Development has been a consistent pursuit of human society. The deep impact and profound changes brought by arrival at a crossroads of development has made the need for development even more urgent and pressing. The prolonged global challenge brought by the abrupt outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent recovery effort coinciding with various other profound changes including fallout of the Ukraine crisis have pushed back deliverance of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the international community has been seeking to achieve.
At this juncture, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the Global Development Initiative (GDI) at the general debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 2021, which was also the 50th anniversary of restoration of China’s lawful seat in the United Nations (UN). President Xi called on the international community to “accelerate implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to build a global community of development with a shared future.” His proposal has been seen as a major initiative for the new era that sets a practical blueprint for countries around the world to engage in international development cooperation.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi explained that the core concept of this initiative is people-oriented and seeks well-rounded development with the ultimate goal of meeting the aspirations of all nations for improved living standards by solving difficult issues and creating more opportunities for development, leaving no countries or individuals behind.
The GDI can serve as an important cooperation platform to facilitate open and inclusive partnerships. It seems to have gained synergy from other initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and support from multilateral cooperation mechanisms such as the UN, which China regards as the core of the multilateral governance system, BRICS, the G20, and various regional and sub-regional platforms.
While introducing the proposal, President Xi emphasized the need for harmony between man and nature. He pledged to follow China’s previous commitment to striving to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. He pledged to increase China’s support for other developing countries on developing green and low-carbon energy and stop building new coal-fired power projects abroad.
The GDI proposed by President Xi has drawn praise from leaders, scholars, and officials on a wider scale. UN Secretary-General António Guterres remarked in a statement that he was “encouraged” by Xi’s announcement regarding the commitment to climate action, and he called for “decisive action” by all countries, especially members of the G20, to effectively contribute to emission reductions.
The proposal of the GDI has led to the formation of a Group of Friends at the UN. The High-Level Meeting of the Group of Friends of the GDI was held on May 9, 2022, with participation from Wang Yi and António Guterres alongside representatives from more than 100 UN member countries and 27 prominent international organizations. The group focused on strengthening the prime initiative and developing it into a more elaborate form and scope with clarity on timeline and sectoral themes to make it a more effective instrument of development matching the overall social, economic, and political course evolving in the world today. The group resolved to carry forward the objectives of the GDI through policy dialogue, experience sharing, and promotion of practical cooperation. It emphasised the primary need to focus on global crises that prevent implementation of SDGs. It also stressed prioritization of the most pressing concerns of the developing countries in areas like poverty reduction, food security, economic recovery, employment, education, health and green development. Attendees suggested the GDI dovetail with other South-South cooperation initiatives to attract potential resources which are lacking at the moment.
At a High-level Dialogue on Global Development held in Beijing on June 24, 2022, to support the implementation of the GDI, President Xi delivered a speech entitled “Forging High-quality Partnerships for a New Era of Global Development.” “We are meeting at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is eroding decades of gains in global development, the implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is encountering difficulties, the North-South gap keeps widening, and crises are emerging in food and energy security,” Xi said. He urged countries to jointly create an enabling international environment for development and forge a global development partnership. “Developed countries need to fulfil obligations, developing countries need to deepen their cooperation, and the North and the South need to work in the same direction to forge a united, equal, balanced, and inclusive global development partnership.”
Another important previous conference was related to the International Civil Society Solidarity Conference, which vowed to promote the GDI in accordance with its guidelines and in a concerted way with other global development partners to create a combined driving force. Such broadening support for the GDI is indicative of the confidence of prominent institutions and people in the viability of Xi’s proposal seeking to attain the universal global objective of promoting the wellbeing of the people and countries at large.
The Global Security Initiative (GSI) was first publicly proposed by President Xi at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference in April 2022 and immediately aroused worldwide attention. The Western media called it the latest display of China’s vision to offer an alternative global governance and security architecture. China’s vision of the GSI is based on the principle of indivisible security, meaning no country can pursue its own security at the cost of others’ security. It calls for common, comprehensible, cooperative, and sustainable security and contributing to an Asian family of unity and progress together. China’s argument is that security and a peaceful environment are inarguable prerequisites for peaceful development of the world and the two complement each other, which has seemed to have gained ground in the international community.
Of all China’s global initiatives, the BRI still stands out for good reason. Understanding China’s GDI from a wide angle requires tracing the development of its predecessor from concept to massive output around the world.
Despite numerous confrontational challenges and fallacious charges levelled against it by the U.S. and its allies in particular, China’s BRI was well received by more than 100 countries and 87 prominent international organizations, of which 147 have signed MOUs with China so far. The BRI has been described as the most visionary and largest infrastructure program in human history with more than half of the world’s population and a third of global GDP directly involved. The Central Asian countries, on the mainland-route of the Belt and Road, have been designated for the most BRI projects, followed by the sub-Saharan region of Africa. In the Asian neighbourhood, countries undertaking BRI projects of substantive scale are Indonesia, Laos, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Thailand. Most of these projects are completed, and some are still in progress. The BRI has achieved hard-won progress and significant outcomes through the inherent extensive connectivity parameters under its umbrella, both in the intra-regional and intercontinental scale. The BRI has remained, and will continue to remain, an unmatched initiative meeting the acute developmental needs of countries involved, but it will also act as an accelerator of the GDI’s objectives in the days ahead.
Nepal, a committed member of the BRI, signed its MOU with China in 2017, and both sides agreed to build the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network. Through big infrastructural connectivity projects, Nepal envisions developing into a land-linked state instead of a landlocked one.
Now improved in form with solid internal financing mechanisms of its own, the BRI will certainly remain one of the strongest pillars of Chinese foreign policy, retaining its own unique connectivity-driven global development role for a long time to come as the GDI begins playing its part.
The author is the officiating chairman of the China Study Center in Nepal.