In the contemporary world, the connectivity phenomenon is having its deep roots and it can be easily seen in theoretical world as well as practical fields in maintaining dynamic relations among states. Either to discuss the realist or the liberalist, one thing is common; they are concerned about survival; sustain life and living. Realism is one of the oldest paradigms in International Relations and it is “a spectrum of ideas” based on shared principles about what determines states’ behaviours towards one another. China’s idea of revolutionizing connectivity revolves around survival; sustain life and living, which is also the need of the hour for China as well as the developing countries. The instant article aims to discuss the BRI and its six economic corridors
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an initiative taken by Chinese president Xi Jinping to build (i) Silk Road Economic Belt; and (ii) the Twenty-first-century Maritime Silk Road, to expedite the implementation of the Initiative under “Silk Road Spirit” which is “peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit” based on the idea of “Connectivity”.
The Silk Road Spirit is having a deep bond with the phenomenon of connectivity between different civilizations of the world as it was in the days of the Old Silk Road (OSR). The OSR was not just a road; it was a cradle of great heritage of human civilizations belonging from different vibrant regions such as South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East up to the Roman Empire (Mediterranean Sea).
The BRI was first propagated by Chinese president Xi Jiping in 2013, during his visit to Central and Southeast Asia in September and October of 2013, where he raised the initiative with the forename of “The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road”.
The Chinese idea of BRI is based on futuristic economic relationship among China’s neighbours and even beyond. It is now an upgraded version that emphasizes the mega-scale connectivity through vibrant corridors of road, railways and maritime linkages. This forms vital portion of the OSR.
The BRI comprises five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence i.e. Mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Mutual non-aggression, Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, Equality and mutual benefit, and Peaceful coexistence.
The framework of BRI revolves around the ‘win-win’ concept, which would promote common development and prosperity and a road toward peace and friendship by enhancing mutual understanding and trust, and strengthening all-around exchanges. Other than this, the Chinese government advocates peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit.
The BRI Cooperation Priorities has five major goals: Policy coordination, Facilitating connectivity, Unimpeded trade, Financial integration and People-to-people bonds. By 2050, the Belt and Road region aims to contribute 80 percent of the global GDP growth, and uplift three billion more people to the middle class.
The main idea of BRI is “Connectivity” Beijing has initiated six main corridors namely: (i) Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC), (ii)China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor (CICP-EC) (iii) China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor (CMR-EC), (iv) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (C-PEC), (v) China-Central and West Asia Economic Corridor (CCWA-EC), (vi) New Eurasian Land Bridge (NELB).
1. Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC)
BCIM-EC is the initiative taken in the late 1990s. The idea was to connect China’s Yunnan Province in a possible sub-regional cooperation involving southwestern China, eastern India and the whole of Myanmar and Bangladesh. It is also regarded as the connectivity of “sub-regional” economic cooperation.
The final BCIM-EC priority agenda is TTE (Trade, Transport and Energy) and it took almost fifteen years to become a reality. After 1990s, the year 2013 was crucial in the development of the BCIM initiative. A major development in realizing the BCIM-EC, following the Silk Road spirit of “peace and cooperation” is a join study group the first meeting of which was held in December 2013 in Kunming; thus, officially setting up the mechanism to promote cooperation indicating that New Delhi and Beijing are prepared to work together in common peripheries.
For China, the BCIM-EC offers several advantages. Firstly, it is giving China a great connectivity with the lucrative markets of India and Bangladesh; secondly, it provides China with an outlay to the Bay of Bengal which is an alternate way to evade Strait of Malacca and also to feed China’s southwestern provinces with oil and gas. It is also another channel for China to diversify its oil imports.
Currently, the BCIM-EC countries are facing many political, security and environmental issues at the local, national and regional levels and they need to be addressed urgently. It seems difficult to handle three states in the peripheries of China and before trade architectures, transit facilities and infrastructure capabilities, it is important to initiate people-centric projects to ensure engagement and involvement of the respective societies of these countries in projects that are being developed under the BCIM-EC.
