What can Pakistan Contribute to the May Belt and Road Forum in Beijing?

by Ali Shah

The author is the head of research at the NUST Global Think Tank Network



China will host the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) from May 14 till 15, 2017, in Beijing. Twice announced by President Xi Jinping, first in his address to the Uzbek Parliament in June, 2016, and, then, during the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos in January, 2017, the Belt and Road Forum bids fair to be a landmark event set high on the Chinese policy agenda. Its significance can be gauged by the fact that it occupied second place in the seven key policy planks of China for 2017 as outlined in the speech of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, delivered on December 3, 2016, at the inauguration of the “Symposium on International Development and China’s Diplomacy in 2016”, organized by the the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), one of the leading public think tanks in China.

The Chinese Government is organizing the Forum with a view to laying the foundations for the realization of at least four fundamental goals that can be derived from the Chinese Foreign Minister’s speech. The first goal of the Forum is to act as a strategic measure for encouraging and consolidating global economic growth, and building an open global economy. The second goal is to build an innovative platform for deepening international development cooperation with win-win outcomes. The third goal can be divided into two parts, namely, qualitative and quantitative. The qualitative aspect is to increase the complementarity of development strategies of different countries, partners, and stakeholders in the Belt and Road Initiative. The quantitative aspect is to encourage more cooperation projects. The fourth goal is to produce a design plan for the development of Belt and Road Initiative.

Collectively, these four goals are intimately related to the Chinese concepts of the “Community of Shared Destiny of Mankind” and “Interconnected Development”. The concept of interconnected development is fast emerging as one of the key development practice concepts under the current Chinese leadership. The concept deserves attention for its dynamic ability to comfortably encompass a range of development dimensions. Interconnected development is, here, defined generally as simultaneous and mutually reinforcing domestic, regional, and global development or the concomitant development of one’s country, one’s region and regions surrounding one’s region, and the world. From a country-region-world perspective this development, therefore, will be designed to take place at micro (localities and cities), meso (a single region or many regions), and macro (world as a whole) levels.


Pakistan and the Belt and Road Forum (BRF)

In order to consolidate and accelerate the development of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan should play a proactive role in the upcoming Forum and put forth a well-articulated and a well-coordinated plan of inputs for the fulfilment of the Forum’s four fundamental goals. Doing so would allow Pakistan to intensify internal policy coordination and provide guidelines for policy integration under Belt and Road Initiative. This necessitates the initiation of a thorough process of national consultations accompanied by high-level discussions between Beijing and Islamabad. In fact the latter, with specific reference to the Forum, may have already started taking place.

Conducted properly, both domestic and bilateral consultations should result in a theoretically sound and scientifically correct pragmatic approach in Islamabad required for achieving not only the objectives of the Forum but also fast domestic development. For conducting these consultations properly, deep understanding needs to prevail in Pakistan of the two key meanings of interconnected development. Once reached and assimilated to become the collective consciousness of multi-partisan policymakers, this understanding will serve as the strong foundation for all development thinking and planning.


Contextualizing Interconnected Development

The concept means, firstly, sub-national regional interconnections, and, secondly, supra-national regional interconnections. The first meaning highlights the domestic interconnectedness of national development. The second meaning highlights the regional interconnectedness of development of various nations and states. Interconnected development, therefore, is dependent on the interconnectedness of development. The interconnectedness of development means that everything is connected in a precise traceable sequence that is both spatial and temporal. This sequence consists of interactions, links, nodes, and hubs between different spheres. This sequence presupposes that domestic development precedes regional development. In other words, without sub-national regional interconnected development the proper execution of supra-national regional interconnected development is rendered virtually impossible or, at least, extremely difficult.

Belt and Road Initiative is the patent proof of this logic of movement. Only after China’s development had reached and crossed a certain threshold that the country could actively foster regional and global shared development. China is now, in turn, facilitating Pakistan’s development. What this means is that Pakistan finds itself in a rare historical moment where the country can compress and fast-track the completion of various stages of development.


How does this understanding of the concept, based on its two meanings, impact Pakistan and the development of CPEC?

If one of the major policy objectives of Pakistan is the speedy, scientific and harmonious development of CPEC, then it means that Pakistan’s policymakers, decision makers, and public will need to recognize that all the problems plaguing our economy (for instance, composition and growth of GDP), our society (for instance, demographics), and our political system are interlinked, are not isolated, and, more than anything, exhibit strong causal connections. The seeming isolation of these spheres is an after-effect of the analytical operations applied for studying these spheres. In reality, their actual existence is always organic and holistic. This means if we want to participate in the Belt-and-Road round of interconnected development, we, first, have to fix in a proper sequece of priority the problems that confront Pakistan.

