Jointly Building the Belt and Road: Connotation, Significance and Think Tanks’ Mission

2017-05-05, by Cheng Guoqiang, from Development Research Center of the State Council, P.R. China

I. Facilitating the Recognition of the Core Connotation of the Belt and Road Initiative

During his visit to Central Asia and Southeast Asia in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the initiative of jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (hereinafter referred to as the Belt and Road Initiative), which have attracted close attention and active response from the international community. The “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road” (hereinafter referred to as “Vision and Actions”) issued by the relevant departments recently expounds the visions, goals, tasks, mechanisms and actions of this initiative. However, due to the influence of the political complexity in the world nowadays, some countries are still in doubt about the initiative. Some misreading or even misinterpretation of the initiative need to be cleared up gradually. We hold that we need to pay close attention to the concerns and doubts of all parties involved and promote trust, dissolve doubts and build consensus by means of deepening exchange and cooperation as well as communication and coordination. In particular, we should facilitate the recognition of the core connotation of the Belt and Road Initiative, namely, “openness, inclusiveness, mutual benefit and joint construction”, on the basis of carrying on the Silk Road Spirit of “peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit”.

First, openness. This is the fundamental spirit of the ancient Silk Road. It is also the core concept of the Belt and Road Initiative. In other words, the construction of the Belt and Road is open to all countries, economies, international organizations, regional cooperation mechanisms and non-government institutions. In terms of institutional arrangement and mechanism design, no closed circles are allowed. This initiative is not exclusive. Great efforts are particularly needed to facilitate investment and trade of all participating countries and economies so as to reduce investment and trade cost and build the new driving force for growing markets and sustainable development while opening to each other.

Second, inclusiveness. This is a typical feature different from other cooperation organizations or mechanisms. On the one hand, it means the diversity of all participants in the initiative. It is different from other cooperation mechanisms and not meant to target any third party. Nor does it set any threshold requirements for participation. All countries or regions willing to join the initiative will be the participants, builders and beneficiaries of the initiative. On the other hand, it means the diversified cooperation modes. It does not set any strict or unified rules for participation. For the need of expanding economic and trade cooperation and common development, all participants may adopt various modes of cooperation such as bilateral, multilateral, intra-regional or inter-regional, diversified, multi-areas and multi-tiered cooperation. Construction of any particular project may invite cooperation from the local enterprises along the Belt and Road, businesses from western countries and relevant international organizations and form a community of shared interests. The inclusiveness of the Belt and Road Initiative determines its advantage of being inclusive, which means it will not proactively challenge the existing regional cooperation mechanisms, but, on the contrary, will align well the current mechanisms.

Third, mutual benefit. This is the fundamental force driving the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative. Any regional cooperation idea will have lasting vitality and broad prospects only with the realization of mutual benefit and win-win results. Mutual benefit is the driving force for all cooperation to be achieved and maintained. Therefore, the initiative should be promoted in a way that all participants, including China, do not engage in zero-sum games, benefit-grabbing or colonial expansion. It also requires that all participants should not engage in beggar-thy-neighbor mercantilism or dumping commodities in the name of opening-up and free trade. We should promote complementarities and realize benefit sharing and common development.

Fourth, joint construction. This is the basis guaranteeing the sustainable development of the Belt and Road Initiative. From the historical point of view, created and extended by the Han Dynasty government, the ancient Silk Road was not dominated by a particular government. Rather it mainly served non-government merchants for doing business. Therefore, the ancient Silk Road Spirit implies the features of joint construction and benefit-sharing. The Belt and Road Initiative is the continuity and extension of the ancient Silk Road Spirit. Initiated and actively promoted by China, the Belt and Road Initiative is actually a project of joint consultation, joint construction and benefit-sharing, which will benefit all participants. It is not a development program, or the so-called Chinese version of the “Marshall Plan”. With respect to the specific institutional arrangement for mutual connectivity such as policy communication, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds, and with regard to the achieving approaches, cooperation contents, and phased objectives, all parties involved need to be engaged in joint consultation, participation, construction, and benefit-sharing so as to create a community of shared interests, development and even destiny.