2. China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor (CICP-EC)
The CICP-EC has a strategic significance for Beijing; it is a land bridge that links China with the Indochina Peninsula and crosses the heart of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia. It is also expected to boost China’s cooperation with the ASEAN countries as it has natural linkages through the Greater Mekong Sea as it is an international region of the Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia.
Several projects like $23bn Kunming-Singapore railway by the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) to connect China to all ASEAN countries, (scheduled to be completed in 2021), ten cross-national highways including one high-speed railway from Bangkok to Singapore and the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) transnational infrastructure network cutting across five ASEAN countries, are some possible connections under the Silk Road Spirit.
The CICP-EC aims to better connect cities in this region with a network of railways and highways to facilitate the flow of people, goods, capital and information as important part of Silk Road Spirit. In fact, the coastal states in Southeast Asia such as Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia and the only landlocked country in the region Laos would take part in the BRI to build highways, railways and seaports to realize the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
3. The China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor (CMR-EC)
The idea to create this corridor was first conceived in September 2014, in Dushanbe (Tajikistan), and the final agreement was concluded in June 2016 in Tashkent (Uzbekistan), where the three leaders of Russia, China and Mongolia signed the CRM-EC programme. The CRM-EC has its significance in collaborating three important, big countries Russia, landlocked Mongolia and China with the goal of increasing economic ties and political relationships which could lead to future cooperation in infrastructure building.
The Programme of Trilateral Economic Corridors includes different fields of cooperation, such as transportation infrastructure, cooperation in industrial sector, development of border crossings, cooperation in energy sector, environment and ecology, education, science and technology, humanitarian and agriculture sectors.
The Russian roads and railways would connect Asia and Europe with Mongolia’s Prairie Road Project which is aimed at improving the connectivity within Mongolia and towards neighbouring countries. Connecting three colossal transportation infrastructures such as BRI, Prairie Road Project and Russian roads and railways will create an effective network for cross-border trade for a greater party of the world.
From China side, it will connect Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia with Russia via Mongolia through railways, roads and energy pipelines having western, central and eastern corridors and railways linkages. Regarding the road transit corridor, eastern corridor, AH-3 (central Road) and AH-4 (western road) would be established.
The effort China is exerting toward establishing economic corridors shows how the goal is not only a network of transportation infrastructures, but it is a complete system that can balance trade and transportation. The strategic location of the economic corridors, particularly the CMR-EC could lead to the establishment of free trade zones or special economic zones that will facilitate communication and trade between Europe and Asia. Another important aspect of this corridor is that it would be connected, in future, with the other flagship corridors of BRI, CPEC through road connectivity of AH-4.
4. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
The Chinese investment of $46 billion – now nearly 60 billion – on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is very consequential in this regard. CPEC is one branch of China’s $1 trillion investment tree for Pakistan. It’s all due to China’s investment-friendly philosophy. Fortunately, this came as the privileged bounty for Pakistan owing, mainly, to the latter’s geo-strategic location and time-tested Pak-China friendship. It is one corridor with multiple passages and comprises 3Cs i.e. Connectivity, Corridor linkages and Cultural relationships, which are important aspects of cooperative priorities of BRI and Silk Road Spirit.
Chinese cooperation with Pakistan follows what China refers to as a 1+4 model, where 1 represents the CPEC initiative and 4 represents each of the pillars that support it: Gwadar port, energy, infrastructure, and industrial collaboration. In the medium-to-long term, both sides will explore and expand the cooperation fields to financial services, science and technology, tourism, education, poverty elimination and urban planning, etc.
Gwadar port is an important element of CPEC. A sea is a major mode of traffic, happens to be comparatively cheaper trade route than other modes like land or air. Pakistan’s Gwadar port is the second largest deep sea port in the world, bearing strategic significance, especially with reference to maritime linkages along the Silk Road.