Helped by this understanding, provided it is firmly assimilated, we can begin to build a practicable plan of action for Pakistan’s participation in the Forum that shall become, at the same time, a longstanding basis for cooperation between China and Pakistan, the combined construction of CPEC, and expanded cooperation with other countries under Belt and Road Initiative.


First BRF Goal: Encourage and consolidate open global economic growth and build an open global economy.

China’s efforts to consolidate global economic growth and build an open global economy are seen in China’s active engagement with African, Latin American, Eurasian, Pacific, and North American countries. The thrust of these efforts is the common, collective, and multidimensional development of all countries. These efforts acquire a new meaning in the wake of the decision of the new U.S. Administration to pull out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Though it may seem counterintuitive, the American abandonment of TPP will result in increased pressure on finalizing the free-trade area under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). China will feel this pressure acutely as the smooth negotiation of RCEP will significantly benefit the ongoing stage of China’s domestic development wherein Chinese efforts are concentrated on creating an advanced consumption-led domestic economy. Seen from the standpoint of China, both Belt and Road Initiative and RCEP are mutually inclusive initiatives aiming for the combined development of Afro-Eurasia and Asia Pacific. Their combined development can go a long way toward the reform of the global economy. This process can be substantively helped with the help of methodological innovation. Methodological innovation is, here, defined as the ability to explain events, facts, and phenomena in a manner that promotes accurate and broad-based interpretations resonating with peoples across continents.


What can Pakistan do?

At first blush, there does not appear to be much room for Pakistan to play an important role in terms of advancing this goal. However, Pakistan can take the lead in unleashing methodological innovation in order to assist the accomplishment of this goal. Arguing from the Chinese concept of the “New Type of Major Country Relationship”, Pakistan, drawing upon the durable and mutually beneficial aspects of China-Pakistan relations, can advance the concept of the new type of relations between major powers and regional powers or redefine the category of major powers to include regional powers.

This is, especially, required considering the majority of states in Belt and Road Initiative and RCEP are middle and regional powers. The proposed theoretical construct can help in the smooth development of relations of these countries with China. The officers of the Foreign Service of Pakistan are ideally suited to undertake this methodological innovation in view of their global worldview, diplomatic skills, linguistic prowess, and intellectual acumen. After due consultations with the Chinese, a new concept, similar to the one suggested above, can be launched at the Forum providing a new vocabulary for expressing the content of 21st century cooperation between China and Pakistan, on one hand, and general Belt-and-Road cooperation, on the other.


Second BRF Goal: Build an innovative platform for deepening international development cooperation with win-win outcomes.

This means creating a new global development framework that allows the world economy to become less prone to shocks and recessions caused naturally in a run-away free market. It means relations between the developed and the developing countries would have to be fair, reckoning with the requirements of the developing world. It also means a gradual shift from the current debt-based global financial architecture to one that prioritizes the targeted transfer of surplus resources on concessional basis from the developed to the developing societies. It also implies new type of South-South relations that are based on considerate interaction between emerging economies and developing economies and between emerging economies and poor economies. This means creating in the long run a world economy based on interdependence that is not fixated on localization and fixity of economic functions among countries but rather on the cultivation of the whole range of development and growth capacities in each and every country. It means eradication of poverty, institutionalization of sustainable and inclusive development, and environmental conservation with intergenerational fairness. This means the globalization of that generosity which existed during the greater part of the 20th century within specific blocs. The establishment and positive reception of new institutions like the Asian infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Silk Road Fund is a positive step in that direction. In this regard, it is also heartening to note that, earlier this month, the Chinese concept of “Shared Destiny of Mankind” was incorporated in the resolution on Africa during the 55th session of the UN Commission for Social Development (CSocD55).


What can Pakistan do?

Building an innovative platform means a platform for organizational and process innovation in global development as well as utilization of instruments and products of innovation for the speedy and equal development of countries. With a deep understanding of the changes taking place in the global inter-state system and the world economy, Pakistan can contribute important lessons and leads to the construction of an innovative global development platform. By first codifying its indigenous development success stories and lessons, it can offer regional and multilateral variants of these success factors for Belt and Road consultations. Its recent experiences of implementing CPEC should also be shared for general benefit during the Forum. In the years ahead, Pakistan’s policymaking would benefit greatly by becoming innovative. This innovation, by the way, will come in handy in promoting mature Pak-U.S. relations, especially when one considers that President Donald Trump is a renowned entrepreneur with a firm understanding and appreciation of the value of a workable novel idea.


