On May 14, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a two-day conference, the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, with an opening speech. Attended by the Secretary-General of the UN and state leaders from 29 countries across the world, this conference was considered a great and valuable step towards global economic cooperation.
Centuries ago, the ancient Silk Road connected China with Afghanistan (Aryana), India, Central Asia and Europe. It was the longest trade route in the world at that time. The ancient Silk Road not only facilitated trade from China all the way to Europe, but was also a tool for mobilizing the cultures and languages along its path. This route introduced China to the world. China and the “Chinese princess” are still a beautiful and colorful part of folklore in Pashto, one of Afghanistan’s two official languages.
However, in addition to the discovery of sea routes, political volatility and frequent wars caused global trade to divert from this initial route, leaving only its name behind. Today, trade and exchanges mostly happen through other routes.
In 2013, President Xi proposed the Belt and Road Initiative to revive the ancient Silk Road, which is currently considered the greatest economic movement in the world. Just like the ancient Silk Road, the Belt and Road Initiative will connect China to the rest of Asia, Europe, and Africa and in fact with the whole world. This Initiative will allow countries to establish direct connections with each other. During this latest forum, President Xi announced huge amounts of investment for reviving the ancient Silk Road. This Initiative will revive not just the ancient trading road, but the construction of bridges, railroads, airports, power plants and science and technology research centers.
Now, the context of the Belt and Road Initiative has been clearly explained by President Xi during his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the two-day forum. As he said:
“We should jointly create an environment that will facilitate opening up and development, establish a fair, equitable and transparent system of international trade and investment rules and boost the orderly flow of production factors, efficient resources allocation and full market integration.”
He made it clear that “what we hope to create is a big family of harmonious co-existence.”
In fact, President Xi is proposing a new framework for global economic cooperation—a framework that will allow an equal and fair share of economic development for each country.
China, gradually moving towards becoming the world’s greatest economic power, can play a significant role in the global economic and political atmosphere. The Belt and Road Initiative has a clear distinction from the programs of other great economic and political powers. These global economic powers have been used to securing their own economic interests through spreading their influence in other countries. The obvious outcomes of such practices include present-day violence, wars and increasing tensions between countries across the world, which threatens world peace. The wealth gap has widened, and millions of people are facing extreme poverty, mainly due to such policies. Under policies like these, one side always ends up the winner while the other is always the loser.
But the Chinese proposal to the world is quite different. The Chinese president is talking about a harmonious shared future. He says that China intends neither to expand its influence in other countries nor to intervene in others’ internal affairs, but wants a kind of cooperation where all sides end up winners.
“Pursuit of the Initiative will not resort to outdated geopolitical maneuvering—what we hope to achieve is a new model of win-win cooperation.”
This means that China is offering the world a form of economic cooperation through which no one will lose, and where everyone’s interests will be secured. Most of the world’s wars and conflicts are caused by economic rivalries. If economic rivalries can transform into economic cooperation, it won’t only help with regional and global economic development, but may also allow people around the world to enjoy equal and fair economic development. It will surely improve our regional and global security as well.
The Belt and Road Initiative’s success will lead to the evolution of a new stage of international relations: one in which the relations between countries won’t be defined through animosity, violence and political rivalries, but rather mutual cooperation and mutual interests. Facilitating opportunities for developing free, fair and equal economic activity will bring about an atmosphere where no one will stand to lose, and everyone to win.
Afghanistan, being China’s neighbor and friend, recognizes the importance of the Belt and Road Initiative. The Kashgar-Gwadar route, as well as the route connecting China to Europe through Central Asia, will create opportunities for Afghanistan as well. Afghanistan will be a critical area capable of linking Central Asia to South Asia and contributing to the Belt and Road Initiative’s success. Any success in this area will pave the way for projects such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, which would ultimately turn Afghanistan into a regional hub.
Additionally, the Initiative may prove to be useful for the Afghan security situation. Afghan security could determine the stability of the whole region, whereas insecurity in Afghanistan would pose a threat to the Kashgar-Gwadar and Central Asian routes. Hence, stability in Afghanistan is one of the essential preconditions for a successful Belt and Road.
Regional and global strategic objectives play a significant role in Afghan instability and the continuation of war. But if the Belt and Road Initiative succeeds in helping countries in the region define their mutual interests with Afghanistan, this might lead to stability in the country. Afghanistan, currently the center of conflict, might eventually become the center of cooperation.
The author is CEO of Kabul News TV and director of the Afghan Analytical and Advisory Center. He has been an advisor for the Presidential Palace-based Government Media and Information Center (GMIC) of Afghanistan since 2010.