The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an infrastructure development and integration initiative championed and mainly funded by China, has emerged as a conduit for translating China’s growing influence into trade, development and cultural engagements and partnership with the global South.
Chinese ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian emphasises that the BRI is part of China opening itself up to the rest of the world for trade, industrial, cultural and academic relations to achieve its own development agenda. He also highlights the need to synergise African countries’ development plans with the BRI projects.
The BRI has, since 2013, evolved from a regional integration initiative to a broader investment and engagement platform for China, its trade partners and developing countries along the proposed routes and has secured agreements with 113 countries and 29 international organisations. It comprises three overarching collaboration principles and five focus areas that form the basic principles and rules of engagement for BRI projects, explains Lin.
The three principles emphasise cooperative planning, the building and sharing of infrastructure, and funding among participants, and the five focus areas are to develop and expand policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people links in the partner countries and between the partners and China.
These principles and focus areas are drawn from China’s own development experiences, says Lin, who adds that the BRI projects, and the tone of China’s engagement with partner countries, are to support a win-win cooperation model for the development of infrastructure.
“The BRI is focused firstly on economic development and open development cooperation without geographic or ideological barriers, as long as the partners agree to the BRI’s principles, and it is not a ‘China First’ or ‘China only’ policy, but aims to see common development and aims to secure benefits for participants through the integration of economies and interconnected development that support partner countries’ competitive strengths,” he says.
He encourages African countries to develop long-term plans and policies and eliminate bottlenecks to its industrial and agricultural modernisation. The aim is to secure cooperation to support African countries to develop their railways, highways, power grids, air transport and telecommunications to promote African industrial and agricultural modernisation, harmonisation and digitalisation.
Lin adds that these fundamentals are essential for Africa to work with China to meet Fourth Industrial Revolution challenges and changes, which are already taking place, and he emphasises that countries have to prepare for these changes.
National Assembly House chairperson: committees Cedric Frolick highlights the need, as reflected in the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which has also catalysed China’s engagement with and focus on Africa, to ensure that development is done with cognisance of the environment, noting that the interests of nations’ people, as represented and articulated through their Parliaments, can only be ensured if development takes place while addressing the environmental and ecological requirements, challenges and concerns expressed by citizens as a key principle of implementation of BRI projects.
Department of International Relations and Cooperation chief director Dr Manelisi Genge says the BRI could encounter the known challenges of a lack of industrial capacity and infrastructure backlogs in Africa, which are hampering economic development.
However, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 accelerated development initiative, which recognises the development of infrastructure as a necessary component for industrialisation, is an effective framework for countries to engage in the BRI and in projects to drive the industrialisation of their economies and improve connectivity and interconnectedness, as well as support technology and skills transfer, he adds.
Genge says African countries must make progress with their major infrastructure projects to help pave the way for engagement on the BRI.
Africa has to balance its interests with those of its partners and ensure that these converge as part of the implementation and development of the projects. This can only be achieved through a coordinated effort and a clear plan to define the objectives of nations.
University of the Witwatersrand East Asia Project and Institute of Global Dialogue director Professor Garth Shelton highlights the relevance of the development lessons China bring as part of the BRI and emphasises that Africa should learn from the practices that has helped China lift 780-million people out of poverty and build a middle class of 400-million people.
“The BRI is the next phase of globalisation, and it is a positive process. It is important to uplift people because, as the world becomes more globalised, it becomes more interdependent, which also reduces the chances for conflicts and increases the chance for greater prosperity.”
Africa is already a key focus of the BRI, as a growth region, but it needs to ensure that it supports engagement and participation through investment and research, he says.
“Participation in the BRI can help Africa to achieve its Agenda 2063. Africa urgently has to strengthen its plans for infrastructure and provide feasible and bankable projects so that the BRI can begin work in Africa. “We have to work harder to connect with the BRI. China [will be] ready as soon as we get our plans in order to begin to build prosperity,” says Shelton.