The Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF), held in October 2023, marked a significant milestone in global infrastructure development and international cooperation. This event brought together over 10,000 registered representatives from 151 countries and 41 international organizations, underlining the widespread appeal and influence of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The forum aimed to bolster international collaboration, stimulate global economic growth, and advance the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The outcomes of this forum encompassed vital cooperation initiatives and institutional arrangements, emphasizing the commitment to sustainable development, green energy, and infrastructure development.
The Third BRI Forum witnessed the announcement of 458 outcomes, surpassing the achievements of previous forums. These outcomes encapsulated various critical cooperation initiatives and institutional arrangements, highlighting the commitment to sustainable development and infrastructure projects.
Green Development: A Priority
The Third BRI Forum placed a strong emphasis on green development, acknowledging the global importance of sustainability. The high-level dialogue on greening the BRI underscored the commitment to strengthening cooperation on green energy, supporting low-carbon development in developing countries, and encouraging the adoption of renewable energy targets based on nationally determined contributions.
The Green Investment and Finance Partnership was a noteworthy initiative, aiming to address the financing needs of green projects in developing countries. Additionally, the pledge to train 10,000 students in green technologies by 2030 represented a commitment to building capacity and knowledge transfer in the field of green development.
Financial Commitments and Infrastructure Development
China pledged substantial financial support to the BRI, allocating 350 billion yuan (US$47.8 billion) to each of the two main development banks engaged in BRI lending. An additional 80 billion yuan ($11 billion) was allocated from the Silk Road Fund. These financial commitments aimed to promote large-scale infrastructure projects while adopting a more cautious approach to overseas financing.
Despite a recent decline in loans to partner countries participating in the BRI, the Third BRI Forum reaffirmed China’s commitment to infrastructure development. Financial commitments, including the allocation of funds to development banks and the Silk Road Fund, demonstrated China’s dedication to promoting large-scale infrastructure projects. The focus on “small yet smart” projects indicated a more cautious approach to overseas financing, emphasizing the importance of responsible and sustainable lending practices.
Notable Deals and African Perspectives
The forum witnessed the signing of $97 billion worth of deals, with details of these projects set to emerge in the coming weeks. African leaders, including Kenya’s President William Ruto, Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, used the forum to advocate for additional financing for critical infrastructure and industrialization. They emphasized the potential for Africa to become a global manufacturing hub with the right investments, particularly in energy, transport, and industrial infrastructure.
Debt Distress and Latin American Engagement
While debt distress remains a concern for some Belt and Road partner countries, the official communications between African leaders and China did not dwell on this issue. African leaders primarily focused on securing further financing to expand and restructure their economies. In Latin America, despite a lower turnout of leaders at the forum, China’s engagement in the region has seen a significant increase in BRI investment in 2023.
The “Blue Cooperation” Initiative
The Third BRI Forum introduced a “Blue Cooperation Initiative,” marking the inclusion of ocean-related projects within the BRI framework. This initiative aimed to establish principles for ocean cooperation between China and BRI nations, recognizing the ocean as a source of economic development, post-pandemic recovery, and sustainable growth. It committed to supporting global aquaculture technologies, marine scientific research partnerships, and the protection of coastal ecosystems crucial for climate adaptation.
The forum introduced significant cooperation initiatives, including the Beijing Initiative for Deepening Cooperation on Connectivity, the Beijing Initiative for Belt and Road Green Development, and the Beijing Initiative on the Belt and Road International Digital Economy Cooperation. These initiatives underscored the commitment to advancing connectivity, green development, and digital cooperation. Also, The BRI pledged to provide 100,000 training opportunities on green development for partner countries by 2030. This initiative sought to enhance capacity building and knowledge transfer in the green energy sector.
UN’s Endorsement of Infrastructure
UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed the significance of infrastructure in advancing economic and environmental sustainability. He highlighted the BRI’s potential to contribute to economic and environmental sustainability, emphasizing the importance of turning the infrastructure emergency into an opportunity to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Future of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the Context of the Current Global Economic Landscape
The Third BRI Forum, held in October 2023, has illuminated the path for the future of the BRI and its relevance in the face of the evolving world economic situation. This forum has set the stage for continued growth and adaptation, offering vital insights into the role of the BRI in fostering global development and cooperation. In light of the current global economic challenges, several key points emerge about the future of the BRI:
The BRI Forum reaffirms the values of unity, cooperation, openness, and the pursuit of win-win outcomes. In a world grappling with various crises and resurfacing Cold War mentalities, the forum participants emphasized that the BRI is a beacon of hope for fostering friendship, collaboration, and development. President Xi Jinping’s assertion that humankind is a community with a shared future reinforces the significance of win-win cooperation. The Silk Road spirit of peace, cooperation, and mutual benefit serves as a source of strength for the BRI. In an era of transformative changes, this message underscores the importance of unity and cooperation, which can bring stability and positive energy to the world.
The most crucial consensus to emerge from this forum is the transition to a new stage of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. President Xi Jinping’s commitment to deepening partnerships and advancing this cooperation into a new era of high quality has garnered widespread support. In the face of global challenges, including economic uncertainties, this commitment signifies the BRI’s adaptability and determination to ensure that projects are not only substantial but also of the highest quality.
To realize the goals of the BRI, concrete actions are paramount. President Xi Jinping outlined eight major steps that China will take to support high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. These steps encompass a broad spectrum of initiatives, from enhancing transportation connectivity to removing restrictions on foreign investment access in the manufacturing sector. An integral part of this action-oriented approach is the emphasis on “small yet smart” projects, signifying a responsible and sustainable approach to lending. Amid economic uncertainties, these actions demonstrate the commitment to practical and efficient progress.
The High-Level Forum on Connectivity within a Global Economy underscored the significance of enhancing connectivity and constructing infrastructure that is not only of high quality but also sustainable and resilient. In a world that is highly interconnected, it is imperative to strengthen collaboration in key domains such as transportation, energy, resources, and irrigation. The dedication to establishing an open global economy highlights the crucial need for meticulously planned and efficient infrastructure advancement.
The High-Level Forum on Digital Economy as a New Source of Growth acknowledges the growing significance of the digital landscape. The forum called for the development of a Digital Silk Road, fostering an open, fair, and non-discriminatory environment for digital progress. This shift toward digital technologies’ deep integration with the real economy and the responsible development of artificial intelligence exemplifies the BRI’s adaptability to evolving global trends.
To conclude, the Third Belt and Road Forum underscored a commitment to global development and cooperation through the BRI. Readjusting to the current reality, BRI focused on green development and addressing partner countries’ concerns. The forum provided a platform for international collaboration and set the stage for a new era of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. At the same time, it has to constantly face the question of sustainability and credibility of BRI assistance unless its terms and conditions are revised compared to other donors in the world.
– S. M. Saifee Islam is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).