Enhancing multilateralism through coordinated polices in Belt and Road Initiative

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims at connecting countries of the world. Currently it is in its tenth-year anniversary. This initiative has five dimensions. These are Policy Coordination, Facilities Connectivity, Unimpeded trade, Financial Integration, and People-to-People Bond. The focus of this piece is on the policy coordination of member states of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The BRI is being implemented through the agreements signed with governments and international organizations. So far China has signed with 150 governments and 32 international organizations to execute this grand and global projects. Just after the signing of the agreement, the projects related to BRI will be executed through collaboration and partnership.

Different governments have their own domestic and foreign policies. Their policies can be in harmony or contradict with the policies of other countries. That is why policy coordination is important for the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative. Governments are the main players in coordinating policies. It is a mutually agreed modification to harmonize different countries’ policies for the same objective and goal.

According to one source policy coordination is a “soft connectivity”. This means that policy coordination between governments can be done based on willingness and mutual agreements rather than through force of arms and compulsion. Thus policy coordination doesn’t mean compromising sovereignty and national interests of countries. The BRI is inclusive to all nations be it developed or developing countries. As long as there is harmony of policy with China’s BRI objectives they can implement their plan without serious challenges.

Policy coordination can be done at different levels. Be it bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral, or multilateral forums. For instance, the IMF is a multilateral forum. It has a standard towards policy coordination among countries so as to implement the objective of the institution smoothly. By the same token, BRI member countries should have compatible policies to work effectively and efficiently.

Since BRI is forwarded by China there should be policy coordination between China and other BRI member countries. China has one major criterion before starting diplomatic relations and policy coordination towards BRI. This critical criterion is the recognition of the “One China Policy”. Based on this policy, China will not work with governments that recognize Taiwan as an independent country.

The essence of BRI is connectivity through railway, highway, maritime, aviation, gas pipeline, internet, and the like. Connectivity facilitates import and export trade among countries. It also enables the flow of Foreign Direct Investments to various countries. This in turn is leading to global economic development. Thus the BRI is contributing to holistic development.

The goal of policy coordination in BRI is to uphold shared prosperity in the presence of responsibility for all. It also helps to establish communication mechanisms among governments. Policy coordination between and among governments has a lot of benefits. According to one source “enhancing policy coordination is an important guarantee for implementing the initiative”. Policy coordination rather than fragmentation of policies strengthens multilateralism. Coordinated policy will also help to guide relationships among countries. In the presence of coordinated policies, challenges and success can easily be predicted.

The other benefit of policy coordination is the improvement of welfare for the participating countries. Coordinated policy helps to the unity of action in the pursuit of a common objective. It also helps to synchronize the objectives and functions of governments for mutual benefit. A harmonized policy helps to develop common goals as well as unity of direction. The absence of a coordinated policy means navigation without a compass. This may lead to a loss of direction and destination.

In the presence of coordinated policy, there will be lesser disputes among governments in the implementation of the BRI. If there is no coordination of policies, there can be disagreements on various projects under the BRI. A dispute is also less likely in harmonized policies. Policy coordination also helps practical cooperation among partner countries and supports the optimum utilization of human, financial, and material resources.

As mentioned above governments have various policies to be implemented. However, there is a need to harmonize them with the policy requirements of BRI to be effectively executed. For instance, to achieve the plan of building a “Health Silk Road” there is a need to coordinate health policies of different countries towards BRI objectives and mutual benefits. The same is true for “Digital Silk Road” and “Maritime Silk Road”. Land-locked countries can focus on policies related to investment, trade and the construction of infrastructure such as railways, highways and aviation.

 Non-land-locked countries can incorporate their maritime policy with the requirements of “Maritime Silk Road” projects including port development and safety of trade on water bodies.

The BRI is in harmony with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. According to the United Nations report, “BRI is a highly valuable vehicle for accelerating implementation of the 2030 Agenda [SDGs]”. BRI is speeding up the implementation of SDGs. This is because BRI and SDGs have many commonalities in objectives. The United Nations has also welcomed the BRI as one of its arms to achieve its goals. Through the BRI China is also supporting the implementation of the SDGs.

According to the United Nations source, policy coordination in BRI “improve synergy among policies and development strategies of different countries and regions… create closer BRI partnership”. Similarly, the objective of BRI is compatible with the Agenda 2063 of the African Union. One of the main objectives of the Agenda is connectivity among African countries. In implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the African Union can also get benefit from BRI projects since it will facilitate trade among African countries.

BRI is a global project that provides benefits to the people of the world. There is no doubt that the BRI still faces many challenges, and problems in practice. There is a need to identify policy coordination challenges. Some Western countries are criticizing BRI as if it is designed only to benefit China to secure the trade routes, and extend its influence. But connectivity in the world arena can give advantages to the Western countries themselves too. For instance, the China- Europe, railway express is connecting China with 180 cities in 23 European countries. This can easily facilitate the movements of people and goods in the European countries.

One of the successes of BRI is the construction of the railway that linked Ethiopia and Djibouti. It is helping the export and import to and from China and other Western countries. This means that indirectly Western countries can also get benefit from the railway and other connectivity in the world. Moreover through BRI many Industrial Parks have been constructed in Ethiopia. Italian investors and other Western countries business people are working in the shades and exporting their products to many other countries. Thus the BRI is not benefiting only China, but also many countries in the world.

However, BRI is not benefiting all countries equally. It depends on their resources, dedication of leadership, compatibility of policies, trust between governments, geopolitical and geo-strategic positions, and readiness in the accomplishment of the “Give and Take” principle. Because of these sample indicators, some governments can get more benefits than others.

Policy coordination is not an easy task. It needs high-level expert support. In this respect, the role of think tanks is worth mentioning. To come up with policy coordination, governments should have a closer dialogue to modify and adjust their policies. The modified policies should be endorsed by the proper institutions of respected countries. Otherwise, it will not have legal grounds to be implemented. In the policy coordination, African countries should also make sure that the modification of their policy is in harmony with Agenda 2063 of the African Union.

Policy coordination facilitates economic globalization. Sustainable development, equity, justice, wise use of resources, respect for the culture of BRI member countries, non-interference in the internal affairs of governments, and respect for international law are some of the basic and common denominators for harmonizing policies of various governments to implement BRI efficiently and effectively.

To sum up, the BRI is in its tenth-year anniversary. Policy coordination is one of the basic elements in the five connectivity index for the Belt and Road initiative. It is a foundation for the other four indexes. Policy coordination is detrimental to the success of the other four components of the BRI. As the Chinese say “Harmony Brings Wealth” policy coordination and harmony in the BRI will bring wealth to nations and the world at large.

(This author is a researcher in International Relations and Diplomacy, Institute of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, melakumulu@yahoo.com)



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