Can China's Belt and Road Initiative drive sustainable development and achieve the 2030 Agenda goals?
Saud Faisal Malik
Forest City, a development project launched under BRI in Gelang Patah in Johor state, Malaysia, September. 1, 2023. /CFP
Forest City, a development project launched under BRI in Gelang Patah in Johor state, Malaysia, September. 1, 2023. /CFP

Forest City, a development project launched under BRI in Gelang Patah in Johor state, Malaysia, September. 1, 2023. /CFP

Editor's Note: Saud Faisal Malik is the CEO of The Daily CPEC. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

In 2013, China unveiled the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a monumental infrastructure and economic development project that aimed to revitalize the ancient trade routes, once again connecting Asia, Europe, and Africa. 

Two years later, the international community adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), outlining a global roadmap to eradicate poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. 

As these two monumental initiatives converged on the world stage, questions arose regarding their compatibility and potential to drive sustainable development. Can the BRI contribute to achieving the 2030 Agenda's ambitious goals?

The BRI encompasses five fundamental pillars: policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial cooperation, and people-to-people exchanges. Remarkably, each of these pillars resonates deeply with the 17 SDGs. 

The BRI seeks to foster connectivity among nations, establish multi-tiered and composite networks, and promote diversified, balanced, and sustainable development. It has evolved to emphasize open, green, clean, and inclusive sustainable development, mirroring the principles underpinning the SDGs.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has recognized the profound connection between the BRI and the 2030 Agenda. He lauded the BRI's potential to create a more equitable and prosperous world while addressing climate change. 

The experience of recent years has demonstrated that the BRI can substantially support the SDGs through tangible progress. This synergy offers three significant dimensions of opportunity: accelerating SDG achievement, closing financing gaps in the developing world, and promoting green principles and actions.

China's BRI has already showcased its capacity to bridge several critical gaps in the path to achieving the SDGs. By creating jobs and generating income for local communities, it plays a pivotal role in addressing income inequality and promoting sustainable agriculture. 

Furthermore, the BRI offers reliable financing for sustainable infrastructure, thereby accelerating progress in infrastructure development, sustainable cities, and climate action. Moreover, it expands global trade, advancing decent work and economic growth, reducing inequality, and partnerships for common goals.

The international impact of the BRI is undeniable. As of March 2022, 149 countries have signed intergovernmental cooperation agreements with China, and over 30 international organizations have signed cooperation documents. 

China's trade with BRI partner countries reached $10.4 trillion by September 2021, and its direct investment reached nearly $140 billion during 2013–2020. These achievements underline the BRI's potential to advance the SDGs through synergies and complementarities.

Latin America was initially excluded from the original concept of OBOR, and there were concerns that this initiative might divert China's focus away from the region. The second Policy Paper on Latin America issued by China in 2016 did not make any reference to it. 

However, in May 2017, during a meeting with Argentina's President Macri at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping characterized Latin America as a "natural extension of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road." 

Then, in January 2018, at the China–CELAC Forum in Santiago, the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs extended an invitation to Latin American countries to participate in the BRI, and the participants jointly signed a "Special Declaration on the Belt and Road Initiative".

The BRI seeks to enhance trade and investment by reducing obstacles and improving facilitation. Proposed actions include the establishment of free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties as well as agreements to address double taxation with various other nations. 

In Latin America, the BRI generated optimism that it would expand relations with China beyond the previous focus on trade. This expansion would involve greater Chinese participation in investment and infrastructure initiatives, shifting the emphasis away from purely trade-oriented relations.

China's unwavering commitment to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs is evident. Its proactive participation in the formulation of the 2030 Agenda and its financial contributions underscore China's dedication to integrated growth. Chinese President Xi Jinping's call for translating commitments into actions and working together for a world free from want reflects a shared commitment to the SDGs.

The BRI, with its dual components of the Silk Road economic belt and the Maritime Silk Road, provides an invaluable framework for fostering connectivity, cooperation, and sustainable development. While distinct from the 2030 Agenda in nature and scope, the BRI offers significant potential to support the achievement of the SDGs. 

By enhancing connectivity, it can stimulate economic growth, reduce poverty, and address diverse social needs, including education, health, and employment. Additionally, the BRI emphasizes the importance of balancing economic growth with social progress and environmental protection, aligning with the SDGs' core principles.

As we examine the interplay between the Belt and Road Initiative and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it becomes evident that the two are not mutually exclusive but can instead work in tandem to create a more equitable and prosperous world. The BRI's potential to address critical gaps in SDG implementation, close financing deficits, and promote green principles underscores its significance in advancing the global goals. 

With strong commitment from China and underpinned by international cooperation, the BRI can indeed serve as a powerful driver for sustainable development and contribute significantly to the realization of the 2030 Agenda's vision of a better world for all.

Search Trends