for every dollar developing countries invested in infrastructure, imports of capital goods increase by 70 cents, of which 35 cents of goods comes from developed countries. So it is certain that the growth of infrastructural investments worldwide will increase exports of the developed countries and therefore expand the space for their structural transformation.

Chinese medicine holds that obstruction causes pain which is relieved with improved circulation. Likewise, problems of domestic and global governance more or less are a pain caused by obstruction or disconnectivity.

President Xi Jinping once said that if the Belt and Road are likened to the two wings of a soaring Asia, then connectivity is like their arteries and veins. The trends of global development show that connectivity carries the hope of economic development, global governance and globalization. The splendor of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing serves as evidence of the promise.

Wang Yiwei is director of the Institute of International Affairs of Renmin University of China, and professor at the University School of International Studies.

This article was originally translated and published in “THE“BELT AND ROAD” MONOGRAPH 「一 帶 一 路 」專 輯 2017” by China Energy Fund Committee(CEFC).