The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (Belt and Road Initiative) are reminiscent of the ancient network of trade routes that were for centuries central to the cultural interaction between Asia and Europe. The route was so significant to China that they protected the route by extending the Great Wall of China. Indeed, the political and economic impact of the Silk Road was felt up to the Horn of Africa.
BRI aims to promote the connectivity of the Asian, European and African continents and their adjacent seas, build and strengthen partnerships between countries throughout the project, establish multi-tier, multi-dimensional and composite connectivity networks, and diversify, independent and self-sufficient systems to achieve balanced and sustainable development in these countries.
The BRI cooperation is open, ecologically conscious. and clean. It is based on the principle of an open economy and an inclusive and non-discriminatory global market. All interested countries are cordially invited to join this cooperation. The BRI underlines the importance of promoting green development and tackling environmental and climate change challenges, including enhancing cooperation in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The project also promotes the building of a culture of integrity and the fight against corruption.
According to China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the country has signed more than 200 cooperation documents for joint construction of the BRI with 152 countries and 32 international organisations over the past decade, covering 83 per cent of the countries with which the country has established diplomatic relations. In addition, the 3,000 BRI cooperation projects have created around 420,000 jobs and lifted almost 40 million people out of poverty. According to the World Bank, if transport infrastructure in BRI is fully implemented by 2030, it will increase global real income by 0.7 to 2.9 per cent, lifting 7.6 million people from extreme poverty, and 32 million people in moderate poverty.
Such cooperation opens up new sources of growth, offers potential for economic and social development and contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The massive amount of money that China has invested in this initiative shows how seriously the country has been implementing Xi’s October 2013 vision on connectivity and cooperation among countries. Moreover, the fact that it apparently rivals America’s Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership also shows the increasing thrust of China’s influence on the global economic arena.
Xi has kept the promise that the BRI will be open, tolerant and seek win-win scenarios. This is unlike, for instance, the West’s protectionist policies. Clearly, this global initiative makes China a de facto economic superpower.
The BRI is a long-term transcontinental infrastructure development strategy proposed by President Xi Jinping and endorsed by the Chinese government. As of March 2022, 146 countries and 32 international organisations had signed cooperation agreements for the BRI.
From 2013 to December 2021, China’s participation in the BRI through construction contracts (often financed by Chinese financial institutions) and investments was approximately US$890 billion. The aim is to connect Asia, and the European and African continents through land and sea networks. The aim is to improve connectivity and cooperation to improve trade and development.
Most important and relevant, Africa forms part of the initiative and is already benefiting from the funds through the ongoing improvements to local roads, airports, sea ports and railways. Kenya has been an important link between China and Africa since ancient times.
More than 600 years ago, a fleet led by the Chinese navigator Zheng He reached Mombasa and Malindi, bringing porcelain, silk and tea to Africa. The king of Malindi sent his envoy along with the fleet on a return visit and took a giraffe as a gift to China. Envoys from China and Kenya opened the “Maritime Silk Road” together with traders from other countries in Asia, Africa and Europe.
Kenya has embarked on an ambitious transport infrastructure development programme, encompassing the road, rail and maritime networks. The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), linking Mombasa to Naivasha via Nairobi, is the largest infrastructure project to be completed in Kenya since independence.
The SGR is a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative. Other major projects in the region under the BRI include Mombasa Port Development, Lamu Port Construction, Dar Es Salaam Port Construction, Bagamoyo Port Construction, Juba-Mombasa Railway Line and Addis Ababa-Nairobi Railway Line. the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway line.
Ultimately, there is a need for more public education and the creation of awareness on the BRI so that communities can see the current and future benefits and stop viewing the BRI simply as government-to-government projects that have little impact on their lives.
The BRI acts in the spirit of broad consultation, shared contributions and shared benefits. Further, it promotes political advice, trade promotion, infrastructure connections, financial cooperation and people-to-people exchanges. It emphasizes the integration of development strategies and complementary advantages of the countries along the project, thus creating a multiplier effect.
Claims that China plans to use the BRI to spread its communist ideology are not only reckless but are designed to mislead the country’s partners and allies. Ideologies and other philosophies are mainly propagated through the media and similar non-physical channels. China has a large and growing global media presence to carry out this task if it so chooses.