The summit, held in Beijing on 17 and 18 October, was a worthy celebration of the tenth anniversary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The third Belt and Road Forum was even grander than before, with more than 10,000 registered participants and packed event spaces at the Beijing Conference Centre. Delegations from 151 countries and 41 international organisations, 17 heads of state and seven heads of government, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, attended the summit. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also came from the Central and Eastern European region, and former heads of state and government from several neighbouring countries - Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, etc. - took part in the conferences.
Agreements worth almost 100 billion renminbi, or about 5 thousand billion forints, were reached and 458 joint projects were decided. As Foreign Minister Wang Yi put it: “the clearest message from this Forum is unity, cooperation, openness and win-win outcome.”
The Forum was not a tea salon as the BRI has moved from the planning phase to the implementation phase to execute action plans. As with the 2017 and 2019 BRFs, I attended this year’s Forum and experienced the atmosphere of the conference myself: all participants came to Beijing to express their support for mutually beneficial, win-win cooperation as opposed to bloc-building and isolationism.
It is no coincidence that more and more countries are joining the BRI since, as György Matolcsy, Governor of the Central Bank of Hungary, said at one of the panels, the Chinese initiative is mutually beneficial, unlike the zero-sum thinking of the West: It is not just a win-win situation, but “win, win, win and many more wins” – his speech quickly went viral in Chinese media. The world economy is changing, and by the end of the decade Asia will account for fifty per cent of the world's GDP. Not only Asia, but the countries of the global South in general have grown tired of five hundred years of Atlantic domination. They make themselves heard, and as their power grows, they want to have more influence on world affairs. This goal is not new, as Asian leaders have repeatedly made proposals to reform the world order over the last seventy years, but none of them have been strong enough to implement them.
But in the 21st century, their time has come. The reality is that the West is no longer at the forefront of globalisation. China is the second largest power in the world economy, but contrary to US fears, it does not want to take on the role of hegemon, but offers a new, positive and multipolar alternative to cooperation with the BRI. It also invites Western countries that seek peace and cooperation instead of discord and bloc formation.
However, the dominant powers in the West, the European Union and the United States, have announced policies of derisking and even decoupling. In his speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that the right path is cooperation and not to see the development of other countries as a threat. We will not improve our standard of living if we do not allow the progress of others. Moreover, it should be remembered that the Western world represents only 800,000,000 of the world’s eight billion people. China has very good relations with many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America through the BRICS and other alliances, and if the West insists on decoupling, China will still have access to huge markets. In the meantime, it is important to note that China is not trying to isolate itself from Western economies. Europe is very important to it.
The clear and unequivocal message from Beijing is that connectivity and cooperation are the right way forward, not the Cold War mentality of dividing the world along ideological lines. Or as Xi Jinping said: “Belt and Road cooperation was proposed by China, but its benefits and opportunities are for the world to share”.