“Chinese 19th Party Congress Entrenched Xi’s Ambition of Belt and Road Initiative” by Sanchita Basu Das

2017/63, 27 October 2017

In the last one week, China concluded its 19th Party Congress and appointed its Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) with President Xi Jinping as its Chair. It also amended its Constitution to include the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. The Party Congress approved of OBOR in the Constitution as “following the principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration, and pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).” OBOR or BRI, announced by President Xi in 2013, covers Chinese initiative to build hard and soft infrastructures from China to Africa and Europe, which will increase bilateral trade and economic influence. The inclusion of such an initiative in Constitution has long-term implications.

First, inclusion of OBOR in the Constitution happened in conjunction with another amendment: ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’. This implies that both Xi Jinping’s ideology and action plans are imprinted in Chinese administrative charter. This is likely to facilitate Xi’s ambition of leading the global architecture of infrastructure projects. Moreover, as many speculated that with ‘no obvious successor’ from the lineup of 7-member PSC, Xi is the leading proprietor of his vaguely defined long-term plan of BRI.

Second, China will be more prominent on the international stage. President Xi has committed to an open and more engaging China in the world economy. Of late Beijing’s strive for raising economic influence through trade and outward investment along the route of BRI countries has been more evident. For this year till August 2017, it has been reported that China had made 109 deals worth US$33 billion across 68 BRI countries, surpassing the US$31 billion mark of 2016. This means that Beijing will be able to dictate the rules and direct the architecture of global cross-border flows of goods, services, people and information. With the US’ policy of ‘America First’, it can make China’s ambition easier. 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of China’s unveiling of opening-up policy and BRI provides an overall framework to commemorate such an occasion.

Third, the economic policies announced in the five-year road map is less on GDP growth number and more on people-centric and sustainable developmental ideas. In particular, President Xi promised for a moderately prosperous society by 2020. He reiterated that the administration should remain committed to people-centered developments and deliver on common prosperity. In the months to come, one may observe increasing discussion on improving quality of life in China, thus providing more emphasis on economic inclusion, adequate infrastructure, social security, environment and others. Moreover, exporting Chinese technology, construction material, management and manpower to the countries supporting BRI will bring increased prosperity to the people of China. Hence, both the people-centric domestic reforms and opening up to the world through the lens of BRI will complement and reinforce each other in the future.

Ms Sanchita Basu Das is Fellow at the Regional Economic Studies Programme, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

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