The View From Asia

The road ahead for China's BRI partners

As the Belt and Road Initiative forges ahead, Asia News Network writers examine what it means for China and its partners in Asia. Here are excerpts.

China's Marshall Plan

The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

It was a curious scene in Beijing last week. It could not have been more jarring to see - more than 70 years after the establishment of the neoliberal economic order - the United States retreating, threatening trade war with China, Europe and other major economic powers, and demanding concessions from everyone it accused of cheating.

China, on the other hand, has proclaimed its intention to promote free trade, pledged structural reform to open up its economy and committed billions of dollars to build infrastructure that will connect the world through a new version of the millennia-old Silk Road.

Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed a gathering attended by more than 1,500 delegates, including 40 heads of state, not only pledging that he would spend US$440 billion (S$600 billion) on building infrastructure, but also promising that the money would be spent with accountability.

Mr Xi's pledge matters because, given its status as a rising superpower, China is willing to listen to its critics and change its behaviour.

With this assurance from Mr Xi, there are now more reasons for countries to join the initiative, which in scale and size could rival the US-initiated Marshall Plan project for Europe.

Some 126 have officially endorsed the initiative, with Italy becoming the first Group of Seven country to sign up.

A number of countries which were previously sceptical about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have since had second thoughts. After considering cancelling the construction of a high-speed railway network, Malaysia has decided to continue with the project.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo skipped the event for an obvious reason. The optics would not be good for him, only one week after winning re-election, to jet off to China. But the presence of Vice-President Jusuf Kalla was a strong indication that Indonesia continues to express strong interest in tagging along with the BRI.

During a meeting with Mr Kalla, Mr Xi said he was eager to see the completion of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway network so that it could be a BRI success story. Everybody loves a success story.

Will China rescue Malaysia?

Lim Sue Goan
Sin Chew Daily, Malaysia

It is good that Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad visited China to spruce up Malaysia's economy.

The bad thing is that the Pakatan Harapan government has taken almost a whole year to try to mend its bruised relationship with Beijing.

Before the 14th general election, Tun Dr Mahathir argued that the Forest City project by Country Garden of China would bring in some 700,000 Chinese nationals. He even visited the Kuantan industrial park and alleged in a video that the "Great Wall of China" was encircling the park, in an attempt to raise Malays' fears ahead of the election.

However, after suffering the third consecutive by-election defeat, Dr Mahathir realised that the pressing task now would be to revitalise the ailing economy.

He now says China is Malaysia's friend and hopes more Chinese investors will come to the country.

Prior to this, Dr Mahathir had pinned his hopes on Japan to lend a hand, but Tokyo is willing to provide only low-interest loans and does not have a sizeable domestic market to absorb Malaysia's palm oil, nor the financial strength to satisfy our thirst for foreign capital.

Dr Mahathir has said that China has a massive market of 1.4 billion people, and that Malaysia would become very rich if each Chinese would consume only one teaspoonful of palm oil a day. More importantly, this would also help lift some 1.2 million struggling Felda settlers and 650,000 smallholders out of poverty.

Despite the wealth of China, it is questionable whether we have the ability to lure more Chinese investments to this country, especially in the high-tech sector.

Besides the fact that many of our politicians customarily make Chinese investors their political targets, are Malaysians willing to change their work attitude in order to meet the high expectations of foreign investors?

A country's work culture will determine how successful it will become.

A historic opportunity

Munir Akram
Dawn, Pakistan

The BRI is an enormously ambitious project which envisages the linkage of the entire Eurasian mega-continent and its near and far periphery in South-east, South and West Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America through interconnected land and sea infrastructure, trade and investment.

Pakistan hosts BRI's flagship component. Prime Minister Imran Khan was one of only seven leaders requested to address the summit. He called the BRI a "model of collaboration, partnership, connectivity and shared prosperity" and a "new and distinct phase along the path of globalisation".

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is now the principal vehicle for the intensification of bilateral ties. Of the US$1 trillion that China has allocated to BRI projects, US$72 billion is envisaged for CPEC. Of the US$90 billion invested so far, around US$27 billion was in Pakistan.

China values its "strategic partnership" with Pakistan and recognises the imperative of ensuring its security, stability and development. The level of mutual trust between them is unparalleled. Its cooperation is essential to ensure Pakistan's ability to maintain credible deterrence against India and to stabilise Afghanistan after US withdrawal.

Pakistan's best choice now is to "tie itself to China with hoops of steel".

Making the BRI work better

Wang Huiyao
China Daily, China

As China enters a new phase of reform and opening-up, it should make greater efforts to optimise the positive impact of the BRI.

First, China should work to establish a Belt and Road International Cooperation Committee to make the initiative multilateral, rather than bilateral, in nature.

In fact, China should use the second Belt and Road forum to invite officials and experts from key international organisations to join the proposed committee in order to enhance the initiative's multilateral characteristics, as well as attract more participants from different countries and organisations, and thus reduce doubts over the initiative's goals.

Beijing should also set institutional standards for the BRI that are transparent and measure up to international standards.

Second, the importance of the initiative in the post-2008 global financial crisis era can be gauged from the fact that China has signed 173 documents on cooperation with 125 countries and 29 international organisations under the Belt and Road framework.

But since the initiative is aimed at boosting global growth, it should have a more inclusive definition.

Perhaps it should be called the Belt and Road International Development Plan to emphasise its overarching economic goal and remove doubts that China is using it as a tool to expand its influence across the world.

And third, there is a need to strengthen cooperation between China and international organisations under the Belt and Road framework in order to enhance overall multilateral cooperation.

For instance, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank model could be used to better collaborate with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and other regional and international banks to provide loans for Belt and Road projects.

There is also a need to open a global project website to issue tenders and invite international bids for Belt and Road projects.

• The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news organisations.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2019, with the headline The road ahead for China's BRI partners. Subscribe