Since the first Belt and Road Forum for international cooperation in 2017, the Chinese initiative has expanded rapidely and spread to every continent. The BRI illustrates China’s new super power status as Josep Borrell Fontelles, the Spanish foreign minister, pointed out. But if the world now turns to the BRI, that’s because it brings benefits to everyone. The BRI was once considered only as one of China’s instruments of influence; this approach is no longer relevant today. At the second Belt and Road forum, which took place on 25 and 26 April 2019, participants shared their thoughts about the future of the new Silk Roads.
Although China plays a leading role in this initiative, other countries are more and more involved in the BRI and are making interesting proposals. This is the case of Pakistan which has advanced the concept of tourism corridor, but also of Russia.
Pakistan’s connectivity plan
Pakistan is one of the most involved states in the BRI. Islamabad and Beijing are cooperating closely to develop Pakistan’s infrastructure. According to estimations, BRI projects in Pakistan represent up to $64 billion. Pakistan will soon be connected to China through new roads, rails and fiber networks. One of the flagship projects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is, of course, the development of Gwadar Deepwater Port in Baluchistan Province, which is expected to eventually become a major hub between Asia and the Middle East thanks to Chinese investments. Chinese companies have massively invested in Gwadar and its new special economic zone.
At this second forum, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan invited other BRI members to reflect on new projects to strengthen connectivity and exchanges between, Pakistan and the world, presenting a five-point plan.
- First, the Pakistani prime minister, like the Chinese president, insisted on the environmental dimension of the BRI, and proposed the development of new forests along the new Silk Roads.
- The second point of his plan regards the creation of tourism corridors which would increase cultural exchanges among BRI countries. Pakistan hopes to attract more visitors to discover its cultural heritage.
- Imran Khan also understood that the success of the BRI projects would largely depend on their transparency and called on all states to cooperate and fight against corruption; he suggested the creation of a new anti corruption agency for BRI projects.
- Imran Khan set poverty reduction as one of BRI’s priorities and therefore encouraged BRI members to strengthen their cooperation in this area.
- Finally, Imran Khan promoted free trade among BRI members, and argued that more cooperation was needed to support small and medium-sized enterprises in the private sector.
Better connectivity in Eurasia
The Russian President also attended the 2nd Belt and Road Forum and called for more coordination among BRI members, mainly in Central Asia. Russia’s goal is to develop synergies with China and the Central Asian states.
In his speech, Vladimir Putin presented his regional integration project “Greater Eurasia partnership” as complementary to the BRI, and wished to strengthen ties between the Eurasian Economic Union (composed of five states: Russia , Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) , China, and other BRI countries.
The Russian president listed three priorities for which he expected more cooperation. The first one regards transport infrastructure. Russia is modernizing the trans-Siberian railway network, a major axis of trade between Europe and Asia. The development of the Arctic route is another topic on which China and Russia can cooperate, as is the “North-South International Transport Corridor” linking Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran.
The second sector is energy. Russia hopes to strengthen the energy infrastructure network in Eurasia. Russia has the largest reserves of natural gas and hopes to develop new projects in the Russian Far East in which Chinese partners may invest.
Finally, Vladimir Putin called for further cooperation to develop digital solutions to facilitate trade in Europe and Asia
From Pakistan to Russia, the “Belt and Road Initiative” has become a key tool for international trade and regional integration. The BRI is thus so much more than a Chinese initiative and offers solutions for global issues.