China’s Belt & Road Strategic Initiative (BRI) has a truly global significance and far-reaching geopolitical implications. The Belt is the Economic Silk Route that connects China to the Eurasian continent, Africa and the Middle East by Road, Rail & Fibre Optic communication lines by land, while the Route is the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route connects China to by Sea.

The Concept was first announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in his speech at the Nazarbayev University in September 2013 in the capital of Kazakhstan.

Like any other decision by Chinese Leaders, the choice of a geographic location for the presentation of a New Strategic Initiative to the world community was, in my opinion, deeply thought out and filled with Political Symbolism.

As President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev pointed out in his speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2020, the Central Asia Region is one of the key areas for the implementation of this megaproject.

It is obvious that when choosing our capital to announce its most important initiative, the Chinese Leader took into account Kazakhstan’s constant commitment to the idea of ​​relaunching the Great Silk Road by adopting the role of hub of the trade and infrastructure for the entire Eurasian Continent, through Central Asia.

The capitals of the two countries attach great importance to the development of a comprehensive strategic partnership characterised by constant and intensive political dialogue at the highest level and to the resolution of all questions of bilateral cooperation on the basis of the principles of good neighbourly relations , mutual understanding & trust.

It is no secret that the Belt & Road Initiative and the motives that motivated Beijing to promote it are considered controversial by many Foreigners. Government circles in the United States and several Western European States are particularly critical of it. As the Head of State pointed out, Kazakhstan does not share the concerns about the excessive influence of the Chinese Economy on the development of our Country.

On the contrary, we believe that close cooperation with China in the framework of the has many advantages and will ultimately increase the geopolitical importance of Central Asia as a whole.

This assessment of the first President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev repeatedly noted that Kazakhstan is the first and the main Country of the Economic Belt of the Silk Road, a kind of geo-economic gateway to China to the West.

At the highest level, the two Countries have identified the main directions for joint work on the integration of Kazakhstan’s “Nurly Zhol” program into the Belt & Road Initiative.

The harmony between Nurly Zhol and BRI is determined by the fact that the two mega-projects favour transport, logistics, industry, energy, agricultural exports, housing, municipal infrastructure, education, development of human capital and support for small and medium enterprises.

The creation of China-Kazakhstan-Russia-Western Europe, China-Kazakhstan-West Asia, China-Kazakhstan-South Caucasus / Turkey-Europe Transport Corridors is of particular importance for Our country within the BRI.

In my Opinion, there are a number of essential differences between the BRI and the large scale joint projects launched by other Countries and Inter-State Associations.

First, the practical tangibility of implementing stated intentions.

Second, there is a clear mechanism for translating the concept into action, including the creation of specialised sources of finance for the most ambitious and costly projects in the areas of infrastructure, energy, industry, info-communication and other fields.

Finally, unprecedented interregional and national coverage.

In the six and a half years since the launch of the Belt & Road Initiative, more than a hundred States from Asia, Europe, the Middle East & Africa and dozens of International Organisations have joined it in one way or another.

This impressive dynamic undoubtedly proves the viability of the BRI, clearly demonstrating the positive expectations of Chinese Partners, who see the Initiative as an attractive and beneficial economic prospect. The success of the implementation of large multilateral projects is largely determined by the attitude of the participants towards the motive of the creator of the initiative.

It is one thing to see the initiator as a soloist pursuing their own foreign policy and veiled economic goals and quite another thing if the initiator assumes the role of a leading partner who is genuinely interested to make the best use of everyone.

Other comparative advantages, complementing the opportunities for implementing national development strategies based on the unifying objective of social and economic well-being. Chinese leaders are aware of the importance of ensuring that partner countries understand its motivations correctly and emphasise the mutual and universal benefits of participating in the initiative.

Beijing’s official position is that given the global and regional transformations as well as the challenges and problems faced by China and Other Countries, the BRI has been proposed to primarily preserve the global system of free trade and economic relations. open, and also promote diversified cooperation with partner countries.

The Priorities are defined in a special action plan for the BRI & their hierarchy is organised as follows:

  1. coordination of economic policies and regional development plans, joint implementation of major projects;
  2. form an infrastructure network that connects Asia, Europe and Africa and is made up of transport corridors, railways, seaports, aeronautical infrastructure, energy transport systems , etc.;
  3. the implementation of unfettered trade by removing barriers, creating free trade areas, liberalising trade rules, improving customs and border procedures, etc .;
  4. financial integration based on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), as well as increasing the scope and extent of currency swaps;
  5. humanitarian cooperation, including an increase in the number of citizens studying at Chinese universities in countries participating in the BRI; the influx of tourists to China from these countries; contacts in the health field, as well as through NGOs.

Together, this gives a fairly clear idea of ​​the objectives of Chinese leaders in promoting the BRI. By assessing the context of the motivations, we can highlight several points that are not particularly announced.

First, it is clear that the slowdown in China’s economic growth due to the global recession (now with the additional challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and the geo-economic consequences) has prompted Beijing to intensify its efforts to create new export and investment opportunities and to develop. access to sources of raw materials and new markets for Chinese products.

The diversification of transport routes for the delivery of Chinese export products to world markets requires a transport and logistics infrastructure developed in the transit countries and favourable conditions for the smooth movement of Chinese goods and services, including liberalisation of customs and monetary regimes.

Second, China’s gradual acquisition of the role of the largest consumer, as the prosperity of the majority of the population increases, places it at the top of the value chain. The central and especially western regions of China are becoming leaders in terms of growth rates and, unlike the southern and eastern regions of the country, still have a large reserve for extensive economic expansion.

