A popular Chinese saying, well received by many states utters “if you want to get rich, get started by building roads”.
Construction of the trade routes connecting major civilizations across Asia, Europe and Africa started 2,000 years ago by the rulers in an effort to strengthen their empires/kingdoms. Together, they came to be echoed as “Silk Road” due to their overarching significance.
During the course of history, large and small countries have extracted economic benefits from the renowned Silk Road, whereas the territorial connectivity also made exchange of people and ideas possible, promoted cultural and social advancement, and facilitated dialogue and integration among different civilizations.
Gradually however, conflicts and strife’s dimmed the significance of harbouring and maintaining mutual points of intra and inter-regional economic connectivity and interests of individual states superseded the talks on reactivating the lost opportunities. Consequently, in today’s economically progressive world, compared to Europe, South East Asia and North America, regional cooperation in Asia remains inadequate, as evident by the lower ranking of the countries on Global development reports and frail regional integration.
Recognizing the fact that regional integration is an inevitable measure to meet the demands of economically globalized world, the notion of Silk Road was reformulated and rephrased by China in 2013 under ‘one road, one belt’ initiative i.e., Economic Belt along the Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road. The initiative is a step to link the past with the present, revive the glory of Asia, source for Asians to rework the pride for their history and cultures and show their commitment to unity and cooperation.
‘One road, one belt’ is a descriptor of a notion that encompasses numerous smaller ideas, be it bringing profound shifts in trends of trade; be it progress in investment and capital flows across Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and West Asia; be it enhancement of cooperation in economic, social, civilizational, and political sphere; be it profound shift in or broadening the level of cooperation to an extent to extend it to Pan-Asian and Eurasian regions in future. In totality, what can be appraised reasonably is that this initiative if implemented with true rigour will involve a lot more projects, countries or entities, which would ensure their increasing openness.
For the countries and regions ratifying the concept of ‘one road one belt’, the project holds opportunities like systemic innovation; infrastructure development; improved business environment; harmonization in the flow and distribution of sources of production, means of production and relations of production; development of landlocked states and remote areas, lowering costs of trade and investment barriers; and verve for reforms in national policies.
Favourably, the project is not a start from scratch; rather the initiatives are a continuation and upgrading of existing cooperation. A suitable way forward for the states party to the initiative would be to consider linking their existing, upcoming and future projects together into an integrated package that may lead to multiplied cost-effectiveness. But for all this to happen, convergence at state, regional and global level is a prerequisite.
To address the demand of convergence, Asian countries have to accept diversity that exists in their history, culture, religion and level of development. It is high time to develop harmony, to bridge differences by seeking common grounds and to attain mutual benefits through soft power perspective. Strengthening people to people exchanges across a spectrum of areas, strata and faiths would be a positive step to ensure peace and development in Asia.
Arguably, even an optimist would not contend that in a world of global politics, either the Economic Belt along the Silk Road or the Maritime Silk Road will not dominate regional affairs; or they are not part of an effort to strengthen intra and inter-regional spheres of influences. Nevertheless, alternatively it would not also permit interference in the internal affairs of the countries involved. Thus, endorsing upon a pragmatic approach, states should invoke various cooperation initiatives and mechanisms under the auspices of ‘one road, one belt’ initiative to make it more effective and mutually reinforcing.
In regional framework, the initiative stands complementary to the on-going process of the Eurasian Economic Community, providing platform to partner countries to come together, discuss strategies, harmonize state’s individual and collective positions through consultation, and formulate corresponding plans. It provides a chance to improve cross-border transportation infrastructure, facilitate trade and investment, endorse greater trade settlement in local currencies, draft more currency swap schemes, strengthen bilateral and multilateral financial cooperation, set up financial institutes for regional development, bring down transaction costs, enhance capacity to fend off financial risks and make the region’s economy more competitive globally.
As the conditions are ripe, the projects of common interests among partner states, such as road, railway, aviation, river and maritime shipping, energy, resources, pipeline, electricity and telecommunication, should be consulted and implemented immediately. ‘One belt, one road’ initiative is an enduring methodical project that cannot be done overnight, thus states should undergo step-by-step advancement
Asia is acknowledged as the engine of global growth and a key driver for multi-polarization and economic globalization. Hence, Asian states should collectively envisage the creation of competitive international landscape as they are going through a critical state of transition and upgrading. To ward off risks, the partner states of ‘one road, one belt’ initiative are urged to unleash national and regional potential demands, and bring dynamism and resilience in their economic setup by creating more growth points.
Published by AZERNEWS on April 24, 2015
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.