CPEC offers Pakistan a tantalizing opportunity for investment in trade, marketing, business and banking sectors, as well as a sizeable market for common goods. Connectivity of regional states with Pakistan could unfold immense opportunities in trade, business, infrastructure, transportation and emerging markets for both China and Russia.
CPEC, on the other hand, would present an obvious opportunity also for Gulf countries to enhance their trade owing to Gwadar’s proximity to the Persian Gulf. At the same time, another important project China-Central-West Asia Economic Corridor (CCWAEC) with CPEC will also have important strategic implications for the Gulf region.
5. China-Central and West Asia Economic Corridor (CCWAEC)
This important corridor connects China with Central and West Asia including the Arabian Peninsula. The vast region it covers generally follows the trajectory of the ancient Silk Road.
The corridor starts from China’s Xinjiang and crosses into five Central Asian Republics and 17 countries and regions in West Asia (including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey), while reaching the Persian Gulf. It is an important component of the Silk Road Economic Belt.
Despite being rich in hydrocarbon reserves, Central and West Asia have many factors such as backward infrastructure and lack of funds that hinder local development. The CCWAEC is designed to facilitate economic and trade cooperation as well as flow of capital to these regions, boosting local economic and social development.
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and Kuwait’s Vision 2035 are having a lot in common with BRI. Frequent high-level visits of both countries’ important figures to Beijing have presented opportunities to coordinate plans with BRI projects. Therefore, as per an estimate, the Sino-Gulf trade has swelled from just under $10 billion in 2000 to $114 billion in 2016.
6. New Eurasian Land Bridge (NELB)
Last but not least, the sixth corridor is land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” project i.e. NELB. It runs through Kazakhstan, a landlocked state and has very positive attitude towards the BRI because it allows the country and other nations in the region to become a bridge between different civilizations and continents as was the case in the days of ORS.
It is an international passageway that links the Pacific and the Atlantic. It goes from China’s coastal cities of Lianyungang and Rizhao to Holland’s Rotterdam and Belgium’s Antwerp. The 10,800-kilometre-long rail link runs through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany, and serves more than 30 countries and regions.
Several transcontinental rail routes have already entered into service. These include the Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe Railway (reaching Germany’s Duisburg via Poland), the Chengdu-Xinjiang-Europe Railway (reaching Poland), and the Yiwu-Xinjiang-Europe Railway (reaching Madrid). The construction of associated highways, power transmission lines and ports is progressing in a steady manner.
Other different freight rail route like Chengdu to Lodz (Poland), Zhengzhou to Hamburg (Germany), are new routes that offer rail-to-rail freight transport, as well as the convenience of one declaration, one inspection and one cargo release.
Needless to narrate, China-Europe cooperation is heading towards new horizons. A dedicated forum for cooperation with Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) countries has been around now for several years. This forum was created in April 2012, with ’16+1′ framework, constitutes a platform of sixteen countries from Europe, which would bring heads of states together annually to strengthen dialogue and cooperation between China and the CEE region. This cooperation is going to connect China via NELB to European Union. As indicated in the report of The Hague Center for strategic studies, “A Road to Riches or a Road to Ruin? The Geo-economic Implications of China’s New Silk Road”, 2017, that in November 2016, during the last Summit of the ’16+1′ framework, China launched a €10 billion investment fund to finance projects in the CEE region. China’s interest in the CEE region could be seen as a medium through which it can influence the European Union (EU). This influence manifests itself primarily in the form of initiatives which aim to persuade the CEE countries to adopt favourable policies vis-à-vis China.
As the ancient silk route embodies the spirit of “peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit”. Above-mentioned six economic corridors are one positive aspect of globalization where borders do not impose limits, checks and restrictions or create walls of distrust. Free flow of trade, goods, capital and ideas could gestate a new world. As an old saying goes: where caravans start crossing the borders, the armies usually will hesitate twice to do so.