COVID-19 did not just change the world; it also showcases the significance of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).
According to a recent article in the Financial Times, China exports climbed by 9.5 percent in August in dollar terms compared with a year earlier, the highest surge of any month in 2020.
As China recovers from the pandemic, the surge in exports bears testimony to the strong connection binding China and BRI-participating nations and the unbreakable supply chain with Beijing. It also underscored China’s leading role in worldwide trade during the COVID-19 pandemic. And this is by itself a good sign for worldwide trade recovery.
COVID-19 has highlighted a gap in health and ICT infrastructure in emerging economies, a space China is filling via the “Health Silk Road” (HSR) and “Digital Silk Road” (DSR)
In spite of a late start in 2016, the HSR is gaining momentum with the COVID-19 outbreak, which lays bare the urgency and public-good nature of cross-border health cooperation. Since the pandemic began, the HSR has been providing medical assistance to BRI-participating nations through donations and consultations as well as commercial exports.
Through HSR, China has been limiting economic interruption from COVID-19 while transferring its experience and expertise in combating the virus. Looking beyond hard infrastructure, novel rhetoric about the HSR reveals China’s interest in advancing the BRI’s soft infrastructure.
Globally, health is seen as a precondition for the all-around development of human beings. Health cooperation is paramount in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the Eight Major Initiatives proposed at the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing, where China promised to strengthen health cooperation with Africa.
Likewise, the pandemic will spur a digital transformation of work and the workplace. This can open an opportunity for the DSR to thrive significantly.
On the one hand, numerous nations have doubled down on various China-inspired digital solutions to combat the virus. China’s use of a colour-coded app for checking folks’ health situation, contacts, and movement is a case in point as been adopted by some European, Asian and African nations.
They are making known to the public comparable official contact-tracing mobile apps to keep the public safe from the virus and gauge their citizens’ exposure to infection. As a result, China’s MedTech sector, combining health and digital expertise, may find increased opportunities to export public health-related high-tech.
On the other hand, consumer behaviour has changed drastically in response to COVID-19 lockdown. Social distancing measures have led to an expansion of e-commerce transaction volume, which becomes a new motivating force of economic growth.
So, it is imperative for Chinese e-commerce enterprises to expand to BRI-participating countries’ markets, and use e-commerce to bolster trade of each other’s quality and speciality products.
They should try to explore e-commerce cooperation mechanisms and strengthen policy coordination, planning integration, experience sharing, joint research and personnel training. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has promised to enhance e-commerce cooperation with and upsurge investments in 5G networks in BRI-participating nations.
From a long-term standpoint, even the worst of times will not remain forever. As the pandemic runs its course, the panic of the virus will lessen and nations all across the globe will be motivated to “restart the clock” and reintroduce their economies by ramping up investment in e-commerce and other sectors.
As such, a pivot towards developing projects in the HSR and DSR is timely. Not only do HSR and DSR promote higher value-added production and higher productivity, but they are also cheaper, easier to deliver and monetize than traditional infrastructure projects.
BRI cooperation is entering a phase of high-quality advancement
The Chinese government is determined to make HSR and DSR a catalyst for worldwide economic recovery. Therefore, China’s BRI will be key to mitigating the negative effects caused by COVID-19 globally.