The levelling of regional disparities requires the implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects in these parts of the country in cooperation with the neighbouring states of Central Asia and South Asia.

Third, in the efforts of Chinese leaders to alleviate the problem of separatism in the Uighur Autonomous Regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, it is important to accelerate the economic development of Xinjiang and Tibet by intensifying their ties with d ‘other provinces and foreign neighbours.

Fourth, in recent decades, the growth of the Chinese economy has been largely based on the so-called demographic dividend, such as the large number of working-age citizens who have created an excessively high supply of labour. cheap on the job market. Belt & Road Projects are an opportunity to find a lasting solution to the employment problem.

Fifth, the initiative aims to ensure the presence of the Chinese capital of the participating countries in sectors of strategic importance to China. Beijing’s priority is to stimulate economic growth by increasing exports of products from industries with significant overproduction, such as steel, cement and aluminum.

Finally, the huge construction sector, which employs millions of Chinese, will need new long-term projects after the imminent completion of major infrastructure projects in eastern China. The transport and logistics infrastructure for transit to Europe, the Middle East and Africa will provide long-term contracts to Chinese construction companies.

The above does not indicate that there is anything particularly alarming about the Belt & Road Initiative: with the appropriate financial resources, that is what any government concerned with the socioeconomic development of the country would do. .

However, when geopolitics is based on the win-lose principle, a positive development for China leads to a critical attitude towards the Beijing initiative among representatives of state structures and the community of experts, particularly in the United States. United and in what is called the collective West.

In addition, in backdoor and public diplomacy, Washington and the capitals of some other United States allies try to instil distrust in governments and appropriately influence public opinion in the countries participating in the initiative. Belt & Road regarding the gap between their long-term national interests and excessive dependence on uneven cooperation with China. The negative perception of the Chinese initiative in the West is formed around the following views.

Thanks to the Belt & Road Initiative, Beijing is seeking, under the guise of the modernised renaissance of the Great Silk Road, to extend Chinese influence in the states involved in the initiative, covering a vast network of transport and logistics, energy, trade and financial ties.

China is seeking to move the American hegemony into the global geopolitical space by attracting as many of the many states of Eurasia and other continents into its orbit through large-scale infrastructure projects.

China’s multi-billion dollar investments in economic projects in the Belt & Road Countries would aim to strengthen their political and economic dependence on Beijing, and some of these countries are likely to become satellites of China, which is said to intend to force them to accept the presence of Chinese military contingents along the transit lines to ensure the security of the established infrastructure.

Representatives from the West warned that being a transit country in the BIS would not stimulate the growth of industrial production, but would only increase the dependence of their economy on the demand for raw materials.

AIIB lines of credit to finance major projects in participating countries should not be cancelled, as they increase already important indicators of external debt, including in some Central Asian states, stressing that sooner or later current loans will have to be repaid to the AIIB for example.

The validity of some of the above warnings will be verified by reality, while others seem unrealistic and accomplices. In any case, the Belt & Road Initiative has become a significant stressor in the United States’ strategic confrontation with China.

The recent conclusion of an agreement between Washington and Beijing on the first phase of a trade settlement is a positive signal for the world economy, but it must be assumed that the geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China will continue to determine the parameters of global challenges and risks of international political and economic interaction.

Our country and our regional neighbours should assume that the Belt & Road Initiative is an open and inclusive platform for multilateral cooperation, where it is possible to respond to the vital national interests of each participant, regardless of their size, economy and political weight.

It is clear that China has its reasons for promoting the Belt & Road Initiative, but the decisions of the leaders of nearly a hundred countries which have joined the initiative were undoubtedly based on an in-depth analysis of all the benefits and disadvantages, including the consequences not only for economic development but also for sovereignty and national security.

For Eurasian States like Kazakhstan, the BRI is a good opportunity to realise a collective interest in creating a solid basis for the sustainable development of the entire continent.

In the recent past, before the launch of the Belt & Road Initiative, the authoritative American Political Scientist, President of the Silk Road Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, Frederick Starr pointed out that Despite its obvious appeal, the idea of ​​the Eurasian Land Transport Corridor does not become reality due to a lack of Strategic Imagination, the obsession of many Countries with relevant and important but current problems, making difficult to take into account the whole geopolitical and geo-economic situation. Beijing presented this strategic vision with its Belt & Road Initiative.

The implementation of the mega-project will allow, without exaggeration, to reformulate overall economic and commercial processes and transform the integration of infrastructure for the benefit of landlocked Countries like Kazakhstan.

In the modern context of globalisation and the growing tendency to interface the processes of economic integration on the Eurasian continent, the very concept of landlocked country is transformed into a new definition of a country linked to the land.

For Kazakhstan, whose foreign and economic policies were based on the principle of a multi-sectoral approach and openness to constructive cooperation with neighbouring Countries and the world community at the dawn of independence, active participation in the Belt & Road Initiative is natural and logical.

At Nur-Sultan, it is assumed that the Belt & Road Initiative will bring an undeniable benefit to Our Country in the form of modernisation of transport and transit logistics & integration with the New Economic Program Nurly Zhol. There is no doubt that everything necessary for the Kazakh side to contribute to the revival of the Silk Road will be successfully implemented.

Author: Bolat Nurgaliyev, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Foreign Policy Research Institute of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, former Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (2007- 2009), Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Editor’s Note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of the editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.