Dr. Aileen Baviera, Professor at the UP Asian Center, participated in the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held last 14 May 2017 in Beijing, People’s Republic of China. In “Thematic Session on Think Tank Exchanges,” one of the major parallel side events of the Forum, she remarked that:
“The BRI is welcomed by many countries, anticipating its positive contributions especially in helping provide the infrastructure needs of developing countries. It may also bring an increase in trade not only with China but with other countries, as well as help boost production capacity and connectivity. It can potentially be a major contribution to spurring global growth and development, enhancing integration, increasing various countries’ stakes in cooperation, and hopefully reducing competition and conflict.
For China’s partner developing countries, however, BRI will be perceived and understood in the context of bilateral cooperation with China, rather than the grand vision presented by Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Its impact will moreover be felt one project at a time. While there will be benefits, there are also risks and challenges that BRI will inevitably face, and some of the projects may result in problems – ranging from political (e.g., impact of domestic political changes or regime instability on some ongoing projects) to social (e.g. perceived lack of benefits or imbalance in distribution of benefits if only certain classes or groups gain advantage at the cost or neglect of others) to technical (e.g. lack of absorptive capacity of recipient country, incompatibility of technologies) to governance (e.g. rent-seeking behavior by vested interests) and environmental (e.g. resource degradation or depletion, pollution caused by infrastructure building).
For BRI to contribute to China’s soft diplomacy approach towards other countries, there will be a need for more success stories and tangible results. China by now has much experience in many different countries from which it can learn how to do things better.
In this above context, think tanks can play an important role in the success of the BRI, whether by working among stakeholders of the recipient countries or in cooperation with international counterparts. They can, for instance:
Bring together government, private sector and other domestic stakeholders, to help identify priority needs that will best result in win-win outcomes and extend the benefits to the larger population;
Identify possible pitfalls and challenges in project conceptualization until implementation, drawing from previous experiences, then if necessary, provide early warning to policymakers;
Provide management and legal advise to foreign entities unfamiliar with the culture, policy, and business environment of recipient country, especially with respect to the governance aspect, to prevent the failure of projects or public disappointment.
On the other hand, exchanges between think tanks of China and think tanks of partner countries may also serve these functions.
Jointly conduct periodic assessments of how BRI is impacting both the economy/society of recipient country and the overall bilateral relations with China, to ensure balanced and steady development.
Jointly promote cultural understanding through research collaboration, joint seminars, mutual visits.
Expand the modalities of successful cooperation to include other countries as are relevant, to explore further the benefits of multilateral connectivity.
Dr. Baviera also took part at a side event of the Forum, The Fifth Global Think Tank Summit, which had the theme “Gathering Wisdom for Promoting Global Growth.” She was asked to speak at the closed-door session on “Regional and Global Security: Situation and Prospect.” In her remarks, Dr Baviera underscored the following ideas:
“Belt and Road Initiative, as outlined by Pres Xi Jinping, indeed has potential impact on global security. China’s role is increasingly important in various parts of the world. But the BRI can be more meaningful to China if it can help in improving the security environment in its immediate neighborhood in East Asia – i.e. in its relations with Japan, in resolution of the Korean peninsula crisis, in the good management of cross-Straits relations, and in developing all-around relations with Southeast Asia/ASEAN, including on the Mekong River and South China Sea issues.
She said that Xi Jinping’s articulation of security composed of cooperative, comprehensive, common and sustainable security resonates well with ASEAN, which upon the end of the Cold War also upheld the first three as part of security multilateralism. This security concept will allow states to step back from over-emphasis on military buildups and strengthening of alliances.
The BRI apparently seeks to enhance globalization and economic interdependence, but whether these will prevent war or conflict entirely is not clear. One source of conflict is mistrust that arises from power asymmetry. In the case of China and its smaller neighbors, asymmetry is a given fact and will not go away, but one way of managing its impact on big power-small power dynamics is through ensuring rule-based behavior.
On the South China Sea, China and ASEAN should cooperate to manage this shared ocean space well. BRI and ASEAN’s Master Plan for ASEAN connectivity, through their maritime dimensions, can have coordinated programs. Good relations between China and ASEAN are vital to regional security and order-building efforts.”
Dr. Aileen SP. Baviera is Professor at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman. She specializes on and writes about contemporary China studies, China-Southeast Asia relations, Asia-Pacific security, territorial and maritime disputes, and regional integration. The editor in chief of the journal, "Asian Politics & Policy," she is the author of many academic publications, including the "The Domestic Mediations of China's Influence in the Philippines," which appears in Rising China's Influence in Developing Asia, edited by Evelyn Goh and published by Oxford University Press. She completed her Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of the Philippines Diliman. VIEW FULL PROFILE.
This article quotes and is part of a longer essay published by Asia Pacific Pathways for Progress Foundation.
The UP Asian Center offers M.A. programs in Asian Studies with four fields of specialization: Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and West Asia. The Center also has an M.A. program in Philippine Studies that allows students to major in Philippine society and culture, Philippine foreign relations, or Philippine development studies. The Center offers a Ph.D. program in Philippine Studies in conjunction with the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy. Get an overview of these programs. The Asian Center also houses a peer-reviewed, open-access journal, Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia. It has published several books and monographs, and hosts or organizes various lectures and conferences.