by Tanaka Chitsa
Global leaders will meet in mid-May to discuss a new Chinese-led initiative to develop a seamless infrastructure network connecting Asia, Europe and Africa.
The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, set for 14-15 May in Beijing, China, aims to increase communication routes and strengthen management of infrastructure projects involving the three continents.
The “Visions and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road” announced by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, is a development policy with a holistic vision of economic, political and security development to reach out and initiate joint action to build a new world order that is development-oriented, for mutual prosperity and human security.
This vision for an overland Silk Road Economic Belt, and the Maritime Silk Road by sea has the potential to change the global political and economic landscape through rapid development of infrastructure and transport corridors in countries along the routes.
The initiative will establish new routes linking Asia, Africa and Europe. It has two parts — a new Silk Road Economic Belt linking China to Europe through Central Asia; and the Maritime Silk Road that links Chinese ports with India and the African coast, and through the Suez Canal to Europe.
The first trains to cross north-west China and proceed across Asia and Europe have reached their destinations in England and Spain earlier this year, after journeys of almost three weeks.
According to Chinese government officials, at least 28 Heads of State and Government from around the world, including the Presidents of Ethiopia and Kenya, are expected to attend the two-day forum in Beijing.
President Xi is expected to deliver a keynote opening address and host a roundtable meeting on policy and strategic development.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the forum offers a platform for the global community to share ideas on how to promote sustainable development.
“The Belt and Road initiative aims to increase international cooperation on the basic principles of mutual discussion, mutual construction and mutual sharing,” he said, adding that the initiative, which is now in its fourth year, has made significant strides in advancing global cooperation.
“The purpose of holding this forum in Beijing is to collect the intelligence of all parties involved, summarize the successful experiences, plan the new trajectory and create this cooperation platform that will open a new chapter for the initiative.”
For Africa, the forum comes at an opportune time when the continent is in the process of pushing forward its integration agenda through implementation of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063.
Agenda 2063 is a continental strategy adopted by the AU in 2013 and aims to optimize the use of Africa’s resources for the benefit of all Africans.
The Agenda seeks, among other things, to have a highly developed and interconnected continent by 2063, including railway, and initiatives such as the One Belt One Road are critical in ensuring that such targets are met.
The Belt and Road initiative has already made significant impact in some countries in East Africa. Rehabilitation work is ongoing at the port of Nacala and related road/rail infrastructure in northern Mozambique, as well as work on the ports and railways in Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania.
In Kenya, the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway line (SGR) is one of the first initiatives in Africa and is already taking shape with the initial shipment of locomotives received in January.
In Ethiopia, the infrastructure includes a dry port near the capital, Addis Ababa, and an electric railway to the port in Djibouti.
The Belt and Road forum is also expected to further strengthen the cordial relations that exist between Africa and China.
China-Africa relations span several centuries and have grown at a faster rate than other partnerships. The latest figures indicate that trade between the two had reached US$220 billion in 2014 while China’s direct investment in Africa topped US$30 billion in the same year. sardc.net