Beijing just hosted the 2nd Belt and Road Forum. The three-day summit gathered the leaders of 37 countries creating a platform for international cooperation to work out action plans for the implementation of the BRI
Last Thursday, the leaders of 37 countries and officials from many other nations landed in Beijing to attend the Belt and Road Forum chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping himself. The three-day summit was held to talk about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s large-scale project on trade and transport infrastructure development across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
This is actually the second conference on the initiative. The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) was held for the first time in Beijing in May 2017. It gathered 29 heads of state and government as well as the representatives from more than 130 countries and many international organizations.
The purpose of the meeting is to build a platform for international cooperation so that the BRI could develop in a “balanced international governance system”, as described by Wang Xiaotao, head of the National Development and Reform Commission.
Therefore, the forum is a significant step to work out action plans for the implementation of the BRI. It helps in identifying the major projects of the initiative and the objectives to pursue in the areas of infrastructure, production capacity, and investment. In addition to encouraging the signing of agreements between countries and organizations in themes such as financial cooperation, environmental protection, and exchange of talents and technology.
© Xinhua. Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan pose with visiting leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum during the welcome banquet.
The theme of the second BRF is “Belt and Road Cooperation, Shaping a Brighter Shared Future,” showing China’s intent to promote the high-quality development of Belt and Road cooperation with the help of a zero-tolerance policy on corruption.
The official opening of the forum occurred on Friday with top-level meetings. However, on Thursday, twelve topical forums and conferences were scheduled while Saturday was dedicated to a joint session attended by the participating heads of state. At the conclusion of the summit, a document is issued setting goals and principles for the initiative.
During the opening ceremony, Xi Jinping made the keynote speech’s debut by citing a line of a classical Chinese poem. “Spring and autumn are lovely seasons in which friends get together to climb up mountains and write poems,” began the President, welcoming his guests as friends with whom to build a magnificent project and with whom to face the related challenges.
Firstly, he listed the successes of the initiative that led to the construction of six corridors and six connectivity routes among multiple regions and ports. More than 150 countries and international organizations have already signed agreements on Belt and Road cooperation with the PRC while many development strategies have been enhanced too. Then, Xi Jinping reiterated the need to keep pursuing the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits while promoting also sustainable development.
Saturday, President Xi announced that many cooperation agreements worth over $64 billion were already signed during one of the conferences at the Belt and Road Forum.
He did not forget to mention Beijing’s five big missions to achieve during the implementation of the initiative. First, China intends to expand market access for foreign investments in more areas while also intensifying efforts to enhance international cooperation in intellectual property protection. Then, it will increase the import of goods and services on an even larger scale. And to conclude Beijing aims to engage more in international macro-economic policy coordination trying to ensure stronger implementation of opening-up related policies.
For what concerns the guests, European countries accounted for one-third of the BRF’s top-level attendees showing a growth of interest from Europe for the initiative, despite some pushback from Brussels.
The BRI has seen similar growth in Africa. In 2017, just two heads of state from African countries attended the forum. This year, that figure jumped to five, with the top leaders of Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Mozambique all present in Beijing.
© Unsplash. Kenya. Since 2006, the PRC has trained more than 57,000 agricultural officials, technicians and vocational education students for African countries.
Here, China has invested a lot over the last decades. Moreover, the construction of an even stronger union between China and Africa through the China-Africa Cooperation Forum (FOCAC) action plan is considered to accelerate the African integration into the BRI.
Since the constitution of the People’s Republic, Africa always played a key role in the Chinese plan to strengthen ties among developing countries. Then, in 2000, the building of FOCAC started a period of defining common political objectives and of mutual development goals. During the last FOCAC, China committed to contributing to the development of Africa with as many as $60 billion in loans and infrastructure investments.
Today, China represents Africa’s main commercial partner and over the last ten years, the Dragon invested in the region a total of about $125 billion. A contribution that not only inspires international partners to pay more attention to this continent but that also places the African nation literally within the Belt and Road project.
Actually, the BRI in Africa is integrated with the very ambitious “Agenda 2063” issued by the African Union. A project that aims to build a high-speed continental rail network, a single African airline, and a virtual African University. The final goal is to link the 54 countries in an area of free trade and free movement of goods and people together with a shared peace on the entire continent.
Therefore, the integration of the Agenda with the BRI is giving substance to the African aim justifying also the Chinese presence in the region. However, for the moment, the Chinese initiative is mainly interested in East Africa with its ports on the Indian Ocean, from Bagamoyo in Tanzania to Mombasa in Kenya as well as in Djibouti. But there are already agreements with Egypt and Morocco, where a free trade area has been created, and with Senegal.
© Andy Wong/AP. Workers perfect decoration in the shape of a train for the 2019 Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.
For what concerns Europe, instead, Xi Jinping is fresh from his latest visit to the Union in March. Some of the European countries already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Beijing including many countries from East Europe such as Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Estonia other than Greece, Portugal, and Malta. But during the last trip, the President managed to bring home other deals with Italy, France, and the Principality of Monaco.
Among the 12 European participants of the BRF, Italy attended at the forum as the first G7 country to have signed the MoU. But although Belgium is a reliable partner of China in the EU, its representatives were not among the attendees in Beijing. It was the first Western nation to provide the Middle Kingdom with interest-free loans and also the first country to establish an industrial cooperation fund with the PRC, but some clashes on the renewed Silk Road slow its full adherence at the initiative.
However, China-Belgium e-commerce and logistics cooperation are already growing stronger under the BRI. In particular, the Walloon region aims to become the European main distribution center for the Dragon. Indeed, last year, Chinese investment in Wallonia reached $397 million, top place in foreign investments in 2018.
Until now, in the EU, the Chinese government signed agreements mainly in Hungary and the Visegrad group, which is a cultural and political alliance of four Central European countries.
The goal is to strengthen ties among the “Three Bs”: the route that goes from Beijing to Brussels trough Budapest, in which Hungary aims to be the strategic partner in the heart of Europe.
Nevertheless, early this month, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was in Brussels for a brief summit with EU leaders. Then, he traveled to Croatia, where he participated in the 16+1 group of Central and Eastern European countries, the commercial formula that links to Beijing 11 members of the EU and 5 other countries still outside the Union and which has effectively become the East European platform for the implementation of the BRI.
This 21st Century Silk Road was initiated by China in 2013 with the aim of enhancing global cooperation through infrastructure construction, exploring new driving forces for world economic growth. The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, instead, is the platform where worldwide leaders could voice their expectations and projects on the initiative.
Therefore, the BRI has created a future-oriented dimension for the development of the world economy but it is through the BRF that China is testing the cooperation. Cooperation that aims to bring at the same table of discussion all the partners of a potentially globalized economy.
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