Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Rome for a State visit to Italy. On March 22, President Xi spoke at a press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome. Both leaders hope to strengthen cooperation in culture and economics. They also want to deepen their trade and investment ties, and boost infrastructure and maritime links.
“We want to strengthen the synergies between our respective development strategies to enhance cooperation in the infrastructure, port, logistics, and maritime transport sectors and build a series of concrete projects along the Silk Road,” Xi said.
President Xi also noted that both countries could expand cultural exchanges through cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
One can typically judge the merits of any argument based on whether it is phrased positively or negatively. In the case of Western attacks on China’s BRI, the arguments are always couched in the most negative and pessimistic terms imaginable. Likewise, these arguments do not offer any alternative to the aims of creating peace through prosperity building global connectivity that is the essence of BRI.
First of all, the Western myth of a BRI “debt trap” is not only counterfactual but, it is illogical.
It is important to remember that countries that have been viewed by Western nations and Western financial institutions as “untouchable” have found that China treats them with respect and dignity and is open to working cooperatively toward a common goal of elevating the condition of the people.
To put it simply, China offers money in the form of loans, credit lines, grants and gifts to countries that were considered too economically depressed to be worthy of cash injections from wealthy Western countries.
As such, China works with scores of partners to create bespoke arrangements that look to the long-term future rather than to short-term profiteering.
Because China takes the long view, BRI partnerships are based on long-term efforts to create sustainable wealth creating infrastructure. This can be accomplished through a combination of aid, gifts, foreign direct investment from China and loans from China or others. Perhaps most importantly, BRI projects are predicated on the sharing of expertise above and beyond financial considerations.
Insofar as much foreign direct investment led projects will see Chinese or other foreign management taking a leadership role, whilst projects financed through loans often function under domestic management, BRI projects are holistically a mix of both Chinese, local and other foreign management, engineers and workers.
Having foreign management in a multilateral initiative is no more of an “invasion” than having domestic management in a multilateral project is autarky or isolationism. These are just standard international business practices that when conducted by non-Chinese companies are never presented by Western media in sinister terms.
Finally, China’s overriding goal with its BRI partners is sustainable development rather than short-or-medium-term profit. As the world becomes more interconnected, the nature of the global economy will be that of a jigsaw puzzle in which every region and country has a unique contribution to make.
Likewise, just as a jigsaw puzzle is incomplete unless all pieces are aligned, the mutually beneficial characteristics of BRI mean that givers will be receivers and receivers will likewise be givers on a win-win model.
BRI’s circular rather than a linear model of international trade cannot be compared to previous models of trade that were either exploitative in nature or otherwise prone to stagnation.
The model of trade that is the essence of BRI will give developing countries hitherto impossible opportunities to enrich the condition of their people through new exporting possibilities whilst also elevating living standards through the introduction of cost-effective and much-needed imports.
For developed countries, BRI offers a safety net against stagnation by inter-linking markets throughout the world that will come to be reliant on one another through win-win trading arrangements that can and shall evolve over time.
Taken in totality, BRI should inspire optimism because it looks to build up developing nations whilst simultaneously creating new opportunities for developed nations.
By contrast, the arguments against BRI are based on an inherent pessimism directed at the developing world as a whole, China in particular and in the broadest sense, at the human condition that can best function on a win-win rather than a zero-sum mentality.