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Belt & Road Initiative

Updated April 29, 2019

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THAT China has transformed itself from a socialist giant into an economic powerhouse of the 21st century is not news.

However, what is noteworthy is the fact it now seeks to become a global player through its Belt and Road Initiative — an economic superhighway linking continents and cultures with China at the heart of the project.

And as interest from a growing number of countries has shown, the BRI could play a key role in shaping the socioeconomic and sociopolitical future of Eurasia and beyond.

The fact that 37 heads of state and government — including Prime Minister Imran Khan — attended the just concluded second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing proves that a growing number of states are seeking to jump on the BRI bandwagon and grab a slice of the pie.

It is indeed a massive initiative, envisioning an integrated network stretching from the shores of the Pacific to the heart of Europe, while extending to Southeast Asia and parts of Africa.

And CPEC is one of the key nodes of this network, reflecting both on the positive Pakistan-China relationship, as well as this country’s potential as a hub for regional trade and commerce.

However, while the BRI may hold immense potential for the regional, and indeed the global, economy, the projects under its umbrella must be transparent, and the benefits mutual to both China and the partner countries.

There have been accusations of Beijing practising ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ by ‘drowning’ partner states in debt.

There is evidence of Sri Lanka having problems with Chinese debt in a port project, while Malaysia under Mahathir Mohamed has renegotiated a rail project with Beijing on reportedly better terms.

To allay fears such, China and partner governments in the BRI must ensure that the terms of the projects involved are clearly understood and transparent.

In Pakistan’s case, there has also been criticism that the benefits of CPEC are not trickling down to all parts of the country. For CPEC to be a success, its fruits must reach all provinces, while Pakistan’s economy must benefit from the project in the long term.

Under the vision of functionalism and regional integration, the dynamics of international relations have been transformed.

For example, from the ashes of old Europe rose the European Union, in which former foes discarded their mutual animosity and worked for unprecedented integration.

However, while the EU project may be facing turbulence, regional cooperation under BRI can — by interlocking economies — be the harbinger of better ties and prosperity for the people of Eurasia and other regions falling under the project’s ambit.

South Asia, for example, can gain from mutually rewarding BRI initiatives. Indeed others, especially the US and its allies, who are mostly critical of the BRI, must let this ambitious vision become a reality and work to establish a complementary relationship.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2019