Economic diplomacy, as a strategy of enhancing national prosperity, has been a significant priority for many countries across the world in the period following the Cold War. The financial crisis since the turn of the twenty-first century has encountered substantial changes in the field of foreign policy decision-making with a particular focus on economic sectors.
In case of China, economic diplomacy has gradually become one of the vital components of China's overall diplomacy because of its deepened economic globalisation and increasing economic power. Especially, following China's economic reform, opening up policy, as well as its various economic negotiations since the late 1970s, economic diplomacy has featured prominently in China's foreign policy decision-making process. Given its significance, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and President of the People's Republic of China, emphasised upon economic diplomacy as one of the major priorities in China's "comprehensive international endeavours" in December 2013 and announced new commitment to economic diplomacy as a "centrepiece of its foreign policy."
President Xi Jinping first unveiled the concept of Silk Road Economic Belt at Nazarbayev University on September 07, 2013 as a part of his state visit to Kazakhstan. In the same year on October 03, New Maritime Silk Road was announced by Xi Jinping during his state visit to Indonesia. Since the announcement, the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become a significant element of Chinese foreign policy and economic strategy to stimulate economic development amd also to enhance regional as well as global economic integration through overland and maritime connectivity. Xi Jinping declared BRI as a part of economic diplomacy with the vision of easing bottlenecks to Eurasian trade through improving and building networks of connectivity across Central, Western, and Southern Asia as well as reaching out to the Middle East and East and North Africa. BRI, thereby, seeks to eliminate trade and investment barriers through infrastructure development and to facilitate free circulation of local currencies.
The Belt and Road Initiative is vital to China's all-round opening-up strategy as well. The joint development of BRI and its overland and maritime connectivity endorse China's diplomatic strategy of opening up its economy to rest of the world and fostering good neighbourly relationships. BRI also reflects China's diplomatic vision of peaceful economic development and building a harmonious world.
BRI is also perceived as a key ingredient of China's economic reform process. The reform process related to BRI was decided in the Third Plenum of the 18th Communist Party of China Central committee (CPC CC) in November 2013. The decision emphasised on construction of infrastructure connecting China with the neighbouring countries and regions and building a Silk Road Economic Belt and a Maritime Silk Road to form a new pattern of all-round opening. The decision reflects the potential use of BRI in China's economic reformation and development process.
The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road envision global connectivity and economic linkages with peripheral states. President Xi laid out the significance of BRI as per China's periphery diplomacy with a particular focus on deepening the mutually beneficial cooperation with neighbouring countries and actively taking part in regional economic cooperation. BRI also focuses on China's integration with global economy consistent with opening-up strategy and boosting the flow of trade and investment along BRI countries. Given its geo-strategic position at centre of the Asia-Pacific region, China expects to form a unified Asian economy through the construction of the new Silk Road. China, thereby, intends to make joint development of BRI as per its diplomatic vision of promoting economic growth within its border countries along the belt.
The Belt and Road Initiative conforms to Xi Jinping's new diplomatic vision on comprehensive growth, development and prosperity. As he said, "The Chinese Dream will benefit not only the people of China, but also of other countries." Xi Jinping also elucidates the Belt and Road Initiative as "neighbourhood diplomacy" that seeks to "work together to build the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road." His diplomatic vision for new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics also includes "cooperation with developing countries" based on "friendship, sincerity, reciprocity, partnership, and inclusiveness."
In addition, BRI is also expected to build a new type of development cooperation emphasising on the utilisation of all-round economic development through improving the environment for development that determines one of the significant features of Chinese economic diplomacy. Following this policy, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) supports the development projects of BRI which is initially funded at US$ 40 billion dollars and eventually raised to US$ 450 billion that is also expected to grow up to US$ 100 billion. In order to intensify closer economic ties, deepen mutual cooperation, and create broader space of development, Xi Jinping reiterated on strengthening policy communication, improving road connectivity, promoting trade facilitation, enhancing monetary circulation, and improving people-to-people exchanges. For all of these proactive strategies and initiatives, BRI is largely believed to contribute to regional economic growth, development and integration.
BRI has no doubt added a new dimension to the concept of economic diplomacy. While classical definition of economic diplomacy is mostly state-centric and interest-based with the particular focus on solely economic goals, BRI is not confined to economic goals alone. It focuses on overland and maritime connectivity, regional integration, win-win cooperation, common prosperity, all-inclusive development, and most significantly people-to-people contact. Most countries along the belt have supported the Belt and Road Initiative and viewed such initiative as a great sign of promoting global connectivity, prosperity and development.
Sultana Yesmin is a PhD Candidate at the School of Politics and International Studies (SPIS), Central China Normal University, Wuhan, Hubei, China.