By Paul Nugent, Executive Director
On May 16, SECWAC members and guests traveled to Stonington where the La Grua Center was the venue for a very informative, if somewhat sobering, presentation on the centerpiece of Chinese foreign policy, the Belt Road Initiative (BRI).
Presenter Anthony (“Tony”) Pellegrini certainly has excellent credentials for telling us about it: a former World Bank executive with over 40 years of experience working in urban development and infrastructure issues around the world, Tony is now an advisor to Beijing Normal University’s Emerging Markets Institute where he has lectured on urban development, municipal finance, and globalization.
The BRI is a modern manifestation of the Silk Road, a term coined in the 19th century for the trade routes between China and Europe that have existed for over 2,000 years. The BRI, announced in 2013, is presented by the Xi administration as an effort to boost trade, innovation, and cultural exchange between East and West through the construction of roads, ports, airports, oil and gas pipelines, telecommunications systems, and other infrastructure projects. Interestingly, the Chinese have presented it as more than just a list of construction programs: they emphasize environmental, educational, and financial cooperation, arguing that it encourages “people to people bonds.” Also, the Chinese have highlighted the similarity between the BRI and past cultural and material exchanges, proposing that it is the “New Silk Road.” The BRI involves over 70 countries, many in the developing world, and is estimated to cost in time over $2 trillion.
In his very illuminating presentation, replete with helpful maps and wonderful images of historical and cultural significance, Tony outlined several specific projects, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which comprises throughout Pakistan a network of motorways and railways, electrical distribution plants and other energy infrastructure, and a $1.5B science technology and logistics research park.
Tony also outlined concerns about the BRI program, mainly around financial risk, open bidding for specific projects, labor considerations, and cross-border logistics and customs policies. Finally, the extent of the BRI has drawn comparison with the Marshall Plan, especially with respect to the help it may provide to developing nations, even though the missions are quite different. In this context, he alluded to the potential economic challenge that it poses for the US, and commented that the scale of the program and the challenge it poses appears to be little understood by Americans inside and outside the Washington Beltway. Of course, that’s where SECWAC helps: by educating our members on such important developments in international affairs.
The next SECWAC meeting will take place on Monday, June 4, at Connecticut College, where John Lewis Gaddis, Professor of History at Yale University, will speak to his new book “On Grand Strategy” (signed copies of which will be available for purchase). Join us!
The mission of the Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council (SECWAC) is to foster an understanding of issues of foreign policy and international affairs by study, debate, and educational programming, primarily through a Speakers Series of 8 to 10 monthly meetings.