Belt and Road Initiative: Another path to globalization
Lawrence Freeman

Editor's note: Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

On the eve of the second Belt and Road Forum (BRF), it is irrefutable that the world has been transformed in the five years since Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China's archetype for global development is based on the more elevated concept of each country contributing to the "common destiny of all nations" and mankind's "shared future."

By focusing on "global connectivity" through massive investments in infrastructure, linking China to the rest of the world through its land and maritime new Silk Roads, China has presented the world with a new paradigm for development – in effect, redefining globalization. 

According to the World Economic Forum (September 2018), "the BRI will encompass 70 percent of the world's population (4.4 billion) and 63 percent of the world's GDP (21 trillion U.S. dollars)," primarily from construction of rail lines, highways, ports, airports, hydro-energy plants and pipelines.

The first BRF held in May 2017 included 29 foreign heads of state, 11 heads of international organizations and over two dozen attendees on the ministerial level. Because of the expansion of the BRI over the last two years, already 40 world leaders have confirmed their attendance for this year's conference.

Awakening the Sleeping Giant, Africa

Nowhere, outside of China itself, are the positive effects of China's BRI more evident than on the African continent. At the 2017 BRF, the only African heads of States who attended were Ethiopia and Kenya, and ministers from Egypt and Tunisia. With Nigeria, the most populated nation in Africa, officially joining the BRI in 2019, and increased collaboration with China throughout all geographical sections of Africa, participation at this year's BRF from Africa will undoubtedly be higher.

Engineers from the Addis Ababa Information & Communication Technology Development Agency in Ethiopia, Africa, train on Huawei's networking equipment at the training center at Huawei headquarters in Shenzhen, China, September 15, 2011. /VCG Photo

Engineers from the Addis Ababa Information & Communication Technology Development Agency in Ethiopia, Africa, train on Huawei's networking equipment at the training center at Huawei headquarters in Shenzhen, China, September 15, 2011. /VCG Photo

Prior to the announcement of the BRI, China had already forged a close working relationship with Africa by convening China-Africa Summits (Forum on China-Africa Cooperation) every three years beginning in 2000, rotating the venues between China and Africa.  At the seventh summit held last year in Beijing, all but one of the 54 African nations attended.

Unfortunately, the West lost its vision of development for Africa after the death of President John F. Kennedy, instead adopting a no-infrastructure policy. What Africa has needed most since the 1960s "Winds of Change" liberation from colonialism is infrastructure, water, energy, rail and roads. China has a different view on this.

Ambassador David Shinn, a respected scholar on Africa, wrote last month: "China has been indisputably the single most important builder of infrastructure in Africa since the beginning of the 21st century."

Take, for example, Djibouti, which is a BRI hub. China is building the Doraleh Multi-Purpose Port and international free trade zone in this northeast African nation, strategically located right off the Indian Ocean and on the Gulf of Eden. It is estimated that one-third of global shipping passes by this port.

In 2016, the first electrically driven train in sub-Saharan Africa, connecting Addis Ababa, the capital of landlocked Ethiopia, to the port city of Djibouti was inaugurated. This rail line built by Chinese companies utilizing and training African laborers and engineers is key to the development of the Horn of Africa, providing Ethiopia a port to export the products of its nascent manufacturing sector. 

Aboubaker Omar Hadi, chairman of Djibouti Ports and Free Zone Authority, told Xinhua that "projects involving cooperation with China are helping Djibouti promote trade in Africa as well as distribution across the East African region… which couldn't be achieved without developing proper infrastructure, such as seaports and railway connections."

Chinese workers help to build a new train station in Beliatta in a southern province near Hambantota, which is Chinese managed and designed in Beliatta, Sri Lanka, November 18, 2018. /VCG Photo‍ 

Chinese workers help to build a new train station in Beliatta in a southern province near Hambantota, which is Chinese managed and designed in Beliatta, Sri Lanka, November 18, 2018. /VCG Photo‍ 

Hadi called the "debt-trap" propaganda aimed against the BRI, "complete nonsense, as benefits generated from infrastructure construction will far exceed the investment."

African nations are attempting to industrialize their economies with growth in their manufacturing sectors. China is assisting by creating special economic zones, industrial parks, and industrial zones in Nigeria, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, and Rwanda. Industry and infrastructure generate jobs, raise skill levels and transfer technology.

Will the West Join the BRI?

Africa's requirement for infrastructure is enormous, allowing Western nations the opportunity to join with China to industrialize this vast undeveloped continent, which is projected to have 2.5 billion people by 2050. President Xi, at the first BRF, said: "We should foster a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation" and "development holds the master key to solving all problems." Regrettably, western nations have been hostile to joining the BRI. However, last month's ground-breaking signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) by Italy – the first G-7 nation to join China's BRI – portends a potential change towards a new constructive dynamic.

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