II. Great Significance in Promoting the Initiative of Joint Building the Belt and Road

The newly issued document, “Vision and Actions”, truly reflects our intention to carry on the ancient Silk Road Spirit. It is a representation of the great economic vision for opening-up and cooperation between all countries along the Belt and Road. There is great realistic significance in further promoting the Belt and Road Initiative.

First, the Belt and Road Initiative will contribute to building a new pattern of all-round opening-up in China. This initiative will enable China to further expand and deepen its opening-up and improve its open economy. It is the specific practice of implementing a more active opening-up strategy. It aims at promoting orderly and free flow of economic factors, highly efficient allocation of resources and deep integration of markets; encouraging the countries along the Belt and Road to achieve economic policy coordination and carry out broader and more in-depth regional cooperation of higher standards; and jointly creating an open, inclusive and balanced regional economic cooperation architecture that benefits all. Thus, it will help China adapt to the new situation and requirements of the era for economic globalization and regional integration. It will further promote the building and improvement of the open economic system featuring mutual benefit, win-win results, balanced diversity, as well as security and efficiency. It will help develop a new system for the open economy of higher standards. In the meanwhile, based on the overall framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, China will give full play to the comparative advantages of all regions in China and further improve the economic positioning and distribution of the five regions in China such as northwest, northeast, southeast, coastal areas and Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, as well as inland areas. We all need to strengthen the cooperation between the east and west regions so as to fully unleash the inland potential of opening-up, improve the opening-up level, build a new pattern of all-round opening-up, and promote the sustainable and sound development of China’s economy.

Second, the Belt and Road Initiative will provide new driving force for China’s economy as well as the world economy. The Belt and Road Initiative will connect the two ends of Eurasia, linking closely the developed European economic circle and the most dynamic economic circle of Southeast Asia. It will promote the development in Central Asia, West Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, facilitating the formation of an integrated Eurasia market with further influence on the regions in Africa. Historically, the Silk Road had been the most important route for trade. In the world nowadays, all economies are closely connected with the world economy thanks to globalization. The Belt and Road Initiative enables countries along the Belt and Road to complement with each other in their respective strengths by giving full play to every country’s resource endowment, which will greatly improve the vitality of the world trade system. This process is also the phase where China will realize the mutual benefit and win-win results with the rest of the world. For China, the Belt and Road Initiative will have great significance in promoting China’s economic restructuring and upgrading, locating new economic growth areas, and cultivate new growth poles for regional economy. For the world, the cooperation projects and implementation of the measures for promoting the initiative will have broad spillover effects for the countries along the Belt and Road. This will narrow the gap of regional development and speed up regional integration. After over 30 years of opening-up and reform, China has grasped good opportunities in the international industrial adjustment of labor division, combing China’s advantages in market and labor with the advantages in capital and technology of the developed countries. China has undertaken the industrial transfer from the developed economies and achieved rapid economic growth. The valuable experience gained in practice, combined with the current advantages in capital, production capacity and technology in China, will generate advantages for cooperating with other countries. This will greatly improve the level of opening-up and cooperation. In doing so, the joint achievements from the Belt and Road Initiative will benefit more regions, with broader spillover effect on more countries. This will definitely inject new dynamic to the world economic growth and pump positive energy into the world peace and development.

Third, the Belt and Road Initiative will make great contribution to the regional development of Asia, Europe and Africa, as well as the peace and development of mankind. The Belt and Road Initiative is the road of win-win cooperation facilitating common development and prosperity. It is the peace and friendship road of enhancing mutual understanding and trust, strengthening all-round exchanges. It is the need of all countries in Asia, Europe and Africa to enhance mutually beneficial cooperation with the world. China is committed to shouldering more responsibilities and obligations within its capabilities, and making greater contribution to the peace and development of mankind. By doing so, it manifests China’s spirit of shouldering responsibility as a great power. There are over 60 countries in the region covered by the Belt and Road Initiative, with 4.4 billion population, about 63% of the world total. The Belt and Road Initiative aims to promote the connectivity of Asian, European and African continents and their adjacent seas, establish and strengthen partnerships among the countries along the Belt and Road, set up all-dimensional, multi-tiered and composite connectivity networks, and realize diversified, independent, balanced and sustainable development in these countries. The connectivity projects of the Initiative will help align and coordinate the development strategies of the countries along the Belt and Road, tap market potential in this region. Focusing on transport infrastructure construction and priority cooperation domains, the Belt and Road Initiative meets the practical needs of Eurasia. This is particularly true for Asia, where many countries and regions are in urgent need of upgrading and improving their infrastructure. Enhancing the investment in infrastructure construction constitutes a new economic growth area by itself, which will promote the economic development of the countries in the Belt and Road region. It will also further promote investment and consumption, creating more demands and job opportunities, which will lay a solid foundation for the future development of all countries in the region. According to the multiplier effect of infrastructure construction, every $1 billion investment in infrastructure construction will create 30 to 80 thousand job opportunities, and bring about $2.5 billion in GDP growth. The mission of the Belt and Road Initiative is to promote the development of two-thirds of the world population, to benefit all people in the countries along the Belt and Road, and make great contribution to the development of mankind.

