The Belt and Road Initiative: A Promising Path for China-Tonga Joint Development
By Wang Baodong, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in the Kingdom of Tonga
As the highest-tier platform for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the second Belt and Road Forum on International Cooperation is to be held in Beijing from 25th to 27th in April 2019, when 37 heads of state or government along with over 5,000 participants from more than 150 countries will attend this eye-catching event of global significance. Chinese President Xi Jinping will deliver the keynote speech at the forum's opening ceremony and chair the leaders' round-table summit. With "Belt and Road Cooperation: Shaping a Brighter Shared Future" as its theme, the forum aims to bring about high-quality cooperation under the initiative.
In the fall of 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the Initiative of Jointly Building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21 Century Maritime Silk Road. Guided by the principle of extensive consultation, joint development and shared benefits, the BRI aims to synergize development strategies of various countries, strengthen international cooperation for shared prosperity in Asia, Europe, and beyond, and jointly build a community with a shared future for mankind.
The BRI has five priorities: First, policy connectivity. The goal is to build an inter-governmental, multi-tiered mechanism of macro policy communication to better synergize development strategies of the participating countries. Second, infrastructure connectivity. It is about building a network of infrastructure to upgrade transportation, energy and communication infrastructure. Third, trade connectivity. The purpose is to promote trade liberalization and facilitation to realize coordinated industrial development. Fourth, financial connectivity. Efforts will be made to build a framework of diversified means of investment and financing. Fifth, people-to-people connectivity. More will be done to bring together people around the world, facilitate cultural, educational, academic and tourism cooperation, and make our societies more inclusive.
The BRI is China’s initiative, but the opportunities and fruits that it presents belong to the whole world. Over the past six years, the Initiative has received positive response from the international community. So far, 126 countries and 29 international organizations have signed 174 cooperation documents with China while more countries have shown support. A large number of cooperation projects are being and have been implemented globally. Trade volume between China and the countries involved has exceeded six trillion US dollars, and total investment has exceeded 80 billion US dollars. China has opened direct flights with 43 countries along the routes. Eighty-two economic and trade cooperation zones have been set up out of China, creating nearly 300,000 jobs for local people.
Oceanian region including the Pacific island countries is an indispensable part of the BRI. Located on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, Oceanian countries will greatly benefit from the opportunities brought by BRI, in the areas of infrastructure upgrade, connectivity, human capital development and access to global markets and investment, especially at a time when the world economy faces serious challenge of protectionism and unilateralism. With New Zealand taking the lead in joining the BRI cooperation in 2017, most Pacific Island countries including Tonga, PNG, Fiji, Samoa, Niue, Micronesia, Cook islands and Vanuatu have signed with China the Memorandum of Understanding on the arrangements of cooperation within the framework of BRI on the eve of the China-Pacific Island Country Leaders Group Meeting held in Port Moresby in November 2018, with the common inspiration of enhancing mutually beneficial cooperation in various areas covered by the BRI.
The Kingdom of Tonga has been proactively engaged in collaboration with China to promote the BRI. In May 2017, the then Minister of Finance and National Planning, Hon. Tevita Lavemaau representing the Tongan Government attended the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, and Tonga became a prospective member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in July that year, which was established under the BRI framework to facilitate commercial cooperation in infrastructure sector. As the the second Belt and Road Forum on International Cooperation is coming up later this week, a bigger and higher ranked Tongan national team joined by HRH Princess Pilolevu Tuita, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Tourism and Acting Foreign Minister Hon. Semisi Sika and Minister for MEIDECC Hon. Poasi Tei, have left the Kingdom and on their way for the event. They are expected to discuss with their Chinese counterparts and attendees from other countries and explore the possibilities for further cooperation in different areas of common interest.
As it is, Tonga and China have achieved early harvests in many sectors such as infrastructure, clean energy, agriculture, education, trade, tourism and sub-national exchanges, etc. under the BRI cooperation. Just take a few examples here. In the infrastructure sector, besides the tourism roads to the scenic spots, the sidewalk under construction in downtown Nuku’alofa and the St. George Government Building as a national landmark, the Tonga High School Sports Facility is expected to have its ground-breaking later this year. Along with the Solar Plant invested by a Chinese Company operating well will come soon a Chinese government-aid wind power station to generate more green and cheap electricity for local schools and households. When it comes to people-to-people exchange, more China-funded scholarships will be granted to Tongan students while more Chinese tourists are expected to come to the Kingdom to bring more foreign exchange. Furthermore, as more Chinese companies are keen in making investment in Tonga, more job opportunities will be created and more revenues will be generated, which will definitely help promote the Kingdom’s social and economic development and improve the livelihood of the Tongan people.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has undoubtedly provided a promising path for China-Tonga joint development. It is my belief that, with joint efforts by all the participants to the event, the second Belt and Road Forum on International Cooperation will be a complete success. Making full use of the big BRI platform, the Chinese side is ready to work together with the Tongan side to further advance China-Tonga Comprehensive Strategic Partnership so as to bring more happiness and better welfare to our peoples and jointly contribute to peace, stability and prosperity for the Pacific region at large.