Third BRF Goal: Increase the complementarity of development strategies of different countries, partners, stakeholders in the Belt and Road Initiative and push for more cooperation projects.


What can Pakistan Do?

The third goal can be divided into two parts, namely, qualitative and quantitative. The qualitative aspect is to increase the complementarity of development strategies of different countries, partners, and stakeholders in the Belt and Road Initiative.

Together with China, Pakistan can lead the way for the development of the qualitative aspect. Pakistan’s development strategy should be aligned carefully with that of China. What this means in practical terms is that development planning in Pakistan should be well-versed with the Chinese development philosophy, planning, and practice. This should result in the smart integration of Pakistan’s overall development trajectory with the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) of China. It also means acquiring firm knowledge of domestic developments of China like its new urbanization and manufacturing plans.

The quantitative aspect of this complementarity is to encourage more cooperation projects. This aspect can be further divided into two parts. The first part relates to China-Pakistan cooperation. After the sixth meeting of the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) in December last year, this is being covered under the widening of the scope of CPEC to include projects and areas, like water security of Pakistan, which were previously not included in the planning of CPEC. From the perspective of intensifying China-Pakistan cooperation, it is encouraging to note that Pakistan and China are jointly undertaking more and more projects. However, from the perspective of Pakistan’s development capabilities, China’s technical and financial assistance should result in the accumulation of knowhow and all-round capacity in order for the country to undertake its key development projects independently. Pakistan should acquire and demonstrate this capacity as soon as possible, considering it is in possession of at least 117 years of administrative experience, if we roughly and arbitrarily take 1900 as the beginning of modern governance in the Sub-continent.

The second part of the quantitative aspect relates to the potential of including Pakistan’s current and future projects with other participating countries in Belt and Road Initiative. For instance, Mr. Boris Johnson, the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, expressed considerable enthusiasm for CPEC during his visit to Pakistan, last November. Building on this, Pakistan and the U.K. can deliberate on the possibility of proposing a list of joint projects that could then be included in the Belt and Road Initiative after consultations with China. In this regard, a good place to start would be for the U.K. to provide technical and financial assistance for building a world-class university in Pakistan that could go on to meet significant research, innovation and highly qualified human resource requirements of CPEC. This is especially desirable given the U.K.’s long and distinguished experience in building and maintaining great universities. Other feasible options for more cooperation that could fall under Belt and Road can be explored with Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics (CARS), etc.


Fourth BRF Goal: Produce a design plan for the development of Belt and Road Initiative.

We now come to the fourth goal of the Forum. This goal is, in fact, the strategic lever needed for operationalizing the first three goals and would also incorporate the deliverables discussed under them. While another detailed piece would need to be essayed to do some semblance of justice to this goal, we can try to outline the overarching principles of the development design plan that Pakistan can advocate at the Forum.


Points for Pakistan’s Input in the Belt and Road Development Design Plan

All cooperation under Belt and Road Initiative is already being conducted on the principles of mutual help, trust, and non-interference. There is no reason to doubt that this line of thinking would change.

It should be ensured that the consolidation of the sovereignty of individual countries would be a direct outcome of the project implementation under Belt and Road Initiative.

Belt and Road Initiative can be telescoped as a gigantic attempt to promote internal and external balanced and inclusive growth for removing inter-regional, intra-regional, center-hinterland and rural-urban disparities. Therefore, urbanization, demographics, trade liberalization and rationalization, and science, technology and innovation should occupy central position in the design plan.

In Belt-and-Road-related deliberations, strategic and geopolitical considerations should take precedence over technical questions. However, technical questions should be given priority for project implementation.

The design plan should include robust safety nets to ensure that Thucydides Trap, the related Melian Trap – with analogy from the Melian Dialogue as given in Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War – and their conceivable variants cannot be sprung accidentally in any of the regions of the implementation of Belt and Road, especially South Asia.

Last but not the least, the design plan should also focus on articulating the role of philosophy and social sciences for providing correct and concrete assessments of multiple trends, enabling methodological inquiry into domestic and foreign development concepts to appraise their suitability for application in different national contexts, promoting methodological innovation by capturing indigenous and external events and facts correctly, and deriving credible principles of action from them. This would be in line with President Xi Jinping’s emphasis on the significance of the concomitant development of natural sciences, philosophy and social sciences, the promotion of advanced thinkers and pioneers of research and development in these fields, and the creation of a new type of think tank and consultation mechanism for development.

Pakistan’s participation in the fulfilment of all these goals should be a key concern of our policymakers and the representation of Pakistan at BRF in May in Beijing should be planned with a view to our providing leadership in these domains.

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