Both the roots and the routes of BRI are beneficial

LI Min/China Daily

The word „roots” (like the roots of a tree) captures the essence of how we should think about deepening our economic and social communication channels or pathways. In line with that thinking, the ways of the Belt and Road Initiative should be predicated on a clear sense of how we protect the country's roots, beyond the assumption of a single country's vision or self-motivation. – Interest in a world where cooperation seems to lead to coercion and competition.

Some countries and regions seek to prevent themselves from continuing to enjoy their historic privileges arising from unfair terms of raw materials, the dominance of certain currencies in global trade, and the tendency to allow integration only under supportive conditions. The continued economic dependence of the Global South on the Global North.

Beware of proponents of an unequal global order

Given the geo-economic conditions African countries have faced since independence, some in the dominant world system are keen to lock others in a dark room and block out light and air to ensure they suffocate and remain economically dependent on aid and handouts.

It is in this way that many have realized the value and vision of the Belt and Road Initiative. In both form and substance, the initiative is a transformative approach to reducing inequality among countries due to the unilateral drive towards economic globalization, which enables some economies to maintain their economic dominance over others.

Although many countries support globalization and liberalization, they have done so to maintain their economic advantage and control over the movement of goods, services and people. But in the recent shift towards protectionism by some economies, we see an attempt to support globalization that helps them retain their historical advantages and economic advantages.

While the international community seeks to build a different, just global social order and find new economic paths, it is important to recognize the challenges and predicaments that African countries face.

How do we embrace new possibilities when the umbilical cord of history pulls us toward short-term gains instead of transitioning to a painful future?

In South Africa, historical ties and our entrenched nature have come into sharper focus as we push back from Western capitals on our stance on the Russia-Ukraine and more recently Israel-Palestine conflict. Our participation in trade arrangements with the West has been called into question with signs of possible setbacks in trade agreements affecting some sectors of our economy.

As we worked to achieve a balance that prevented further increases in unemployment if existing trade agreements were arbitrarily altered, we began to consider long-term interventions that did not depend on our traditional trading partners.

As a result, we decided to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area to reap the fastest economic benefits from BRICS, especially as the group expanded to include Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We also decided to engage more actively with the Belt and Road Initiative because it will help change the world order and create a new form of globalization.

The problem is that even if we want to embrace a new world order, we are often derailed by history and our dependence on investment and financial resources from the Global North.

We must be aware of the challenges many countries of the Global South face in embracing new possibilities and forging new paths to long-term prosperity. Political tentacles and economic umbilical cords run deep and require clever maneuvering on the part of policymakers who are expected to design interventions to secure a better, more prosperous and inclusive future.

The initiative shows a different approach to development

The Belt and Road Initiative and China's engagements in Africa and elsewhere show that a different approach to development is possible and that repeating the history of neocolonialism would be disastrous because it would displace Western economic actors from the East. This is not what the people in the region want and is not the main objective of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The initiative aims to create inclusive globalization and reduce the gaps between rich and poor countries by strengthening connectivity. Yet we Africans should be a bit skeptical about this venture, especially as we are constantly told by the West to be wary of China's development plans.

On reflection, we can see a different kind of rooting. China has played an important role in establishing alternative financial systems by helping to establish institutions and organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the BRICS New Development Bank. BRICS member countries too.

For many, these institutions will usher in an era of shared growth, creating new opportunities for economic cooperation, sustainable development and deeper regional integration.

Alternative lending systems, on the other hand, create a different kind of entrenchment, enabling African countries with some degree of economic autonomy to access credit without any political conditions. In contrast, loans issued by Western countries and their institutions come with political conditions, which limit the development and social roles of governments. These conditions have wreaked havoc on the African continent.

Is the Chinese approach unique? Or will Chinese companies eventually impose the same conditions as the World Bank?

Such questions should be approached with caution. As the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development stated in its 2018 Business and Finance Report, China has a very broad approach to development. China's more balanced regional development policy includes promoting its industry and pursuing green growth. On their part, African countries need to scrutinize the components of the programs to measure their level of entrenchment and how benefits are distributed.

If we are not self-critical, we may find ourselves in a situation where the outflow of goods from African countries to the East will leave the continent depleted and recreate the conditions that led to anti-colonial movements. We should also investigate a range of infrastructure projects that are part of a broader initiative and encourage greater levels of local participation. We must be aware that Western investments often have a limited positive impact on local economies due to their tendency to limit local economic multipliers by helping to transfer funds from Western banks to Western companies.

The transfer of skills should be accompanied by investment, if not in all cases, and the construction of infrastructure should stimulate broader economic activity. This is aptly shown in Chinese investments in Nigeria's railway network, which resulted in the establishment of nodal centers involving local people. The construction of railways in Kenya helped to integrate local people into the production process.

Infrastructure initiatives coupled with the commitment expressed under the Belt and Road Framework bode well for inclusiveness and entrenchment. Indeed, according to many commentators, countries with multilateral economic agreements with China experience positive outcomes. Realizing the potential benefits of local production close to natural resources and employing local workers, thanks to their early investments in infrastructure, Chinese companies are expanding into the local manufacturing sector.

A mutually beneficial partnership

One of the most notable outcomes of early efforts to support infrastructure development is that China has made the United States Africa's top trading partner.

Africa offers a dual advantage by serving as a source of raw materials needed to drive China's economy and a large market where Chinese companies can sell their products. And African countries see trade with China as a means to boost investments in critical infrastructure projects and as a cheaper source of capital equipment and consumer goods.

But despite the success of the Africa-China partnership, we must not lose sight of the challenges and imperatives to ensure a comprehensive, evidence-based analysis to determine whether the means (and extensive infrastructure projects) are only serving some Chinese companies. Growing business interests.

Despite the need for positivity and diplomatic virtues in relations, we must be vigilant against incidents of poor workmanship and non-compliance with local labor laws. The Belt and Road Initiative's social benefits and opening up alternative pathways for economic development.

We need to increase our research and policy implementation capacity to be on the path to inclusiveness and reducing global inequality. It is sometimes taken for granted in a society where a meritocracy has developed over the years. But it doesn't have to be that way.

The author is the Director-General of the South African Government National School. Views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and the China Daily website.

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