By CHARLES ONUNAIJU
THE Belt and Road strategy as a Chinese initiative was originally espoused as the “Silk Road Economic Belt”, during a lecture delivered at a University in Kazakhstan by President Xi Jinping in 2013. Later in an address to the Indonesian parliament, President Xi outlined the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”, both an overland and maritime route to build global connectivity through the construction of infrastructure networks like railways, airways, ports, and harbors that would facilitate people-to-people contacts, deepen market integration and facilitate trade.
The “Silk Road” of the economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime, was designed as a new international cooperation and development strategy in the spirit of its ancient predecessor, where for over 2000 years ago, ancient people trekked across the vast steppes and deserts, opened the transcontinental passage traversing Asia, Europe and Africa in what has become known today as the Silk Road. Further navigating rough seas, the people created sea routes linking the East with the West, which also became the contemporary Maritime Silk Road
For over thousands of years and miles, the Silk Road comes to embody a bright chapter of friendly engagement among nations and mutual sharing of civilization.
President Xi Jinping said that the ancient Silk routes embody the spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit.
Following in the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, the contemporary Chinese Initiative of the Belt and Road strategy is aimed at giving real substance to the contemporary world trend of multipolarism, economic globalization, cultural diversity and greater information technology applications. According to the “Action Plan on the China-Proposed Belt and Road Initiative”, it, “aims to provide connectivity of Asia, European and African continents and their adjacent seas, establish and strengthen partnerships among countries along the Belt and Road, set up all-dimensional, multi-tier and composite connectivity networks and realize diversified, independent, balanced and sustainable development in these countries”.
The connectivity projects of the Initiative would help align and co-ordinate the development strategies of the countries along the Belt and Road, tap market potentials in the regions, promote investment and consumption, create demands and job opportunities, enhance people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and mutual learning among peoples. In reflecting the common ideals and pursuit of human societies, the Initiative is a positive endeavor to seek new models of international cooperation and global governance and will inject new positive energy into world peace and development.
The core content of the Belt and Road strategy is to promote international connectivity through elaborate framework of infrastructure constructions and this aligns with the existential challenge of infrastructure deficits in Nigeria and Africa. To leverage the core content of the Belt and Road international cooperation and development strategy to the priority needs of Nigeria and Africa and fill the infrastructure gaps, would require an unusual statesmanship and deep policy insight, that transcends the ambiguities of traditional foreign policy. Already, the existing mechanism of China-Africa cooperation, the Forum on China–Africa cooperation (FOCAC) have proven a viable and reliable framework that have delivered major cooperation projects between China and Africa. The Belt and Road international cooperation, under which the key issues of China-Africa cooperation through the existing mechanism of the FOCAC process is aligned can be deepened and elaborated.
The Belt and Road strategy represents a fresh undertaking by the global South in partnership with the North industrialized and developed economies, to build an inclusive global economic and financial architecture, with a historic opportunity for Africa and her biggest and most influential nation, Nigeria to inscribe her foot print in the emerging new world order. The last time, the global architecture was re-made; in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the bulk of Africa was under the tutelage of European colonialism and could not participate as independent actors on the world stage. The shift in the balance of powers today is happening without the cataclysms of major war or conflict and is therefore, less discernable but the benefit of strategic insight could offer a glimpse into it. The Belt and Road process is the most tangible and practical expression of the shift, even though, it is at embryonic stage.
At the Beijing forum on the Belt and Road this month, major countries, including those not on the original and ancient Silk Road, took a stand. The United States of America, which said she “recognized the importance of China-Proposed Belt and Road Initiative”, sent a delegation led by special assistant to President Trump, Mr. Matt Pottinger. The general secretary of Japan Liberal Democratic Party, Mr. Toshihiro led the Japanese delegation to the High Level dialogue of the Belt and Road Forum.
President Putin who led the Russian delegation said that the Belt and Road fit into “a role model for the global community of how we can work together, develop together based on equality and respect for national sovereignty, and also based on international law and the UN principles”.
However, a profound and deep insight of the initiative was offered by the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Anthonio Gutteres who said among other things that “the Belt and Road Initiative has immense potential and can promote effective access to markets and new opportunities” adding that it is crucial to stress the links between the initiative and (the UN) sustainable development goals”. The Belt and Road Initiative, he further articulated “is rooted in a shared vision for global development, which is expected to generate fast investment in infrastructure.”
Mrs. Christine Largarde of the International Monetary (IMF) and her counterpart from the World Bank, Dr. Yong Kim, spoke in the same vein, in which the Belt and Road Initiative opens a new chapter in international cooperation and development. As the only scholar from Sub-Saharan Africa attending the high level dialogue of global think-tanks, I mentioned that the core strategy of the Belt and Road process objectively aligns with the priority concerns of Africa to enhance infrastructure connectivity and boost industrial and production capacity, and that, the true global content of the Belt and Road will become strategically manifest, if it integrates Africa to its mainstream. President xi Jinping who had earlier called the Belt and Road strategy, “project of the century”, outlined a provision of over 60 billion U.S dollars to fund projects identified in the strategy. He noted that the Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank, (AIIB) and the BRIC New Development Bank are new financial instruments to lend heavy financial muscle to projects of the Belt and Road.
Onunaiju is the Director of the Centre for China Studies, (CCS) Utako, Abuja
The already Silk Road Fund established by China with initial capitalization of 40 billion U.S dollars, got additional 10 billion U.S dollars to finance project along the Belt and Road strategy, which means that the critical bottleneck of infrastructure funding in Africa will be overcome, if the region engages itself fully to the Belt and Road international mechanism for development.
For the avoidance of doubt, president Xi Jinping sounded loud and clear that the “Belt and Road Initiative is rooted in the ancient Silk Road. It focuses on the Asian, European and African continents but is also open to all other countries. All countries from Asia, Europe, Africa or Americas can be international cooperation partners of the Belt and Road Initiative”, and noted that “the pursuit of this Initiative is based on extensive consultation and its benefits will be shared by us, all”.
Meanwhile, the Africa’s component at the initiative is up and running. The Mombasa port and Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway in Kenya to connect, Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi is in progress while the nearly 10,000km, first Africa electric-railway connecting Ethiopia and Djibouti has been completed and is now in use. These early Africa harvests of the Belt and Road strategy signals that Africa is in the prospects of new age revolution that promises the fulfillment of the region’s long desire for functional integration and unity, industrialization and job opportunities for her teeming populations, especially the youths.
Onunaiju is the Director of the Centre for China Studies, (CCS) Utako, Abuja