China needs to change perception about BRI: economists

Economists and international relations analysts said projects under the BRI need to follow the principles of transparency, good governance, and peoples' participation for them to be more acceptable.


A map of the Belt and Road Initiative. PHOTO: THE DAILY STAR

November 14, 2023

DHAKA – China needs to change the perception that projects under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cause debt-trap, corruption to establish itself as a global power, said economists and international relations analysts.

They said projects under the BRI need to follow the principles of transparency, good governance, and peoples’ participation for them to be more acceptable.

The observations came at a seminar titled “BRI and Bangladesh” organised by the Centre for Alternatives (CA) at a city hotel today.

Bangladesh became a signatory to the BRI in 2016, three years after China launched the global infrastructure development initiative connecting Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Since then, China helped build 12 highways, 21 bridges, and 27 power and energy projects in Bangladesh.

Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which was only $19 million in 2009 now stands at $1.3 billion.

Song Yang, economic and commercial counsellor of Chinese embassy in Dhaka, said China will be the largest foreign direct investor in Bangladesh soon.

He said the spirit of BRI is collaboration, peace, openness and mutual benefits.

He said China will be a responsible partner in Bangladesh’s development.

CA Executive Director Prof Dr Imtiaz Ahmed said Chinese infrastructure projects are linked to stability against the notion of instability. Some aspects, however, need to be considered.

“Whenever BRI projects are considered, there should be an extra focus on the benefits of the locals,” he said.

Clarity is also needed on how quickly and efficiently the [debt] receiving country can meet the repayment conditions, he said.

He said there should be more interaction with civil society bodies in making them aware of the pros and cons of the BRI projects so that no group can willfully politicise the projects for their own interests.

“The only way to debunk the ‘debt trap theory’ is by making BRI investments demonstrably helpful and profitable to the common people of the receiving country,” Prof Imtiaz said.

He noted that Bangladesh can be an ideal place for ushering cooperation between BRI and US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy members.

This will make a difference for millions of people in the region.

Prof Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir of University of Dhaka’s Department of Development Studies said, in the context of global powers competing in the Indo-Pacific region, all need to be careful so that there is no zero-sum game.

“If you turn the region into conflict zone, investments will be at risk,” he said.

“China will have to ensure that the political and civil rights and human rights are respected as it comes up with more investments under the BRI,” Prof Titumir said.

As there is growing nationalism in the major Asian powers, China has to practice more internationalism as it goes ahead with global plan of development and peace, he added.

Dhaka University International Relations Prof ASM Ashraf Ali said it is time to see how its projects are planned and implemented, if the cost-benefit analysis is done and how transparent the bidding process is or if there is corruption.

“Ensuring good governance is a must for success of the BRI,” he said.

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