The Belt and Road Initiative is a unique opportunity to connect continents through infrastructure, cultural and technological exchange in order to drive sustained economic progress, agreed participants at a Caixin debate.
“The Belt and Road Initiative is perfectly in sync with the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018 about creating a shared future in a fractured world,” said Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Prime Minister of Pakistan. He added, “The Belt and Road Initiative is a physical manifestation of the bond between countries that have existed through history” and can result in “freer movement of people, goods and ideas, and a greater culture of openness.”
“Singapore welcomes the Belt and Road Initiative,” said Chan Chun Sing, of the Office of the Prime Minister of Singapore. As a financial hub, Singapore can provide support to bring about a more tightly integrated global economic system. “We should move beyond the perspective of a zero-sum game,” he stressed, and create more interdependencies.
Financial sustainability is key to the long-term success of the initiative, said Jin Liqun, President of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), People’s Republic of China, which is instrumental in its funding. “We should never do a project that would be a white elephant,” he warned, such as loss-making showcase projects by politicians built with public money.
“Protectionism is a reality you have to live with,” he added. “But when we promote connectivity and infrastructure projects which can bring people together with shared benefits, I think there will be less market for protectionism.”
Broad consultation is crucial, participants agreed. “The size and scale of the project cannot be done by any one country, and it cannot be done by the private sector alone or the public sector alone,” said Michael S. Burke, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of US infrastructure firm AECOM.
He emphasized the challenges of tax regulation. “For a 30-year project, we need certainty about the regulatory environment because there are plenty of other uncertainties.”
Clean and green infrastructure is another shared priority. “We will be able to finance infrastructure projects without leaving a big footprint on the environment,” said Jin Liqun, stressing the need to work in the interests of local communities. “Instead, we should be able to improve the environment.”
Although the initiative is spearheaded by China, to succeed it must unite multiple stakeholders. “The Belt and Road is more than just an infrastructure project, it is a crucial engine for building a more socially inclusive tomorrow,” said Ren Hongbin, Chairman, China National Machinery Industry Corp. (Sinomach), People’s Republic of China. “It belongs to everyone. This will be a tremendous opportunity for China to help to build a better system that allows the world to participate in the next phase of growth for the world economy.”
Kirill Dmitriev, Chief Executive Officer, Russian Direct Investment Fund, Russian Federation, agreed. “The fractured world is being discussed in Davos and the Belt and Road Initiative is one of the best ways to address this. President Xi’s message of inclusivity contrasts very poignantly with some of the other messages we hear about division.” He went on to stress that “we need good story-telling about the shared benefits of the project.”
It is still early days for the Belt and Road Initiative, with many obstacles to overcome. But as Prime Minister Abbasi reminded participants: “The desserts have already started to come in.”