Chinese President Xi Jinping's brainchild known as the 'Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for International Cooperation' will begin its first two-day forum in Beijing on May 14. However, a section of Western mainstream media is already at work to undermine the event pointedly suggesting that most countries in the West have snubbed China by 'not attending Beijing's most important diplomatic event of the year.' The media actually did not lie but contemptuously twisted facts to deliberately mislead people.
The event is expected to be attended by at least 110 countries - over 70 per cent of the United Nations member-countries - but the London-based Reuters news agency reported on April 18 from Beijing that 'only one leader of a big Western country will be attending' and that 'China's foreign minister denied that it had been snubbed.'
Question of snubbing does not really arise. However, the same news agency reported quoting Chinese Foreign Ministry sources that top leaders of 28 countries - 14 presidents and 14 prime ministers - have confirmed their attendance. They are presidents of Argentina, Belarusia, Chile, the Czech Republic, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Laos, the Philippines, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. Besides, prime ministers from Cambodia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Poland, Serbia, Spain, Sri Lanka and the Myanmar State Counsellor will attend.
The report seemed to have attempted to focus mainly on two points: first, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni will be the lone representative of the world's richest G-7 countries and second, 'China had hoped for at least some senior Western leaders to attend the summit, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, to banish the plan's international credentials and make it look less China-centric."
After picking holes, the agency tried to balance it out: "British finance minister Philip Hammond will come as May's representative while Germany and France are having elections at the same time and would send high-level representatives.' It did not mention that May cannot come because she has called for snap polls in Britain early next June.
One finds it difficult to fathom how an event with 110 countries from across the world attending could conceivably be described as China-centric. It is the result of a deep-rooted mindset and it would take a long time to get it over. It is perhaps equally difficult for some to realise that times are changing and that countries outside G-7 are also becoming important in their own right and it is a reality that needs acceptance.
EU WANTS BRI TO REMAIN OPEN: Interestingly, barely two days later on April 20, Reuters also reported that the European Union's top diplomat Ms. Federica Mogherini, who was in Beijing, told her Chinese counterpart that the projects along China's New Silk Road 'must be open to the Europeans.' She was actually referring tp Beijing's preparations for the BRI Forum dedicated to the ambitious plans to link Asia, Africa and Europe.
Addressing the students of the elite Tsinghua University in Beijing a day earlier, she said, "I know that some in the world are concerned about a more confident and outward-looking China. I do not share this view." These views hardly suggest that 'most Western countries' were in a mood to snub China's initiative.
Apparently in response to Mogherini's queries, China's premier Li Keqiang told her that China and the European Union should promote a 'positive signal' of economic globalisation and free and fair trade. Without saying in so many words, the Chinese leader apparently referred to the new US administration's orchestrated protectionism stance which has lately been echoed in some developed European countries. China obviously is against any form of protectionism that tends to blunt global economic growth and harms the developing world's economic wellbeing.
Meanwhile, China has actively sought to improve ties with 16 Central and East European countries directly under the initiative launched in November 2016 dubbed '16+1' to fund most infrastructure development in Europe for ensuring smooth connectivity. It has also become actively associated with Greece-initiated group called Ancient Civilisation Forum (ACF) with Beijing working as co-organiser. The ACF held its first ministerial meeting in Athens on April 24 with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi attending. Ten countries have become members of the Forum representing major ancient civilisations in four continents including Greece, China, Bolivia, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Mexico and Peru.
WHAT BRI HAS TO OFFER OTHERS: The launching of China's Belt and Road Initiative by President Xi Jinping has sparked unprecedented reactions worldwide causing both enthusiasm and scepticism. On the face of it, it has offered wider connectivity and mutual cooperation for benefit among the Asian countries. But it actually covers much wider areas along the ancient Silk Road route in Eurasia as well as the maritime Silk Road through the Indian Ocean. Ultimately, 60 or more countries could be included under this initiative. It is a huge task needing global peace.
To begin with, according to Chinese experts and writers, the initiative intends to boost mutual trust, explore potential of pragmatic cooperation, expand trade moving against all kinds of protectionism and deepen people-to-people exchange for mutual benefits. It is easier said than done. Leaders of some of the world's powerful countries are deeply concerned about China's rise as a major world economic and military power and any initiative it takes is viewed with fear and suspicion by them. They fear the end of the days of their continued domination which they find difficult to stomach. The EU's Ms. Federica Mogherini has clearly elaborated such mindset others are suffering from.
Prof Caihua Zhu, dean of School of International Economics at the China Foreign Affairs University recently talked to a group of newsmen from Bangladesh in Beijing. She tried to explain BRI as a 'model of international cooperation and inclusive globalisation'. She explained that ideally the initiative could develop a community of shared interests, responsibility and destiny, ensuring mutual trust building, economic integration and cultural inclusiveness.
PROMOTING MUTUAL GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT: What is in it for China to be so interested? China has important adversaries all around the world which would not like it to prosper and challenge them. So it needs to acquire friendship and cooperation from as many countries as possible to counter its foes. It can also be described as 'enlightened self-interest' and promote a win-win situation for all as it takes two to tango.
Over the decades, China has developed itself as the world's manufacturing hub and has developed surplus industrial capacity. The prolonged global recession - beginning from 2008 - has adversely impacted its trade and export-led growth. It has to sell its surplus goods and services to sustain growth and has taken up two-pronged plans. First, to generate demand for its goods internally and second, it has to help develop infrastructure in the neighbouring countries to generate a two-way foreign trade for growth and mutual benefit.
The BRI covers about 65 per cent of the world's population, a third of the world's GDP and one fourth of all goods and services the world moves. And if things move as planned, different international funding agencies have suggested that the number of global middle class will rise to 3.2 billion by 2020 from 1.8 billion in 2009. It will further rise to 4.9 billion in 2030, and 85 per cent of them would come from Asia. It is, therefore, understandable why the vested interest groups are showing their uneasiness over any attempt to upset the apple cart.
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