Lecture on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

On 9 September 2022, the CACS hosted a lecture titled ‘The Belt and Road Initiative’ by Prof Lauren Johnston. It was attended by CACS staff members, UJ students, students from other universities, and business people.

Prof Johnston, a joint Australian and British national, is an Associate Professor of the University of Sydney China Centre, and the current China/Africa lead at the Southern African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA). She holds a PhD in Economics from Peking University. Her previous experience includes an ODI Fellowship in the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning of Sierra Leone, and a Global Leadership Fellowship at the World Economic Forum in Geneva.

The event was chaired by Dr Emmanuel Matambo, CACS Research Director, who described the BRI as one of China’s boldest and most ambitious undertakings. Since its launch a decade ago, the BRI had been taken as anything from a ‘grand strategy’ to a crazy ‘grandee strategy’. The seminar would seek to place the BRI in context, including China’s political and economic  circumstances at the time of its launch. Emphasis would be given not only to economic changes since 2008, but also to demographic changes since 2010 in particular. This would place the BRI in a dynamic political-economic time and space that would assist in defining and conceptualising it as well.

The event provided many fascinating insights into the BRI, including the tangible and intangible benefits that China seeks to derive from it. The tangibles, set out by President Xi Jinping in a momentous speech in Kazakhstan in 2013, included the strengthening of communication, road connectivity, unimpeded trade, currency circulation, and people-to-people ties. He set out the intangible benefits in an address in Indonesia, speaking about the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road which would aid the quest for building amicable relations among people of diverse backgrounds. At this time, he also started to popularise the disarming ‘win-win cooperation’ notion in respect of China’s growing footprint in the developing world, notwithstanding relentless Western relentless efforts to detract from its appeal.

The lecture was followed by a robust discussion of what the BRI entails for Africa-China relations, and what to make of Western scepticism and antipathy to this massive undertaking.

On 20 October 2022, CACS will commemorate Xi Jinping’s rise to General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) a decade earlier. The topics for discussion will include the BRI, one of the hallmarks of Xi’s presidency. Prof Johnston has agreed to be one of the main speakers. Therefore, those who could not attend the event on 9 September will have an opportunity to do so in October.

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