China owns Belt Road Initiative, or the world owns it? Cooperation comes with collective vision and effort. It does not only from friends, but also from "rivals". In a Chinese saying, there is no forever friends, also no forever enemies/rivals. Aiming for the joint prosperity and just keeping working on it does matter.
Deeply rooted in the ancient Eurasian Silk Road developed over a thousand years ago and lately revisited by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 in the period of China’s economic transition, the BRI, also named as New Silk Road and One-Belt-One-Road, has been seemingly widely accepted as an initiative to facilitate cross-continent trade, geo-economic integration, and global prosperity. However, with regard to this idea, since its emergence, it has been interpreted variously, mainly in two directions: aptly reflecting what China has been challenged in terms of domestically slowing-down economic growth and boldly projecting the growing influence of China onto the global landscape with an alternative international geo-economic relationship approach. This initiative has also elicited the respect and awe as well as the enthusiasm and paranoia to its proposer—China — as a visionary idea of the world— in dire need for, but also raised questions that whether this idea is an altruistic game changer for the world, or is just another plot of an egotistically motivated superpower to further its own self-interest.
The concern comes with a reason, similarly to the pursuit of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by the other superpower being lauded as well as criticized. Some thought of it as a beacon of world trade, giving the economies of the pacific rim of their well-deserved trading club; while others saw it as just another instrument of the USA to align its pacific rim allies in an exclusive club of economic cooperation. With the unexpected withdrawal of the USA from the TPP in the Trump’s Administration, the general attention has shifted to the other forward-looking initiative of BRI and China has ultimately been catapulted into the position as a thought leader to build a new world order. This position will undoubtedly draw the eyes of the entire world to discuss BRI from China and of course expose China to the risk of losing its ordinary charm vis-à-vis the ordinary onlooker.
The current wave of reaction to BRI is similar but also different, with the different profile showing both an enthusiasm to BRI from some countries, and criticism from others. The criticisms are mainly loaded by those against changes, and those “favoring” self-power and populisms rather than being oriented to collective prosperities. Over three years of BRI -framework projects happening cross the Eurasian Continent since the mid of 2013, the lines have been shifting as disappointment has to face the reality. Typically many countries of the world started to be supportive to BRI platform as they see tangible advantages, both in short and long-run, while other continue to beat the drum against a change. There are also some being torn between believing into the benefits of a new vision and fearing its ramifications that they cannot fully grasp. Their wait-and-see-attitude is a linchpin.
In the same line, AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), the BRI’s sister-initiative, however, has been widely accepted and operated. AIIB, commonly labelled as a “crowd-funded and crowd-owned” project, gives an insight to question if BRI can share the same label. It would make sense that BRI is not only a joint owned platform, but also the one requiring shared-commitment (including design, plan, investment, and execution). If we shall label AIIB as a bridge to the future financial order of the new world, BRI should be another arm for the logistic and trade of new order.
Furthermore, to face the change of the world, with the pulling force of technology such as digitalization, DNA technology, and AI from the front, as well as the pushing force of geo-social-economic reshuffling deriving from a new model in the format of sharing economy from the back, to build a harmonious global society, each participant needs to carefully take a consideration of the facts of the past, seriously see through the phenomena of the current, and ethically plan for the future. We need to bear in mind that the future is the future for all communities, not only for a particular member or a particular club. BRI, as a cross-continent platform with the purpose of facilitating global common prosperity, can be used as an instrument to nurture the future society in the nature of equality-based social-economic environment, and can be used to cultivate the principle of conducting such a setting in the loop of “Acceptance-Trust-Support”.
This vision will probably take ages to achieve, but does not mean not possible. In addition to carry such a faith and resolve the concerns from many in parallel, both the East and the West need to own up to the concept of BRI, and be more responsible and mindful to sync with one another. Both sides should cooperate in finding solutions to existing crippling problems, eliminate an overall defensive and competitive mentality, and create a cooperative foundation for the future agenda. These tasks as a condition for BRI should not only be on the shoulder of governments of countries, but also on the shoulders of business, research institutes, educations, and each of individuals. By taking both sides of force from different stakeholders, a systematic road map for an inclusively equality-oriented community can be set up. But something we need to always bear in mind is that differences are the source of the disputes, however it is also the origins of the creativity as well as the motivation for us to aim for building a harmonious global community.