The “Belt and Road” (BR) initiative, which the Chinese Government officially announced in 2013, has generated much excitement not only within China but also internationally. The BR aims at promoting economic cooperation among the countries which are covered by it, and naturally the discussion relating to the BR has focused mainly on the economic aspects. There has been little discussion of its legal aspects despite the potential impact that economic cooperation among the BR countries will have on the rights and obligations of participants. Of special concern is the need to ensure the availability of timely and effective remedies for breaches of treaty and other obligations. While it is unrealistic to expect a comprehensive legal instrument in place at these initial stages, the BR must work towards eventually adopting a legal framework applicable to all the participating countries. This article examines features of globalisation in the context of which the BR initiative was introduced, the challenges that it is likely to face, possible measures to meet some challenges and more generally the perspectives of the BR.
The Belt and Road initiative (BR)1 focuses on the connectivity and cooperation among countries in Eurasia and some African countries. The “Belt” refers to a transnational economic cooperation initiative among the countries along the ancient silk road from central China to central Asia and then to Western Europe with Amsterdam as the finishing point — “Silk Road Economic Belt”; and the “Road” indicates an economic cooperation initiative among countries along a new maritime silk road from China, South-east Asia, India, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Egypt, Greece, Italy to the Netherlands (Amsterdam) — “Maritime Silk Road”. As such, the BR mainly focuses on the connectivity and cooperation among countries in Eurasia and some African countries.
The BR is very much in line with the trend of globalisation which is greatly dependent on cooperation in many areas such as trade, finance, investment, intellectual property (IP) protection, environment and new forms of energy. This cooperation and interdependence not only involves state actors but also private entities.
There was a time when China claimed to be not part of this globalisation insisting that Chinese affairs were domestic matters and did not justify any external intervention. Such a claim appeared to be sound when China, which was not a part of the international economy, remained largely unaffected by the financial crisis of 1997 in Southeast Asia. However, in 2008, when a new financial crisis started in the United States, China felt more of an impact from it, as it had then become well integrated into the world economy. Today market fluctuations in China affect stock markets worldwide, and likewise economic situations in the United States and Europe directly affect China.6 The price of gold is more or less influenced by China’s gold purchasing power.
The Chinese economy has slowed down since 2015 which is considered by some as a natural progression: it is not possible for any country to maintain a consistent rate of economic growth at 10 per cent.9 China’s decreased growth rate, which contributes to the slowing of the economic growth in the rest of the world, would result in excess capacity, necessitating the relocation of Chinese enterprises elsewhere.