The BRI was launched in a speech by President Xi in Kazakhstan in 2013. He vowed to rebuild the global trade network with China at the centre based on the ancient silk route that connected his country with Europe
Political parties, be it in international or local contexts, matter more than any other organisation in the implementation of policies. The Communist Party of China (CPC), in the wake of the celebration of the tenth anniversary of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has initiated fresh action to reach out to the political parties in all countries, particularly in the region to ensure greater success in the coming decade.
Conceptualised and announced ten years ago, the BRI pressed ahead during the period, albeit challenges at times from some of the participating countries. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature initiative, it was designed to integrate the growing Chinese economy with the region and the rest of the world. Nevertheless, it emerged as a China-led world order which runs counter to the western paradigm.
The BRI was launched in a speech by President Xi in Kazakhstan in 2013. He vowed to rebuild the global trade network with China at the centre based on the ancient silk route that connected his country with Europe. The new economic order, in its first ten years, encountered challenges. It was criticised for heaping the developing countries with what is called ‘unsustainable debts’ for infrastructure projects with little returns. Another allegation was that Chinese companies benefited more than those of the member countries. China denies all such allegations. The new phrase ‘debt –trap’ was coined in the process.
Still, the project addressed infrastructure needs of many countries, which are starved for money to undertake modern projects. Kunming –Laos high-speed railway and Jakarta Jakarta–Bandung high-speed railway in Indonesia are just two examples. It filled a void in the emerging economies clamouring for much-needed infrastructure facilities such as expressways, rail links, power plants and airports.
The new China-led paradigm resonated. It prompted the West to adopt countermeasures in international development financing. The United States launched its Development Finance Corp five years ago in response to Beijing’s massive global infrastructure-building campaign.
The U.S. announced a $553 million project Wednesday to build a deep-water shipping container terminal at Colombo Port as it competes with China.
The project is billed as providing critical infrastructure for Sri Lanka with the potential to “transform Colombo into a world-class logistics hub at the intersection of major shipping routes and emerging markets.
Mindful of both laurels and brickbats for the BRI, the CPC is now in rigorous engagement with the political parties in the region to forge ahead smoothly in the new decade. As part of this exercise, the CPC had a dialogue on November 10 in Kunming, China with the representatives of the parties from the regional countries including Sri Lanka.
The CPC in dialogue with Political Parties of Southeast Asian and South Asian Countries under the theme of Sharing the Outcomes of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation was held in this manner. The dialogue was co-organised by the International Department of the CPC Central Committee (IDCPC) and the CPC Yunnan Provincial Committee. Liu Jianchao, Minister of the IDCPC and Wang Ning, Secretary of the CPC Yunnan Provincial Committee, attended the event. Some 150 people from more than 50 political parties, political organisations, think tanks and media representatives from 18 Southeast Asian and South Asian countries were present. Representing Sri Lanka, ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) General Secretary MP Sagara Kariyawasam, United National Party (UNP) General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, Foreign Affairs Secretary of Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) Thilina Peiris, Chairman of Sri Lanka Institute of Biotechnology Prof. Samitha Hettige and The Secretary – Public Relations for the Speaker, Chameera Yapa Abeywardane and this writer attended the event.
Mr. Liu said in his keynote speech that CPC General Secretary President Xi Jinping announced eight major steps China will take to support high-quality “Belt and Road cooperation” at the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, charting a new course for the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Calling Southeast Asia and South Asia pioneering demonstration areas for the joint construction of the BRI, Liu said the CPC has established multi-level, wide-ranging consultation mechanisms with political parties of Southeast Asian and South Asian countries, and actively contributed to the “Belt and Road cooperation”.
“At present, the joint construction of the BRI has entered a new stage of high-quality development. The most prominent pursuit of value is to adhere to unity and cooperation, opening-up and win-win results. The grandest vision is to join hands in realising world modernisation. And the most distinctive direction is to lead innovation and be pragmatic and efficient. We are willing to work with political parties in all countries to implement the important consensus reached by General Secretary Xi Jinping and leaders of Southeast Asian and South Asian countries, give full play to the leading role of political parties, strengthen bilateral and multilateral communication and exchanges, and deepen the integration of development strategies. By focusing on the eight major steps and making use of mechanisms such as “political party”, we should support infrastructure cooperation and soft connectivity, and promote the construction of green Silk Road, digital Silk Road, and clean Silk Road. We should put the people first, make good use of platforms like the Silk Road Community Building Initiative, the Friends of Silk Road Club and Silk Roadster, and launch more “small yet smart” livelihood programmes to promote people-to-people and cultural exchanges and people-to-people bonds. We should focus on the overall situation of stability and development, practice true multilateralism and open regionalism, and inject strong power of political parties into building a community with a shared future for Asia and mankind,” he said.
The CPC has networked widely with the political parties across the region. The CPC’s efforts to engage with political parties globally, especially in the region, can be seen as a diplomatic and strategic move to ensure the success and longevity of the initiative.
Engaging with political parties in other countries allows the CPC to build relationships, foster understanding, and potentially garner support for the BRI. By doing so, the CPC aims to create a favourable international environment for the initiative, addressing potential concerns and obstacles that may arise from differing political ideologies or geopolitical considerations.
The then Mahinda Rajapaksa government joined hands with the BRI in 2013. Now, the current government led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe has gladly thrown its arms to embrace the BRI. He was among the Heads of State who attended the tenth-anniversary BRI Forum earlier in Beijing.
During his meeting with President Xi’s Special Envoy Shen Yiqin in Colombo, President Wickremesinghe was even eager to join Sri Lanka with China- Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). Wickremesinghe noted that countries such as Sri Lanka, which are participants in the BRI, “are prepared to embark on the second phase of the initiative, which is expected to make a more substantial economic contribution.”
The CMEC is the latest of the six land corridors under the BRI and has assumed prominence in place of the Bangladesh China India Myanmar (BCIM). Sri Lanka has given mind to the CMEC because the other one is not realistic over political differences between India and China in main.
China encountered poetical challenges in Sri Lanka too during the first ten years. After the government change in 2015, the incoming government even tried to scrap the Colombo Port City, a flagship BRI project in the country. Widespread political criticism prevailed in the country. Since then, such criticism from the political parties appears to have faded as a result of better and wider engagements. The port city project has started taking off. The CPC will further its interaction with the parties across the divide here as it did over the years. Sri Lanka is pivoting to China in the meantime notwithstanding geopolitical tension.