Connectivity for a Better Afghanistan

Monday, 15 May 2017 03:42 Written by  Text by Wang Yiwei Read 106 times

What is the Belt and Road Initiative all about? In a word: connectivity. Chinese president Xi Jinping once remarked, “The connectivity we’re talking about today is not merely about building roads and bridges or making linear connections to various different places on the surface of this world. The connectivity should be a three-pronged combination of infrastructure, institutions and people-to-people exchange coupled progress in five realms, namely policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people bonds. The Initiative aims to create a wide-ranging, multi-dimensional, vibrant and open connectivity network that pools talent and resources from all stakeholders.” 

 

Human society stands at a crossroads. Will the world become more open or closed? This is the most pressing question of 21st century. China advocates a more connected world, so it proposed a five-part plan for connectivity. 

The first part, policy coordination, should be accomplished through friendly dialogue and consultation. Countries along the routes should work together to devise plans for regional cooperation and implement policy that protects economic cooperation.  

The second aspect, facilities connectivity, is meant to address infrastructure construction across four fields: transportation, ports, energy and communication networks involving cross-border optical cables. 

The third piece is unimpeded trade. Countries along the routes are encouraged to hold talks on streamlining trade and investment, take action to eliminate trade barriers and cut costs of trade and investment, to promote more efficient and healthier regional economic circulation and mutual benefits. 

Fourth, financial integration. If the Belt and Road countries realize currency exchange and settlement using domestic currencies, the cost of capital circulation will be much lower and resistance to financial risk will improve. Financial integration will help build a more competitive regional economy. 

Last, but certainly not least is people-to-people bonds. Countries that join the Initiative should be ready to cooperate in sectors including education, youth, culture and tourism. Cultural exchange will promote openness and inclusiveness, which in turn, will generate an internal drive for cooperation among countries along the routes. 

Connectivity is a driving force of international cooperation. Promoting globalization and improving global governance through enhanced connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative is yet another great contribution China makes to the world today. 

Connectivity in these aspects is the key to sustainable development and sustainable security. Afghanistan is a prime example. When I visited Afghanistan for seminars on the Belt and Road Initiative, Afghans spoke highly of the significance of the Initiative and Afghanistan’s unique role in it. Many expressed the hope that the Belt and Road Initiative would bring peace and development to Afghanistan and considered it a golden opportunity. Mohammad Homayoun Qayoumi, chief adviser to the Afghan president, concurred on the significance of connectivity. He believed that connectivity will dramatically promote regional development. 

The Afghan government has expressed the hope to reap economic benefits from the country’s geopolitical strategic advantages. The country is ready to promote connectivity in realms of optical cables, transportation and energy. Connectivity will highlight the country’s role as a hub of the Eurasian continent, and transform it from a land-locked country to a land-connected country. Afghanistan can become a prime thoroughfare for China’s connectivity with Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and all the way down to the Indian Ocean. With an eye on this promising future, China and Afghanistan are discussing the possibility of stretching the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan. 

The Belt and Road Initiative and the idea of a Community of Shared Future for Mankind have been written into a United Nations Security Council resolution related to Afghanistan, hinting that the Belt and Road Initiative, featuring Oriental wisdom of comprehensive coordination and treatment of both symptoms and causes, could provide solutions for the long-term problems facing the Afghan government. Connectivity and regional economic and cultural development could ultimately change Afghanistan’s situation, break the vicious circle of poverty and violence and set an example for global and regional governance. 

American strategist Parag Khanna argues in his book Connectography that degrees of connectivity will determine competitiveness in the 21st Century. Investment in infrastructure over the next 40 years will dwarf the past 4,000 years! Traditional globalization, primarily the removal of tariffs, can improve the world economy by 5% at most, but the new form of globalization with focus on connectivity, will contribute to 10% to 15% to growth. Bloomberg once quoted a prediction from McKinsey & Company that the Belt and Road Initiative would contribute up to 80% of world economic growth by 2050 and create 3 billion middle class people. Over the next 10 years, the Initiative will facilitate trade of US$2.5 trillion. The Belt and Road Initiative is undoubtedly a strong driving force for globalization. It will upgrade the older globalization concept and materialize it to an open, balanced, inclusive and mutually beneficial one. 

Most of the problems in domestic and global governance facing the world today can more or less be traced back to disconnectivity. President Xi Jinping once pointed out that if the “Belt and Road” were compared to the two wings of a soaring Asia, then connectivity would be the bird’s arteries and veins. The trend of global development shows that connectivity across these five aspects promises a great prospect for economic development, global governance and globalization. 

The author is a professor and doctoral supervisor with Renmin University of China. 

(This content is provided by Beijing-based China Pictorial.)