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Belt and Road could be 'as significant as the EU'

By Andrew Moody (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2017-04-16 14:36

Leading international relations expert Wang Yiwei believes China will advance a new model of globalization at a major forum to be held in Beijing next month.

The director of the Institute of International Affairs and the Center for EU Studies at Renmin University of China believes the case will be made for a more connected world.

World leaders will descend on the capital for the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

"It will be a landmark event for the Belt and Road Initiative, which will enter its 2.0 phase. The mechanisms will be created to put forward a new type of globalization," he says.

 Belt and Road could be 'as significant as the EU'

Chinese academic Wang Yiwei believes the existing version of globalization has not served a large proportion of the world's population very well, and China's version with a focus on infrastructure is likely to prove more beneficial to many around the world currently in poverty. Zou Hong / China Daily

The initiative was launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013 and has resulted in China forging a series of bilateral partnerships with countries, particularly related to infrastructure.

"China has signed bilateral international capacity cooperation agreements with more than 40 countries. This was its 1.0 phase with just China as the hub," he says.

Wang, 45, who was speaking at his office at the top Beijing university, says the challenge of the forum will be to move away from this and put in place an institutional framework for the initiative that will set it on its future course as a multilateral entity.

"The purpose of the forum will be to draft the necessary mechanism so that the initiative is sustainable in the longer term. It needs to move from being largely bilateral to multilateral. Countries should be able to participate in the initiative without China necessarily being involved."

Wang believes the initiative could prove to be as important as the creation of the European Union (then the European Economic Community) by its principal architect Jean Monnet in 1958.

"I think it could be that significant. The Belt and Road Initiative could actually be as important as the European Union. There has never before been such ambition to achieve such global connectivity," he says.

Wang, who is the author of The Belt and Road Initiative: What Will China Offer the World in Its Rise, one of the few books in English on the initiative, says President Xi transformed the debate about how countries work together when he made a defense of globalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.

The academic believes the existing version of globalization has not served a large proportion of the world's population very well, and China's version with a focus on infrastructure is likely to prove more beneficial to many around the world currently in poverty.

"This is real globalization. Under America's version of globalization, 1.3 billion - or one-fifth of the world's population - are without electricity, including 300 million people in India alone," he says.

"China's globalization is based on more equal cooperation. There is a focus on south-south cooperation (that between developing countries, of which China remains one)," he says.

Wang, the son of teachers from a village in rural northern Jiangxi province in East China, first studied environmental engineering at East China University of Science and Technology.

He switched to international politics and relations at Fudan University in Shanghai, where he received both his master's and doctorate before receiving a Fox international fellowship to study at Yale University in the United States for a year.

He has held a number of academic positions in South Korea and China before joining Renmin University in 2013.

He is also the author of 15 books, including Haishang: Revelations on European Civilization, which he launched at the London Book Fair last year.

Wang has also served as a Chinese diplomat, being scholar-in-residence at the Chinese Mission to the EU for three years.

He believes Europe could play a role in Belt and Road, but he is concerned about the continent's struggles.

"When I was working in Brussels there were so many crises. The problem that the EU now has is that the EU does not have the right political constitution to deal with its problems with there being 28 countries that are so different."

He is hopeful that the UK, despite beginning the process of exiting the European Union, can be a useful partner in the initiative with the City of London financial center being a vital hub.

"I think Brexit slightly undermines that because there is a great need for London to develop links with other countries, not least the European Union," he says.

However, he believes the UK still will remain important when it leaves the EU.

"Britain had the first maritime silk road and colonized the world. The country has exported its legal and political system and even its customs around the world. It is a country that knows the world better than China and also the United States."

Wang insists Belt and Road is more likely to be successful than the Washington Consensus of the 1990s, which was aimed at encouraging private enterprise in developing countries.

"The Washington Consensus has failed. It has failed to work in almost every area, apart from perhaps Poland. That was more like shock therapy."

Wang says many of the initiative's projects are tangible, such as the railway from Mombasa to Nairobi.

"I visited that and it is an attempt to re-create the same economic success as the Shanghai Yangtze river economic delta in East Africa. The Kenyan president (Uhuru Kenyatta) goes to the Mombasa port (being built by the state-owned China Road and Bridge Co) every three months and says he is eager to copy the China model," he says.

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