Fourth, the Belt and Road Initiative is good for optimizing and innovating mechanisms for international cooperation and global governance. At the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2015, President Xi Jinping pointed out in his speechin promoting this initiative, China will follow the principle of wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. The programs of development will be open and inclusive, not exclusive. They will be a real chorus comprising all countries along the routes, not a solo for China itself. To develop the Belt and Road is not to replace existing mechanisms or initiatives for regional cooperation. Much to the contrary, we will build on the existing basis to help countries align their development strategies and form complementarity. In the meanwhile, the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative will be achieved mainly by coordination of objectives and policy communication. Cooperation featuring diversified opening-up does not pursue unified goals or strategies. High degree of flexibility and adjustability will be allowed. Therefore, the Belt and Road Initiative is not targeted at any particular third party, but open to any country in the world. It calls for the effective connection with other cooperation organizations or mechanisms. It also calls for the active exploration in innovating new type international cooperation and global governance. It is intended to resolve the dilemma where the authority, effectiveness and timeliness of global governance are unable to meed the need in reality. It is also intended to meet the expectation of developing countries, especially the emerging economies to reform the global governance mechanism. Jointly building the Belt and Road is the practice of establishing a new type of international relation with win-win cooperation as the core. It is not only good for building closer relations among countries in Asia, Europe and Africa in a new form, which upgrades mutually beneficial cooperation to a new historical high, but is also good for countries involved to join hands in coping with the real-life threats of trade protection, climate change, poverty and extremism, which provides a global public good in concerted efforts. In the interests of the world community, jointly building the Belt and Road reflects the common ideals and pursuit of human societies. Quickening the building of the Belt and Road will promote the economic prosperity of the countries on the routes and regional economic cooperation. It will boost the peace and development of the world and benefit all people worldwide.

III. Think Tanks’ Mission: Deepening Cooperation and Providing Support for Jointly Building the Belt and Road

As the public good benefiting social and economic development of all participating countries, the Belt and Road Initiative is the common course for all countries on the routes. The realization of the great vision of the initiative calls for the joint efforts of all countries hand in hand to achieve the goal of mutual benefit and common security. The current focus lies in promoting the mutual connectivity of policy communication, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds. Enhancing the exchange and cooperation among the government think tanks of the countries along the Belt and Road, and giving full play to the professional research capability and their influence on governments and the public, will have great significance in promoting policy communication, people-to-people bonds among the countries and laying solid foundation for further cooperation.

On the one hand, deepening the cooperation among the think tanks of the countries along the Belt and Road will facilitate all parties involved to seek a conjunction of interests and the “biggest common denominator” for cooperation. The basic work for better policy communication and coordination is to thoroughly understand the concerns and appeals of the countries on the routes and pinpoint the conjunction of interests of all parties involved. Only through thorough communication and exchange, can all countries along the Belt and Road understand everyone’s intents and wishes. Only after the appeals and difficulties are made understood, can the conjunction of interests be pinpointed so as to seek the right approach to achieve mutual benefit and win-win results. Then proper policy measures can be formulated for solving the problems so as to achieve mutual benefit and win-win results.

