Zim positioned to benefit from next phase of Belt and Road Initiative
“We in Zimbabwe are committed to the BRI and we do not want Zimbabwe to be left behind because we want to get linked to global markets and the global economy.”
These words were said by Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2018, as the country ascended to the network of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – an infrastructure, trade and connectivity masterplan introduced by China a decade ago.
BRI brings together countries and organisations of the world into a network of interlinked development through cooperation enabled by building of air, road, sea, energy and telecommunications infrastructure while promoting high quality investments from China.
China has signed more than 200 documents with 152 countries and 32 international organisations on cooperation under the BRI.
In the past 10 years, the total import and export volume of China and BRI partner countries has reached US$19,1 trillion, and two-way investment has exceeded US$380 billion, according to statistics from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country’s top economic planner, cited by Global Times in a recent report.
A large number of BRI cooperation projects in agriculture, energy, digital economy and other fields has been carried out, strongly promoting the upgrading of industrial structure and the optimization of industrial chains in various countries.
Zimbabwe has benefited immensely from the BRI, and has seen the expansion of the Hwange Thermal Power Station, the renovation and expansion of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, and the National Mobile Broadband Phase 3, among signature programmes.
Now, as BRI has entered its second decade, Zimbabwe is poised to reap more benefits – and it is imperative for the country in particular, and Africa at large, to be attuned to the next level of priorities conceived for BRI.
Last week, Chinese authorities released an important document titled, ‘Vision and Actions for High-Quality Belt and Road Cooperation: Brighter Prospects for the Next Decade’ outlining the key focus areas, themes and implementation of the BRI for the next 10 years.
The document builds on the massive success of the BRI, which has won worldwide acclaim and described by some commentators as “China’s Marshal Plan”, a reference to post-World War 2 reconstruction financed by America, although there are some fundamental differences between the two, specifically to the extent that China’s blueprint is not built to achieve hegemonic outcomes but attain “a community of a shared future for mankind”.
And according to the document, in the next decade, all parties will be encouraged to strive toward equal cooperation and mutual benefit, propelling Belt and Road cooperation into a new phase characterized by high-quality development.
The document specifies five objectives, namely building a smoother and more efficient connectivity network, ensuring comprehensive and practical cooperation to reach new levels, elevating the sense of gain and fulfilment for the peoples of all participating countries, establishing a new system to support China’s open economy at a more advanced stage, and popularising the vision of a global community of shared future.
Policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, people-to-people ties and cooperation in new fields are the key areas and directions for Belt and Road cooperation in the next decade, according to the document.
Guo Xuejun, an official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is quoted as saying that one of the major moves for the next stage would be building closer ties with BRI partners on infrastructure connectivity.
In addition, the document asserts that BRI will focus on other new areas such as green development, new forms and models of digital cooperation, technology innovation and international cooperation in health.
The new action plan will also focus on promoting the organic integration of trade and the latest technologies, including internet, Internet of Things, big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain.
China is also seeking to ensure equal cooperation and mutual benefit, propelling BRI cooperation into a new phase characterised by high-quality development.
Experts have said there is vast opportunity for digital cooperation between China and BRI partner countries, as China has extensive experience in digital infrastructure construction and digital development.
Further, countries are set to benefit from BRI as it focuses on making industrial and supply chains more resilient and expanding the scope of free trade agreements.
It is also considered that deepening international cooperation under the BRI will provide important impetus to the operations of the global industrial chain and supply chain, of which China is a key node.
When one evaluates BRI, and the addendum document for the next decade discussed above, there are clear indications that China is offering limitless possibilities for countries such as Zimbabwe.
The country’s sound relations with China will catapult, bridge and short circuit a lot of developments and benefits – and it is up to authorities to craft competent and actionable plans to achieve results and maximise benefits.
Zimbabwe has development gaps in infrastructure and investments and would do well to follow these matters closely and work ever more closely with the Asian giant.
Zimbabwe will also achieve more and outpace more if it utilises other extant and futuristic solutions in green development, digital infrastructure construction and digital development as well as building of industrial and supply chains.
It is imperative to note that BRI – and Chinese policies in general – are not shoved down recipient or partner countries, but are collaborative in nature and emphasise that development must suit local conditions.
This essentially means Zimbabwe can pick relevant aspects to support the national development agenda espoused in National Development Strategy 1 and Vision 2030; and in the case of Africa – Vision 2063.
Critically, China has already recognised how BRI and other cooperation frameworks can be localised and benefit Africa and individual countries.
There is thus a need for serious commitment and focus.
China has achieved a lot on its own, and is willing to help others grow under friendly and sustainable conditions.
In October, during the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation 458 deliverables were produced, and Chinese financial institutions established a financing window of 780 billion ($109 billion) for BRI projects.
This, according to Chinese experts will contribute to high-quality BRI cooperation, and provide strong momentum for connectivity, development and prosperity around the world.
Back to 2018, President Mnangagwa said: “There is no need to reinvent the wheel when other countries have passed through the same road.”
He was referring to what Zimbabwe can learn from China, which achieved tremendous success in 40 years since the reform and opening up period at the end of the 1970s and accelerated growth through diligence, sound policies and stability.
The time for Zimbabwe to follow suit is now. Quite urgently.