B&R’s multilateral cooperation with int’l organizations

By ZHANG GUIHONG / 03-24-2022 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Cargo ships from various countries along the Belt and Road unload in a port off Zhoushan, Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province, on Aug. 12, 2021. Photo: CFP

The Belt and Road (B&R) has gone through a process of development from initiative to consensus, from vision to action, and from bilateral to multilateral. It has been incorporated into outcome documents for the United Nations (UN), the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asia-Europe Meeting, and other important multilateral mechanisms. Meanwhile, it has been highly recognized by leaders of the UN and many international organizations. 
The multilateralization of the B&R initiative refers to promoting its rules-based, professional, and institutionalized development through multilateral cooperation, and its transformation and upgrade into an international development agenda. Multilateralization is the key to the quality development of the B&R, and international organizations are the key to promoting its multilateralization. 
An innovative practice 
The multilateralization of the B&R initiative achieves development with the help of international organizations, and gains universal support from the international community, as it develops the B&R into a better platform for international cooperation and an international public good. Cooperation between China and international organizations is an important way to build a community with a shared future for mankind, and a new form of international relations, as well as the best way to jointly construct the B&R. 
China’s cooperation with the UN is the main manifestation of the B&R’s multilateral development, which follows a path of peaceful and independent development. It has exemplary significance for China’s cooperation with other international organizations. The B&R is fundamentally a development project, aimed at building a community for shared development. As an innovative exploration of international cooperation and global governance, the B&R is expected to create a new model for international cooperation, multilateral mechanisms, and global governance. By strengthening the foundations of peace and creating a peaceful environment through development, the B&R resolves deficits in peace, promoting peaceful development, and achieving lasting peace. In the development of the B&R, peace is a prerequisite and development is a means. 
As an innovative practice, China and international organizations should have innovative ideas, innovative momentum, innovative paths, innovative mechanisms, and platforms for the joint construction of the B&R. The innovative philosophy of balanced, aligned, inclusive, and common development is based on China’s development experience, and is in line with the UN’s development cause. Connectivity, development for security, and partnership for development create the innovative momentum for the B&R. Innovation momentum is a result of China’s experience in its cooperation with other developing countries and is currently the key to international cooperation and global governance. The innovative paths of connecting to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, alignment with regional development agendas, as well as new types of South-South and tripartite cooperation have shown the way for China to build the B&R together with international organizations. Innovative mechanisms and platforms include making good use of international organizations’ resources, inviting international institutions to participate, recommending internationally competitive Chinese talent, and actively organizing international conferences. These will serve B&R construction. 
B&R and UN 2030 Agenda 
An agenda is a procedural arrangement made to solve problems. Unlike bilateral agendas, multilateral or global agendas are often driven by international organizations. In short, international organizations translate global issues and topics into formal arrangements for common actions by the international community through relevant documents. The multilateral agenda promoted by the UN is global and authoritative. Among the topics covered in the General Debate of the UN General Assembly each year and the themes contained in UN documents, topics that receive the most attention are peace, security, development, climate change, public health, human rights, refugees, and migration. Each topic has a corresponding agenda, which requires international cooperation and global action. International cooperation, under the framework of relevant agendas to address relevant global issues, has become the main way in which the UN implements global governance, such as the well-known sustainable development agenda. 
The B&R is highly compatible with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in terms of sustainable development, openness, inclusiveness, win-win cooperation, and common development. This is the basis for the aligned development of the B&R with the 2030 Agenda. The 2030 Agenda is a global and authoritative development agenda that has been highly recognized by UN member states and is of great significance to the development of the B&R. As a development initiative proposed and promoted by China, the B&R initiative is based on the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits, with a focus on connectivity and international cooperation around policy, facilities, trade, finance, and people. It is a reinforcement of, and complement to, the sustainable development agenda. Drafting the B&R’s agenda is a process of consensus building, planning, and action taking through the alignment of concepts, ethics, goals, targets, strategies, mechanisms, projects, and activities of the sustainable development agenda. 
First, the B&R needs to become an international consensus. To date, China has signed cooperation documents with more than 140 countries to jointly build the B&R. This indicates that the initiative has received extensive recognition and support from the international community. However, most developed countries have not yet participated in the B&R’s joint development. In addition, limited cooperation documents have been signed with international organizations to jointly build the B&R. The B&R has been included in several UN resolutions as well as documents from other international organizations, but very few international organizations’ resolutions are centered on the B&R initiative. This means that there is still plenty of hard work to do before the B&R becomes an international consensus. 
Second, the B&R must be incorporated into the strategic planning of international organizations. Cooperation documents signed with international organizations to jointly build the B&R need to be evaluated in a timely manner in terms of their progress and effectiveness. More importantly, the relevant contents of the B&R should be incorporated into the development strategies and work plans of international organizations through these cooperation documents, to better serve the missions of international organizations. For example, infrastructure connectivity is a key area and a core element of B&R development, and a “pain point” in global development. This requires international organizations to coordinate and strategically plan for the development of global infrastructure. 
Last, the B&R also requires an action plan within the framework of international organizations. The development of the B&R involves issues and areas such as trade, finance, industry, agriculture, transport, education, science, culture, tourism, and so forth. International organizations, particularly specialized UN agencies, have professional rules and experience in these areas. The B&R can make use of the resources and advantages of international organizations to promote professionalism, internationalization, and standardization under the framework of these specialized agencies. 
Multilateral cooperation 
In addition to the UN and other global organizations, regional organizations are also important partners to the B&R’s multilateral agenda. The B&R is open to all regions of the world, and a lot of focus is now on the periphery of the Asia-Pacific region, including Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, the South Pacific, and other sub-regions. This periphery is the foundation as the B&R expands globally. 
There are many international organizations in regions that neighbor China. They are not only important actors in international relations and key platforms for international cooperation, but also important forces in promoting regional integration. International organizations in China’s neighboring regions include sub-regional international organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization; cross-regional international organizations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Asian Development Bank; emerging multilateral organizations and mechanisms in which China and its neighboring countries participate such as the BRICS, the G20, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; conference- and forum-based international organizations such as the East Asia Summit, Boao Forum For Asia, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia; and regional UN offices such as the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. These neighboring international organizations are diverse and innovative. 
Neighboring international organizations are important international organizational resources for promoting the B&R’s development. The B&R and neighboring international organizations have a solid foundation for alignment and cooperation. There are geographical overlaps, shared objectives, and aligned principles. 
Given the nature and characteristics of the organizations, the size of their memberships, and China’s position and influence in them, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations could be the primary nodes in the multilateralization of the B&R. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, with its broad membership and flexible cooperation modes, is highly complementary to the B&R. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are solid starting points for the B&R’s internationalization, and can serve as a model for this. In addition, China needs to strengthen its cooperation with different types of international organizations such as the BRICS, the G20, the African Union, and the European Union, so that the B&R’s multilateralization can be promoted as a whole—in multiple regions and at multiple levels. 
Zhang Guihong is the director of the Center for the United Nations and International Organizations at Fudan University. 
Edited by WENG RONG