Think tanks are able to play a particular role in promoting policy communication, even people-to-people bonds. Having both professional research ability and advantage in influencing governments and the public, and being independent and detached, think tanks serve as the bridges connecting governments and the public, policy and academic research. For example, in Europe and America where regional cooperation develops quite well, think tanks have frequent communication and cooperation, which plays an important role in policy communication and coordination. Think tanks not only help government with policy making by means of their professional research, but also disseminate and introduce their research findings via all sorts of media. This helps businesses, social organizations and the public get to know and understand government policy, which plays an important role in narrowing the gap of mutual understanding between countries.

Therefore, we suggest to build a think tank cooperation network for the Belt and Road Initiative. Through cooperation in research, forum discussion and more other approaches, difficulties, problems, expectations and appeals of all countries along the Belt and Road will be heard so as to facilitate all participants to pinpoint the conjunction of interests and take targeted measures for cooperation and problem solutions.

On the other hand, enhancing the exchange between think tanks facilitates policy communication, trust enhancement, doubts elimination and consensus building. Historically, the Silk Road is the classical model for communication and exchange. Asian and European people were the predecessors of intellectual exchange and mutual learning. As times change, we lag far behind Europe and America in intellectual exchange and policy communication, which limits, to some extent, the common development of Asian countries. Jointly building the Belt and Road will encounter numerous practical difficulties and potential challenges. Only with enhanced mutual understanding among governments and their people, can doubts and misunderstanding be eliminated, can we promote innovation in ideas, consultation in policy making, negotiation, communication and plan design. Compared with government institutions, non-government organizations like think tanks are more capable in providing convincing research results and policy interpretation, and are more acceptable by all. Therefore, the platform advantage of the think tank network for the Belt and Road Initiative should be fully developed. By means of joint research, forum discussions, training sessions, and exchanges and visits, we can better understand and recognize the goals, contents, modes of this global public good jointly built through consultation, and its relations with the existing regional mechanisms. Only by doing so, can we promote all countries on the routes to enhance trust, eliminate doubts, build consensus so as to facilitate mutual political trust and policy coordination among the countries. 

In the meanwhile, the establishment of the think tank network for the Belt and Road Initiative will promote the normalized and institutionalized think tank cooperation system, facilitating us to carry on the spirit of friendly cooperation of the Silk Road and also to lay a foundation in the public for deeper bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

The establishment of the think tank network for the Belt and Road Initiative should follow the principle of joint building through consultation to achieve mutual benefit and win-win results with focused working areas and gradual progress. The main ideas are as follows.

First, we should establish an open think tank network integrating the available resources of domestic and international think tanks. We suggest to set up an open international think tank network where China’s think tank takes the lead and invites the authoritative think tanks of the countries along the Belt and Road to join. By promoting the cooperation among the think tanks of the countries on the routes, a main framework for international think tank network need to be established. In the meanwhile, other related think tanks in China are also coordinated as the supplementary parts of China’s major think tank to play the coordinating role and form a joint force. 

Second, reform and innovation in international exchange and cooperation modes among think tanks should be promoted. The basic objective is to promote the exchange and cooperation, enhance trust, eliminate doubts, build consensus among the think tanks of the countries on the routes as to provide policy support for the Belt and Road Initiative. With respect to cooperation mode, various modes are welcomed such as entrusted research, funded research and joint research. Third, the system of regular dialogue between think tanks, personnel exchange and joint research should be established. With the international think tank network as the platform, we need to establish the mechanisms for research exchange, joint publication of research results, jointly holding small-scale seminars. We also need to set up the mutual visit mechanism for think tank experts with an emphasis on supporting the academic visits and training for think tank experts of the countries on the routes. We need to establish the mechanism for joint research. By means of entrusting, funding and inviting think tank experts in countries involved to start research so as to make known the difficulties, problems, expectations and appeals of the countries along the Belt and Road, and then propose solutions and measures accordingly.

Fourth, we need to hold international development forum for the Belt and Road Initiative. With the international think tank network as the platform, we need to hold annual international development forum for the Belt and Road Initiative, where the development ideas and experiences of China and other countries are shared, further discussions are conducted about the Belt and Road Initiative and about the related issues of the development of countries involved so as to create a high-end platform for comprehensive research and discussion for governments, industries and academia of the countries along the Belt and Road.