China Hosts Meeting of the Advisory Council of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation: Analysis

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis 

Includes PDF of New Governmental BRI Report: “High-Quality Belt and Road Cooperation: Partnership on Connectivity”

On Friday, December 17, 2021, the Meeting of the Advisory Council of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation 2021 was held via video link. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed the opening ceremony of the meeting and witnessed the release of the Report from the Meetings of the Advisory Council.

The Advisory Council members commented on President Xi Jinping’s speech at the third symposium on the development of the Belt and Road Initiative and held that the speech demonstrates China’s confidence and determination in advancing the Belt and Road cooperation, and serves as a guiding principle for high-quality Belt and Road cooperation in the next phase.

The Council stated that the Global Development Initiative and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by President Xi Jinping are conducive to the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The two initiatives complement and reinforce each other and contribute to the common development of the world.

Comment: These initiatives are key aspects of Chinese Foreign Policy and indicate the direct China intends to take over the next decade. Foreign Investors would be well advised to examine the contents and comments we have previously made concerning these and in the links provided above. 

The meeting held that since its inception eight years ago, the BRI has yielded tangible results, boosting global poverty reduction, trade and economic growth. It has become an important international public good and a platform for global economic cooperation guided by an overall vision and featuring cooperation mechanisms and practical projects and embraces more promising prospects. The BRI has enhanced mutual trust and cooperation among countries, demonstrating China’s vision of promoting global connectivity, addressing common challenges faced by the international community and building a community with a shared future for mankind.

Comment: There are fundamental differences here between China’s vision of a “shared” future and “cooperation” and the recent US “Build Back Better World” and EU’s “Global Gateway” outbound investment programs, with the latter two stressing “competition” with China rather than “cooperation”. This is at the heart of the ideological differences between China and the West, and the distinction between a socialist (shared) model and a capitalist (competitive) model. On one hand are accusations of authoritarianism, on the other, exploitation. It remains to be seen during a period where global resources should ideally be preserved which of the two are preferable, or whether a new ideological split will emerge in the shape of a new Cold War. 

The Advisory Council members proposed that BRI cooperative partners should continue to aim at high-standard, sustainable and people-centered growth, and work for higher-standard cooperation, better deliverables from inputs, higher-quality supply, and stronger resilience in development.

Members of the Advisory Council hopes that under the current circumstances, all parties will continue to synergize the BRI with the development strategies, plans and initiatives of all countries and regions, and promote infrastructure connectivity and cooperation in health, green development, digital, innovation and other fields, injecting stronger impetus into the global fight against the pandemic and economic recovery, especially poverty reduction and development causes in developing countries, and making greater contributions to the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Risk prevention and control is an integral part of international cooperation under the BRI. All partner countries should share responsibilities and risks.

During the meeting, the High-Quality Belt and Road Cooperation: Partnership on Connectivity, a Report on the Findings and Recommendations from the Meetings of the Advisory Council of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in 2019 and 2020 was released.

Based on the research findings, the report held that the BRI will open up more space for global economic development, provide more opportunities for partner countries to improve people’s livelihood, and make greater contributions to creating a better future for mankind by establishing cooperative platforms and carrying out cooperation. A series of policy recommendations on high-quality Belt and Road cooperation were put forward in the report, including implementing high-quality projects, improving Belt and Road cooperation partners network, fostering an open world economy, building green and digital Silk Road, and conducting international cooperation on vaccines and in other areas.

The Advisory Council is a non-profit and international policy advisory body, with the main function of offering intellectual support for the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. Members participate in the Advisory Council’s activities in a personal capacity. Current members are Romano Prodi, former Prime Minister of Italy; Jean-Pierre Raffarin, former Prime Minister of France; Mikhail Fradkov, former Prime Minister of Russia Federation; Essam Sharaf, former Prime Minister of Egypt; Erastus J. O. Mwencha, former Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission; Shamshad Akhtar, former Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations; Kishore Mahbubani, Professor of the National University of Singapore; Sir Douglas Flint, HM Treasury’s Financial and Professional Services Envoy to the Belt and Road Initiative, United Kingdom; Justin Yifu Lin, former Vice President of the World Bank; Mari Elka Pangestu, Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, World Bank Group (Special Guest); Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Special Guest). Convener of the Advisory Council and Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu chaired the meeting.

Comment: The ​makeup of the Advisory Council is illustrative of the serious attempts China has been making to inject both global expertise and transparency into its policy objectives, a point often ignored by mainstream Western media. The Advisory Council is a Who’s Who of International Statesmen, who will not risk their reputations by seeking to pacify China for the sake of it. Opinions should be respected, and China in forming such a group of people ought to be applauded for creating such a platform. 

President Xi Jinping has warned that China faces possible traps, including the Tacitus trap, which describes a situation where an unpopular Government is despised no matter what it does or whether it is right or wrong. It was originally invoked by Xi to warn Communist Party elites who are comfortable with corruption that the party’s disciplinary actions will uproot them to restore trust. 

Today, Beijing has not lost the trust of the Chinese people but, rather, that of some of its largest economic partners. China’s Tacitus trap with the West is not about a deficit of good deeds but, rather, a deficit of good faith. It is in China’s interest to earn the trust of the West as it needs the world – particularly the developed world – to reach its goal of doubling the size of China’s economy by 2035. Engaging with Global academics and Statesmen in the form of the Advisory Council meeting about the Belt and Road Initiative and Global Cooperation is one way in which China seeks to regain trust and cooperate – instead of compete – with the West. The issue being therefore fairly straightforward – will the West permit this, or continue to invoke Tacitus? 

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates and Publisher of Asia Briefing and its titles. He may be contacted at silkroad@dezshira.com

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About Us

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists British and Foreign Investment into Asia and has 28 offices throughout China, India, the ASEAN nations and Russia. For strategic and business intelligence concerning China’s Belt & Road Initiative please email silkroad@dezshira.com or visit us at www.dezshira.com

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