Belt and Road is a beacon of light in troubled world
Heavy spending on infrastructure projects and massive overseas investments have been the hallmarks of the initiative, strengthening the economies of both China and partner countries in a "win-win" relationship. One of the key characteristics of the initiative is that despite the clearly unequal strength of member countries compared with China, the relationship is rooted in the equal status of all participants.
China's history of being exploited by colonial powers in the 19th and early 20th centuries has bequeathed a strong legacy of anti-colonialism. This explains why over 150 countries have been happy to sign up to the BRI, safe in the knowledge that China's initiative is not an exploitative colonial adventure along the lines of the old British, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Japanese or American top-down, imperial models.
The big achievement of the BRI has undoubtedly been to enhance connectivity and economic cooperation between participating countries across the world. Roads, railways, ports and other infrastructure facilities have been transformed, stimulating economic growth, the expansion of trade, regional integration and greater political stability. It has also strengthened the Global South, creating a more multipolar world, less dependent on American economic cycles.
The expression "When America sneezes, the world catches a cold" is probably still true, but the success of the BRI means that the cold should no longer be so intense or debilitating.
There are, of course, Western critics of the initiative. The real worry in the West about the BRI is not altruistic concern about countries taking on too much debt. It is actually more about the remarkable political success of the initiative in bringing together so many countries under one umbrella. Even worse, the umbrella was made in China. Inevitably, this will be perceived by many in the West as an expansion of China's political and strategic influence in the world and therefore a threat to the existing world order, based on Western and especially American hegemony.
We can only hope that enough people in the West dismiss such notions and actually listen to the uplifting messages coming out of the Beijing forum. Just as the ancient Silk Road brought Eastern and Western civilizations closer together, the BRI has reinforced global connectivity, strengthened economic and cultural links, and created a model of development underpinned by principles of equality, inclusion and international cooperation. At a time of heightened danger for world peace, notably in Ukraine and the Middle East, such principles are a rare beacon of light.