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BRI Summit: China Has Exhibited Its Soft Power Like Never Before

Osama Rizvi in this article maintains that during the recent BRI Summit, China not only flaunted its soft power before the world, it also appeared a lot more confident of its power than the US has been recently.

Last month China hosted Belt and Road Initiative inviting more than 5,000 delegates from all over the world in order to further promote the multibillion dollar project. The number and nature of delegates speaks volumes of the country’s soft power that despite its economic progress from the past few decades had been lagging a tad. The first summit (held in March) was attended by 29 heads of state; this one by 36. Among other notable individuals were IMF’s head, Christina Lagarde and Secreatry General of UN, Antonio Guterres.

Chinese President, as he spoke, seemed to portray a more open, transparent and inclusive China.

Following are few takeaways from the summit.

First is concerning President Xi himself. Instead of throwing away numbers and mentioning the outreach of the initiative, the President focused more on image-building. Mentioning that BRI will focus on “high quality” projects, he also stressed “zero tolerance” on corruption. The governor of People’s Bank of China (PBoC) also used the terms like “market oriented fiscal system” – not a common part of economic lexicon there. Such and other efforts have borne fruit as Italy has become the first of G7 to join the project.

Then there are talks of forming third party cooperation as few developed countries have agreed to assist in various infrastructures in developing world.

Other issues like currency manipulation were also touched upon. Many were relaxed when China declared that it will not devalue yuan – which is one of the many grievances of the developed world.

One of the top most causes of bickering between the US and China and for the incumbent trade war is the accusation, by the former, of IP (Intellectual Property) theft on the part of the latter. Xi said he will not only cooperate with the international community on this matter but also assist in curbing it down.

In a strategic choice of words just when the trade war is rumbling and the US is going gung-ho on imposing equal tariffs on the Chinese products, the summit saw Xi announce a step towards a more open economy. He said that China will further cut tariff barriers and introduce structural changes so that more companies can come and invest in the Chinese market. This points to a larger trend in place in the world right now where China is emerging as a beacon of hope when it comes to international cooperation and engagement while the US continues to disengage itself from the very system it helped to build – e.g. US withdrawal form TPP and UNHRC.

Driving home his point, Xi also categorically mentioned that Belt and Road Initiative is not an “exclusive club” and that every country is welcome to be a part of it. This once again marks a stark contrast to the US approach as when Obama initially came with the idea of Trans Pacific Partnership, China was not included in the list of countries. China seems quite confident as it has kept BRI open for all. In fact the more countries join it, the more beneficial it will be for China.

Last but not the least, as China has often been portrayed as the major contributor to global CO2 emission with little or no regard for the role it can play in alleviating this issue, China has been doing just the opposite. It is now leading in terms of investments in renewables and sale of Electric Vehicles (EVs). At the recent Summit, topics like climate change, sustainable development, green growth and others were duly mentioned. Chinese entrepreneurs are also working on ways in which they can contribute to coping with the climate change.

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