I think the Belt & Road Initiative is the hottest topic now a days among both business people and politicians. As BRI considers and evaluated by different approaches both for and against, new facts, ideas, feedbacks, opinions and analysis reach public and more specific target groups. It brings about even myths that sometimes are so near or far from the original idea or reality of BRI.
We can generally witness two main approaches, no matter if it consider BRI positive or negative.The first is geo-political and the other is geo-economic.
Those considering or evaluating BRI as a geo-political issue are mostly politicians and think tanks of different states. In this matter BRI is China and there is no distinction between them. Whether you are for or against China and then you are automatically for or against BRI.
This approach is already evaluated the BRI on two basis, the first is rivalry and the other is the experienced and historical models to change global governance, for example colonialism in Africa or Asia.
Major Think Tanks of Europe and USA usually consider China as a rival for new global governance and therefore any attempt, among others BRI, can only be interpreted and considered as a tool for this purpose. By this approach they compare BRI to a “new colonialism” of “underdeveloped” countries. The problem is that you should have many assumptions first in order to believe this analysis or China as a threat. 1-China is hostel to other powers 2- China will create its own alliance against others and 3- China needs more power to undermine others’ critics against herself.
As these Think Tanks can only review past models of Western countries for such an “aggressive” attack for own interests, they can find nothing but one model, colonialism. Therefore BRI cannot and should not be anything else than just a tool for colonialism. The irony is that all the analysis and addressing critics to BRI is actually what same countries did in the past to Africa and Asia for taking control of these nations. Debts, high interest on loans, using their natural resources, using local population as cheap working forces, owning mines and other national resources, helping infrastructure as long as it serves and ease their life and businesses and so on. The truth is none even as a research subject or study has considered BRI as a modernized model of ancient Silk Road. A Model that was far more than just a trade model.
The geo-political approach often forgets the very essence of market economy: All for customers. If some country or model can contribute to a better of customers’ life, in macro prospective a nation, and therefore this model or country can have better market share, what is wrong with that. Yes, someone else loses the market. That’s true, but then it is up to that losing party to come up with a better solutions and better beneficial terms for its target group. It is the real market economy and not throwing stones to the counter party to makes him run away! Using political measures against a nation when the issue is losing your position at an existing marketand not political disputes, is far from all the values West once wanted to be represented by in its model of market economy.
Another approach: geo-economy, represents mostly among developing countries and European entrepreneurs and business people. In this category, BRI considers as a project and not essentially as it belongs to China only or it is related to approval or denial of China as a country and her system. It is an opportunity for both parties and they should try equally to make a win-win situation. As it is for all business models even at micro level.
But even here, we see that a myth is taking shape: BRI is for developing countries. This myth forming itself by two assumptions: 1- European countries have an infrastructure in all aspects and 2- China’s first agreements with African nations or in CPEC have given them a wrong impression that BRI is about developing countries.
If we take the first assumption for discussion, it is worth to mention that infrastructure is not about single attempt construction but it demands updating, upgrading and improving instantly. Europe today is behind. In Sweden only, there is a need of at least 700 million Swedish Crowns (almost 67 million Euro) for railways, roads and housing, and at least 1000 billion Swedish Crowns (almost 96 billion Euro) for electricity net. In these numbers, need for infrastructure of harbors and other nets are not included. Consider this, Sweden is one of the most modern and high technological developed countries in the World.
And let’s take the other assumption. CPEC or FOCAC are most immediate concerns because these countries partially are neighbor to China and others are in need to improve life of millions suffering from poverty, wars and migration of young generation to other countries. For these countries deep in the crises due to wrong finance of loans and aids not aiming infrastructure and not focusing on fundaments, they have gone deeper than before in crises and do not need aid and charity but investment, aimed on infrastructure. These immediate projects do not by any means can interpreted as the only purpose of BRI.
Europe can therefore be a strong partner as nations for BRI. They can both be a partner in their own domestic projects but also in global projects with their advanced technology, knowledge of international project management and deep understanding for consequences of poverty, immigrations and regional armed conflicts that Europe on daily basis even experience domestically by facing thousands of people flee to Europe.
The author is a Chairman of China Sweden Business Council and senior business developer