Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): Prospects for South-South Cooperation

China’s BRI may prove to be an unparalleled opportunity to revitalize SSC in that it provides insights on tackling challenges faced by the Global South by introducing China’s own experience of socioeconomic development.

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Since the 2008 global financial crisis, the landscape of cooperation between the countries has greatly changed mainly due to the ongoing power shift from the North to the South. In this context, China’s rising economy is taking the lead in driving forward the infrastructure development and helping the countries develop their economies despite lingering challenges that call for collective actions and mutual support among the countries, especially the developing countries. For this purpose, China unveiled its plans under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013.  China’s Belt and Road Initiative has evolved from being purely about infrastructure build projects to about supply chain development. Many of the 2,500 projects that China has assisted with either financing, or building, or both are now coming to fruition. Under BRI, China is investing billions of dollars in several countries including Pakistan, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar in infrastructure development, and energy sectors. It is also enhancing trade activities with the BRI countries that will help China productively use its surplus currency reserves and significantly facilitate the other participating countries to develop their economies.

Based on the principle of achieving shared benefits through consultation and collaboration, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has presented a good opportunity for reinvigorating the cooperation especially the South-South cooperation and drawing concerted efforts from the international community to reduce the global deficits in peace, development, and governance. In the long run, the BRI is expected to facilitate a new round of economic globalization and help shape a more balanced and efficient system of global economic governance, which will serve as the basis for jointly building a “community of shared future for mankind” proposed by the Chinese government. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Asia faces an infrastructure funding gap of an estimated USD 26 trillion through 2030. Therefore, many countries across the world have accepted the Chinese bid to develop their economies.

Since the historic 1955 Asian–African conference held in Bandung, Indonesia, South-South Cooperation (SSC) has undergone profound development. Although the fundamental principles of SSC    respect for sovereignty, mutual benefit, non-interference, and non-aggression remain the same as six decades ago, its objectives, modalities, and even major players have changed. Due to the lasting effect of the 2008 global financial crisis, SSC was on the wane for some time. But it has begun to gather momentum in recent years thanks to the growing engagement of rising economies like China.

As the largest developing country in the world, China has made a tremendous contribution to the progress of SSC. Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims is to build a community of shared interests and responsibility, with a shared future for all nations, based on mutual trust, economic integration, and cultural inclusiveness. Apart from its five-pronged approach, China’s BRI may prove to be an unparalleled opportunity to revitalize SSC in that it provides insights on tackling challenges faced by the Global South by introducing China’s own experience of socio-economic development. In this sense, strengthening the alignment of the BRI and SSC will not only consolidate the achievements of the BRI but also advance the progress of SSC.

The basic principles of the BRI are highly consistent with and fully reflected in the traditional philosophies of SSC. As the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres mentioned in the Report on South-South Cooperation, the BRI championed by China, will provide new opportunities and impetus for international collaboration, including South-South cooperation. Since the BRI is set to achieve mutual benefits and common prosperity among all countries, especially developing ones, and makes development a viable solution to peace and security problems, it is conducive to addressing the imbalance of development in the Global South through mobilizing and pooling resources. Thus, it is widely anticipated that the implementation of the BRI will revitalize SSC and tap the great potential of developing countries.

First of all, strengthening infrastructure connectivity as a priority of the BRI can meet enormous demands from the Global South. A recent World Bank report concludes that infrastructure connectivity under the BRI will significantly stimulate growth in trade and outbound investment, driving global economic growth and creating new growth centers along economic corridors, thus improving global and regional imbalances. Another report released in September 2018 based on the data of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also indicates that China-supported connectivity projects will help reduce economic inequalities within and among countries, creating positive economic externalities. Second, Southern countries are expected to enter into new rounds of industrial upgrading thanks to the implementation of the BRI.

Third, the BRI will significantly facilitate trade and investment among Southern countries. Combined with new trade-promoting platforms like the China International Import Expo, the BRI is fostering more channels of trade growth for Southern countries by facilitating and expanding the scale of trade. Fourth, Southern countries can expect to reap huge benefits from the BRI to enhance their innovation capacity. The BRI calls for open and inclusive cooperation in the fields of knowledge, technology, and talent, and is committed to seizing opportunities in the digital economy and artificial intelligence and to building up a network of think tanks to pool intellectual resources. For example, China has established training bases of scientific research and education in Africa and Central Asia.

Finally, the BRI is conducive to strengthening people-to-people bonds in Southern countries. The BRI not only advocates diversified approaches of development but also encourages knowledge cooperation on socioeconomic governance. It is worth mentioning that China has laid great stress on “Track Two” dialogues in enhancing institutionalized knowledge cooperation among BRI countries.

In short, BRI is offering immense opportunities to countries across the globe especially the developing states in the South as these developing states lack proper infrastructure and are also facing an energy crisis. Chinese investments, under BRI, in the participating countries have significantly contributed to develop their infrastructure and meet the energy requirements. Pakistan is a glaring example in this regard. BRI has also re-energized the South-South cooperation as most of the BRI projects are concentrated in the South.

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