Belt and Road Forum: A Global Vision with Chinese Characteristics
Dr. Mustafa Yağcı
Lecturer, İstanbul Bilgi University
China hosted the Belt and Road Forum on May 14th and 15th in Beijing. This forum can be interpreted as the first major international event materializing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China. Chinese President Xi Jinping started to express China’s desire to energize the ancient Silk Road in 2013 during a visit to Kazakhstan. During Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings held in Beijing in 2014 President Xi Jinping highlighted how China aspires to connect countries along the Silk Road not only through infrastructure projects but also via communication, trade, finance and cultural exchanges with the BRI:
“[connectivity] is not merely about building roads and bridges or making linear connection of diﬀerent places on surface. More importantly, it should be a three-way combination of infrastructure, institutions and people-to-people exchanges and a five-way progress in policy communication, infrastructure connectivity, trade link, capital ﬂow, and understanding among people”.
Thus, Belt and Road Forum was the first meeting that brought together the countries participating in the BRI. In the last few years, there were many skeptical views about this Chinese initiative, but the countries represented in the Belt and Road Forum show that many countries are eager to take part in this ambitious project, the majority of them coming from Asia and Europe (Figure 1).
During the forum, President Xi underlined that China will provide more capital to the BRI, their goal is to avoid protectionism, open markets for more trade, capital flows, investments with the ultimate objective of accomplishing win-win cooperation for mutual development for all the countries involved. We can interpret these messages as a global vision for the future with Chinese characteristics. Thus, as a rising power, China aspires to play a more dominant role in shaping the future of global economic relations.
Figure 1: Countries represented in the Belt and Road Forum
Source: Shannon Tiezzi, “Who Is Actually Attending China’s Belt and Road Forum?”
While the global vision of China can be applauded for its defense of economic globalization in response to the protectionist voices arising from the Western world, especially the United States, it would be much more appropriate to examine the reasons behind the BRI with more focus on domestic developments inside China. China is in the middle of transforming its economic development model, shifting from an investment-based economic model to a more consumption-based model. During this transition, China is aiming to make use of its accumulated foreign exchange reserves, export this excess production capacity to other countries and focus on production of high technology, innovative products inside China. Thus, BRI can be seen as the international reflection of domestic economic reform efforts in China. Aside from the economic factors, BRI also involves important political elements with the potential to transform bilateral relations between countries. For instance, India does not see BRI as an economic project with the ultimate goal of mutual development for all the countries involved but an attack on its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Therefore, the implementation of BRI will rest on both economic and political elements.
China’s rise as a dominant player in the international political economy is not limited to BRI. The establishment of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, New Development Bank with other BRICS countries and the proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific are manifestations of the crucial roles China aspires to play in the years to come. With the critical potential to transform global development dynamics and influence economic development trajectory of developing countries, China establishes a new transnational policy paradigm. That is why I call the recent Chinese initiatives in the international political economy as “A Beijing Consensus in the Making”, an alternative paradigm which distinguishes itself from the practices of both Washington and Post-Washington Consensus. These initiatives may be in different areas and their objectives may seem distinct but they are interconnected and their goals complement each other in reflecting the changing role of China in the international political economy and sustaining Chinese economic development in the coming years. For developing countries, the emerging Beijing Consensus offers some opportunities but over-reliance on the Chinese initiatives may not generate the desired outcomes. Therefore, developing countries need to find proactive, innovative ways to turn the rise of China in the international political economy to their advantage in their quest of achieving higher levels of social and economic development.
5 Mustafa Yağcı, (2016) “A Beijing Consensus in the Making: The Rise of Chinese Initiatives in the International
Political Economy and Implications for Developing Countries”, Perceptions: Journal of International Affairs,