By Joyce Chimbi
Much has been made of China’s Belt and Road initiative that will directly involve trade between 65 countries globally, and eventually affect the lives of two out of every three people around the world.
This is, as a result, a mega project with a global buy-in, particularly at this critical period of time when globamatter8 lization is facing its greatest assault from rising protectionism as a lot of countries turn to a more nationalistic approach to their development.
It is expected that the initiative will have major direct implications on the populations of these 65 countries, but indirectly there will also be a notable ripple effect across the globe.
China, of course, stands to gain economically from this, particularly by channeling industrial surplus to other regional and international markets. But countries directly linked to the initiative stand to gain significantly too, especially as they shake off the substandard, unreliable and consequently inefficient infrastructure that has long been the curse of many developing countries.
This means that with improved infrastructural connectivity, many struggling economies will be able to successfully follow the model that has worked for China, allowing them to not only create new local and regional production networks, but expand these networks across continents.
When at least 28 heads of government drawn from Asia, the European Union and Africa met in May in Beijing to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, it was a clear stamp of approval that the many socio-economic benefits were to be expected.
But amid the applause there have been some dissenting voices raising concerns that the initiative is nothing short of a neocolonialist attempt by China and that human rights abuses will characterize this initiative even as it continues to unfold.
Granted, there are marginalized or minority communities who live in the path of the initiative and their lives are bound to change in one way or another.
Equally important is to take note of the fact that in the last decade, China has pushed out of its economic comfort zone and is now working with a large number of developing countries, and not just in Africa.
When China was increasing its footprint across Africa, it was easy to make such claims. But with the success of Chinese global economic interests now lying in countries like Russia, the Middle East and Central Asian Islamic countries, it has become increasingly difficult for the neocolonialism narrative to gain traction.
These are powerful nations in their own rights. With regard to human rights, China has significantly reinvented itself and is seeking partnerships on an equal footing, since such partnerships have proved more productive and sustainable.
Sustainability has become a core aspect of any venture and it is difficult to see how trans-continental connectivity can achieve anything but economic growth for many countries, whether those struggling on the African continent or the many developed countries striving to recover from the 2008 global financial crisis.
The issue of human rights is crucial and it should by no means be swept under the carpet.
However, the important issue in this instance is dialogue, as was the case in Beijing in May during the landmark meeting, the largest event so far since talks on the Belt and Road initiative began.
Once it succeeds, no fewer than 65 countries will be connected both by land and by sea in a bid to promote massive economic growth.
China has become increasingly aware of its international reputation and has shown a concerted effort in adhering to guidelines and take steps to better comply with international labor laws.
This said, the initiative is not just about China. The success of the Belt and Road initiative will also rely on its multiple partners in the private sector, governments and donors refusing to support an initiative that seeks to cause harm to people either by forceful migration or by violating labor standards.
It must be incumbent on every party in this initiative to be vigilant and to adhere to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which seeks to place the wellbeing of the people over and above any business transaction.
(The author is a Kenya-based journalist. firstname.lastname@example.org)
Economic logic behind B&R outweighs risks
By Joyce Chimbi