The Belt and Road Initiative

The Belt and Road Initiative

“China, prior to 1978 was a Non-market Socialist Economy; in other words, it was a closed economy influenced by the ideologies and leadership of Mao Zendong, a revolutionary political icon. This political and economic system did not favor a vast majority of the Chinese masses, therefore, the need for economic rejuvenation after his demise.

China began to introduce and implement capitalist market reforms in the late 1970s in a successful attempt to integrate the national economy with the global economy as a way of bringing prosperity back to the people. Now a Socialist Market Economy, it is the second largest economy by nominal GDP (Gross Domestic Product), and the world’s largest economy by Purchasing Power Parity, PPP according to the IMF (International Monetary Fund). The government successfully grew the economy at an average growth rate of 10% for over 30 years. As the manufacturing hub of the world with lots of thriving businesses that has produced the largest concentration of young multimillionaires…”  (David Gani, 2019).

It is time to spread her tentacles beyond her shores with an effective strategy.

The Belt and Road Initiative, BRI, also known as the One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR), is apparently one of the most audacious social, economic, and political strategies ever conceived in recent world history. It was proposed by the Chinese President, Xi Jinping in October 2013 based on an ancient trade route. It created the world’s largest and most promising economic development zone. Within this initiative, the old trade route once again displays its vigor and dynamism to enhance economic cooperation and cultural communication among Eurasian countries.

At this juncture, for us to better appreciate the subject of discuss, we must make a time voyage back to ancient Asia, precisely the 2nd Century BC in Chang’an (now Xian) and examine an old trade route that would later be christened “the Silk Road” in 1877 by Ferdinand von Richthofen, a renowned German geographer. History has it that the Chinese were the first people to breed Silkworms for its linen by-product for commercial purpose. At this time, the silk fabric was in high demand by the nobles in Europe and Asia. Just as it obtains in any clime, as human settlements expand with attendant population growth, people tend to specialize in different skills thus necessitating the need for trade in a bid to satisfy the insatiable needs of man. Articles of exchange along the ancient Silk Road included gold, precious stones, tea, herbal medicine…and most importantly, silk. The prosperity of this trade influenced the rise of five major civilizations starting from the West Han Dynasty that was credited to have built the Great China Wall to protect the trade route, and to the last dynasty of Yuan that enjoyed the last glory days of the trade route around the 14th Century before its eventual decline.

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The ancient Silk Road connected the Far East and the Western Dominions of Rome, India, Persia, China, and other major cities in trade, culture, and diplomacy along six major corridors or economic zones. The Silk Road measures 7000km square and it took 2 years to make a round trip from Rome to China. The trade lasted for over 1400 years at the time of Marco Polo’s travels (C. AD 1270 – 90). If the roads were to be gathered together to form a piece of land, it would be approximately the size of Akwa Ibom State in present day Nigeria.

In the light of this, let us return to a future date, to October 2013 and briefly examine the rationale for the modernization of the old Silk Road into the One Belt One Road Initiative. According to the mouthpiece of the Chinese Government, China’s People Daily, “Indeed B&R is a connectivity of system and mechanism to construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets through cultural exchange and integration. To enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, ending up in an innovative pattern with capital inflows, talent pool, and technology database.”

The B&R Initiative was launched together with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, AIIB with an initial endowment of $100b to address infrastructure gap amongst 68 member countries which covers 40% of global GDP, and 65% of the world’s population. The Silk Road Fund, SRF was established a year later to fund businesses. The modern Silk Road is now expanded to three zones: the Silk Road, Maritime Silk Road, and Ice Silk Road (still under consideration). With so much said about the land-based Silk Road, we shall now talk about the sea-based, and ice-based silk roads.

The Maritime Silk Road is a complementary initiative aimed at investing and fostering collaborations in South- East Asia, Oceania, and North Africa through several contiguous bodies of water of the South China Sea, South Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Mediterranean. In addition to the Maritime Silk Road, Xi Jinping also urged close cooperation between Russia and China to carry out the Northern Sea Route Cooperation to realize an “Ice Silk Road’ to foster the development in the Arctic Region. In the next 10 years, the whole initiative is estimated to cost four to eight trillion dollars ($4-8t).

Let us now shift our focus by examining how well the initiative it is faring in member states in infrastructure investment, construction materials, education, power grid, iron and steel, railways and highways, and automobiles. There are lots of Chinese firms currently engaged in member countries of the B&R economic zone making sure that the initiative works. In these concluding paragraphs, we shall look at a few of the numerous projects executed and ongoing in AIIB member states. Note, however, that these projects are not limited to the Less Developing Countries, LDCs but also in the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD that are signatories.

Starting with Nigeria, the China Civil Engineering Construction Company, CCECC, is currently working on the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge at a cost of 1.5 billion dollars. Down to Kenya, on June 17th, 2018, Wang Yang, Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, CPPCC, visited the Chinese-built Mombai-Nairobi Railway. After having a ride, he hailed the B&R Initiative and called for more cooperation between the two countries. Moving to Ethiopia, where the China National Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Corporation (CWHEC) is building the 300mw Tekeze hydroelectric dam.

To the territory north of Ethiopia, Djibouti to be precise. China is expanding its global military might in Africa as it opens its first overseas military base providing logistical and defense support to African countries as part of China’s plan of projecting itself as the leader of the developing world and a nation that finds itself in solidarity with developing nations. African countries can barely finance their security agenda, and many nations face deficits when it comes to countering terrorism, piracy, and natural disasters.

Conclusion wise, the above listed examples of what the Chinese Government is doing in Nigeria, across Africa, and other parts of the developing world through the instrumentality of the B&R Initiative should suffice in giving us confidence that Nigeria’s economic development is getting an exponential boost.

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