China's Belt and Road Initiative is a repackaging and acceleration of a policy that has been in place for some time. Officially announced in 2013, it simply gave a name to a pattern of development that had been evident since the turn of the century.1 But this repackaging comes as other parts of the world are turning in on themselves—the United States is going down a protectionist route; Europe is splitting apart as the lack of a real fiscal union exacerbates the divisions between rich and poor parts of the European Union. China, with its economic outreach across central Europe and its embrace of international trade and economic cooperation, increasingly is the standard bearer of globalization. In doing so, China is putting Asia at the center of global economic activity and putting itself at the center of Asia. History suggests that, often, the country at the center of global trade enjoys a period of economic prosperity and cultural enlightenment. It may also be the case for China. However, it is a case that few in the West embrace; it is almost as if they are jealous of China's new role.
In 2017, at Davos, China's President Xi Jinping ended his speech with a call for greater economic cooperation:2
- “We Chinese know only too well what it takes to achieve prosperity, so we applaud the achievements made by others and wish them a better future. We are not jealous of others' success; and we will not complain about others who have benefited so much from the great opportunities presented by China's development. We will open our arms to the people of other countries and welcome them aboard the express train of China's development.”
But this did not persuade many people in the Western intelligentsia. I remember being at a conference where the speaker before me gave a view on the state of the global political economy. Never once was China mentioned during the hourlong presentation, until the last sentence—and then, only to pour cold water on the idea that China was serious about globalization. I had to follow with my own presentation on China and globalization. I think the ensuing years have been more kind to my view. I would like to share why the Belt and Road Initiative is key to China's development and why China is serious about global economic cooperation.