Unfortunately, the global economic crisis caused by Covid-19 is not over yet. Initial estimates made by the World Bank suggest that global growth may fall by more than 5.2% in 2020. The World Bank also expects that forty to sixty million people across the world will be plunged into extreme poverty.
Every economic sector has been experiencing a slowdown and the Belt and Road Initiative is no exception. At a press conference held on June 19, Wang Xiaolong, Director-General of the International Economic Affairs Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China stated that 40% of BRI projects had been delayed and another 20% had been seriously affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Does this mean that the Belt and Road Initiative is under threat as some media suggest? No, on the contrary, the world needs cooperation and collaboration more than ever, and the Belt and Road Initiative is one answer to this challenge.
Belt and Road International Cooperation video conference
On June 18, 2020, a video conference was held with representatives from 26 countries as well as the Director-General of the World Health Organisation(WHO): Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus ; and Mr. Achim Steiner, a United Nations official. Representatives from two European Union members involved in the Belt and Road Initiative: Greece and Hungary, also attended the video conference. The video conference was Chaired by Mr. Wang Yi, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi opened the conference with a written message from President Xi Jinping and stressed that for China, the current Covid-19 crisis should in no way prevent global cooperation .
The Health Silk Road
During this meeting, participants agreed to further develop the Health Silk Road. This is not the first time that the BRI’s health dimension has been highlighted. China has been working with the WHO since 2017 to strengthen medical cooperation along the new Silk Roads.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on other countries to work together to develop new mechanisms to better fight epidemics and reiterated China’s commitment to produce new drugs and vaccines to treat Covid- 19 pandemic.
In their press release, all the participants agreed that any possible Covid-19 vaccine should be developed and be made publicly available for the global common and thanked all medical staff for their dedication.
A Green and Digital Silk Road
State Councilor Wang Yi also stressed the need to make the BRI greener and more digital. Sustainable development goals will be achieved quickly and efficiently in areas such as the development of new smart cities by increasing cooperation among BRI participants.
China will continue to revive the world economy in a time of crisis by supporting the construction of infrastructure and thus increase connectivity between markets. Economic recovery requires the maintaining of strong supply chains and China has indicated that it is considering the creation of fast track lanes for cross-border flows of people (tourists, students, traders) and for goods coming from BRI countries. A conference between the Ministers of Transport from BRI countries will be held in the future.
An open world
Finally, Foreign Minister Wang Yi reminded delegates that there was no competition between the BRI and other multilateral initiatives, and that, on the contrary, new synergies should be developed in order to revive the world economy.
This conference followed the China-Africa summit chaired by President Xi Jinping, which took place the day before. During this event, the President of the People’s Republic of China announced the continuation of Chinese medical aid and debt-relief to African states.
The Covid-19 epidemic proves us that no single country can emerge victorious alone from this crisis and that multilateralism is the key to success. The Belt and Road Initiative may be one of the mechanisms that will enable theworld economy to recover. We now must wait and see what happens in future development of the BRI. We should also ask how projects will be financed while countries have fewer resources due to the current crisis?