Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation
(Beijing, 18th October 2023)
Theme: Common Opportunities, Shared Future
Contribution by Ambassador Hisham El-Zimaity,
Former Assistant Foreign Minister of EGYPT
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to China’s tangible accomplishments through the years; and to congratulate all of us for our common efforts during the past ten years to make BRI a remarkable reality despite resistance and obstacles that we together we managed to overcome.
We continue to live in a world of contradictions. On the one hand, with growing material wealth and advances in science and technology, human civilization has developed as never before. On the other hand, numerous regional conflicts, global challenges and destabilizing factors, like terrorism, poverty, famine, unemployment and the rising level of inequality within and across countries have all added to the uncertainties of our world.
Unfortunately, many of the world problems continue to persist. For instance, the refugees’ waves from the Middle East and Africa have become a global concern. Several million people have been displaced or forced to migrate to neighboring countries and across the seas in which so many precious lives are lost while crossing. This is indeed heartbreaking, for it is war, conflict and regional instability that have created this problem, and contributed to exposing the fragility and deficiency of our global endeavors in making peace, promoting reconciliation and restoring stability.
The international financial crisis was the consequence of excessive chase of profit by financial capital and grave failure of financial regulation. The lack of robust driving forces for global growth made it difficult to sustain the steady growth of the global economy. Inadequate global economic governance made it hard to adapt to new developments in the world economy; and uneven global developments made it challenging to meet peoples’ expectations for better lives.
The Chinese game changer Initiative of BRI drew a clear roadmap whereby a dynamic, innovation-driven growth model would be developed, a well-coordinated and inter-connected approach to build a model of open and win-win cooperation would be pursued, and an example of fair and equitable governance in keeping with the trend of the times would be put in place, so that peoples’ interests are put first by pursuing reform and innovation, common development through opening-up.
China has become a major economic power in the last 20 years, weighing heavily on the global economy and international politics. H.E President XI Jinping emphasized in many of his speeches that China will strive to enhance economic growth, will boost market vitality to add new impetus to growth, will foster an enabling and orderly environment for investment, and promote an external environment of opening-up for common development.
The far-reaching BRI saw over 150 nations and international organizations adhering to it; with more than 80 governments and international organizations signing cooperation agreements with China, including my country Egypt, where Chinese companies pledged over $50 billions of investment and launched a number of major projects in the countries along the routes creating many local jobs.
The BRI delivered benefits far beyond China’s borders. It is worth noting that the Silk Road Fund established with a capital of 40 billion US$, and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, set at 100 billion US$, with Egypt as a founding member, continue to serve as locomotives to achieve the win-win concept.
The rules of conduct that shaped the world over the past decades are currently giving way to new ones in a radically shifting landscape, ever more volatile, uncertain, complex ambiguous, and giving way to a state of globality in which virtually any point on the planet is accessible to any individual.
Digitalization has radically reshaped the way people live, work, and interact, in areas ranging from education and commerce to media, healthcare, and administrative relations. Digital platforms have altered the economic landscape creating new business models built around sharing and convenience.
Artificial intelligence and robotic automation are becoming mainstream, from autonomous vehicles to personal virtual assistants and advanced manufacturing, all of which impact the future of work.
Confronted with the climate crisis, an increasing number of governments and businesses seem committing to initiatives designed to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable development and energy transition: renewable energies, circular economy, and sustainable agricultural practices.
Aid has become the next battleground in the competition for global influence. Indebtedness of developing countries has reached alarming levels. The trend emerged following the triple shock of the COVID-19 pandemic which delayed growth and fueled a rise in health care expenses, while rising U.S. interest rates hit developing markets’ currencies and added to debt-servicing costs, and finally Russia Ukraine war which fueled a rise of commodity prices and thereby inflated the import bills of developing countries.
Many of these countries had no option but to take out loans to stay afloat and keep paying their bills. The dilemma is that many developing economies are now struggling to pay back their piled-up debt. The statistics are disturbing: The world’s 91 poorest countries are spending an average of almost 20% of their fiscal revenues on debt servicing, roughly a three- fold rise compared with 2013.
Sky-high debt fueled poverty because many nations had to spend so much on paying back lenders and have little left to finance education and health care. Since 2020, African countries have spent more on debt servicing than on health care.
Investing in high quality affordable education in developing countries like what China did is the best added value investment for the future of nations and prosperity of citizens.
Cooperation in localization of industries and sharing expertise and hi-tech know-how must be part of global supply chains to boost development and win-win shared benefits.
Ensuring best practices in agriculture and irrigation techniques to combat desertification and water shortages, cultivate climate-resilient crops and increase yield will help in fostering food security that is vital especially in Africa.
Focusing on green sustainable development is crucial for the survival of our planet.
Together, as BRI partners, we need to deal in a coordinated manner, with persisting problems such as lack of peace, security and stability in many regions, with the urgent need to deal with eradication of poverty especially in Africa, while providing quality education and health care for all. We also need to tackle developments such as climate change, financial equity, population growth, generational value shifts, geopolitical tensions, new development models, artificial intelligence prospects, and lifestyle reassessments.