China’s One Belt, One Road initiative should be wider: analysts, The Daily Star, 9 May 2017

Gowher Rizvi, international affairs adviser to the prime minister; Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue; Farooq Sobhan, president of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI), and Ma Mingqiang, Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh, attend a conference on Bangladesh-China relations, at the Westin Dhaka hotel yesterday.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative should have a wider framework to provide more benefits to participating countries, said a noted economist yesterday.

The narrow framework of the BRI, which is also known as the One Belt One Road initiative, will not bring better results for the participating countries, said Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a private think tank.

For instance, the BRI should be stretched up to Afghanistan, as it was also part of the old Chinese silk route.

The economist was speaking at a conference on “Bangladesh-China Relations: One Belt and One Road Initiative”, organised by the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute at The Westin Hotel in Dhaka.

Regarding the importance of the BRI, Sobhan said given the rise of anti-globalisation, protectionism and isolation the Chinese initiative could serve the purpose of openness, cooperation and free trade among the participating countries.

“This is a typical model of sharing economy. This could help India to integrate further into the global value chain.”

Given the emergence of the new Asia-centric world order, this initiative can link the Asian countries, including Bangladesh, with the global value chain.

The new Asia-centric world order makes sense when the region’s total reserves are considered, he said.

Of the total global reserve of $11.6 trillion, 70 percent is located in Asia — with China alone accounting for $3 trillion. “So, huge resources are available with China. And the whole concept of BRI is not an imaginary one, it is realistic.”

Moreover, China is the prime mover in three important global initiatives: the BRICS Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and revival of the old silk route by putting in $40 billion.

“Bangladesh is in a very unique place — it is in the middle of two major economic powers, China and India. So, this country has a big potential for further development.”

He said the country should be proud of the fact that it is constructing the Padma Bridge with its own resources. “But, the country could build more Padma Bridge under the BRI,” Sobhan added.

Ma Mingqiang, Chinese ambassador in Bangladesh, said the BRI has five important components: policy coordination, investment facilitation, financial integration, infrastructure connectivity and people-to-people contact.

“BRI is an initiative for all participants. It is inclusive, rather than exclusive. It is voluntary rather than compulsory. It is based on equality and mutual respect rather than discrimination. It is win-win for all.”

Over 100 countries and organisations have shown their interest on the initiative, with over 40 countries and international organisations having already signed the Belt and Road Cooperation Agreement with China.

By now the Chinese enterprises have developed 56 cooperation zones in more than 20 countries along the belt and road with total investment of $18.5 billion.

Over 1,000 Chinese companies have set up enterprises in the cooperative zones with combined outputs of $50.7 billion in a year. “It has been proven that the BRI is delivering the tangible benefits to the people,” Ma said. China and Bangladesh had signed the BRI cooperation documents during the Chinese president’s visit last year.

Chinese companies and people are now extensively engaged in the development of Bangladesh, ranging from road and bridge, power and energy, manufacture and agriculture, he added.

Gowher Rizvi, international affairs advisor to the prime minister, said Bangladesh is extremely fortunate to have two fast developing countries as its neighbours.  “Our relation with China and India is not a zero-sum game. It is a positive game,” Rizvi said.

China has engaged as a major development partner for Bangladesh and the visit of Chinese president last year is a milestone in bilateral relationship between the two countries, he said.

The BRI forum would held in China in the next few days. Representatives from over 100 countries, including Bangladesh, would be participating at the event, where future development issues would be discussed. Farooq Sobhan, president of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, chaired the meeting.