by Dr. Sebastien Goulard
On 23rd June 2021, the Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, chaired the Asia and Pacific High-level Conference on Belt and Road Cooperation. Political leaders from 29 countries, including the Columbian President, Iván Duque Márquez, as well as representatives of certain international organizations (UNDP, ESCAP, ECLAC) attended this online meeting. President Xi Jinping did not attend the meeting, but Wang Yi shared the remarks of China’s president.
Although the conference was obviously prepared much earlier, it is an answer to the G7’s, “Build Back Better World” programme, unveiled in early June. Participants in the online conference were keen to prove that the BRI is not an ideological project, as highlighted by Wang Yi, who stated that the BRI has “no political conditions attached to it” and allows equal consultation from all partners.
Due to the pandemic, no major on-site event could be held this year. As noted by Shannon Tiezzi, this conference has been slimmed down compared to previous BRI events, with “only” 29 countries represented from Asia and the Pacific region (including Columbia and Chile). However, it was still an ambitious conference, with two major points made by Wang Yi, aimed at continuing the development of the BRI.
Firstly, cooperation regarding health issues must be improved. Participants in the conference launched the Belt and Road Partnership on COVID-19 Vaccines Cooperation, with the aim of accelerating vaccinations in BRI countries. Since the pandemic outbreak, China has continuously supported other countries by supplying medical products from hospital gowns to masks. Subsequently, after producing several vaccines, China has distributed millions of vaccines abroad. The Chinese authorities have already stressed the need for cooperation to fight COVID-19. The Health Silk Road must be continued. For Wang Yi, BRI members need to cooperate to waive intellectual property rights on vaccines, so that every country can vaccinate its own population without delay.
The second point concerns the recovery of the post-COVID economy. The Belt Road Initiative can help countries limit the extent of the crisis. Firstly, despite the obstacles created by the pandemic, countries need to cooperate to reduce obstacles in supply chains and logistics. Free trade remains a priority for China.
Secondly, BRI members must elaborate upon solutions relating to green development, so that the post-COVID economy is environmentally-friendly. This can be done using new technologies and the introduction of green finance mechanisms. China is already financing solutions with the Green Silk Road Fund, and the state-owned Silk Road Fund gives priority to environmentally-friendly projects. China believes that other BRI members must develop similar initiatives to accelerate the adoption of green economy principles.