By Ai Jun (Global Times, 17 April 2019) – Wednesday witnessed the world’s biggest single-day election – the 2019 Indonesian general election. During campaigns, topics over Chinese investment were put under the spotlight. While incumbent President Joko Widodo stressed on Indonesia’s thirst for foreign investments, including from China, his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, vowed to review the China-invested railway project linking Jakarta and Bandung.
The Chinese-relevant topic that emerged in the Indonesian election is not an isolated case. Among developing countries which underwent elections or military coups, China’s economic and trade relations with them have become a hot issue, especially since the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was first proposed by China six years ago. BRI has brought about an inevitable boost in China’s influence. An increasing number of Chinese topics show that BRI is of great significance to their economy and people’s livelihood.
When facing government changes in other countries, China needs to raise the alarm of investment risks. But it has been observed that BRI has the ability to withstand the political changes in regional countries.
China attaches no political strings to its investment overseas or any programs within the framework of BRI. It is increasingly recognized by countries along the BRI routes. The weight of the BRI in those countries’ economic development is also increasing. The Chinese-Thai high-speed rail project will be Thailand’s first high-speed railway. Among over 30,000 jobs created by various China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects in Pakistan, over 75 percent of the employees are local residents.
For countries participating in BRI, governments – be they newly elected or reelected ones – are aware that without economic stability, they can barely maintain long-term social stability. Collaborations with China are beneficial to their political progress. No matter which candidate or party comes to power, they cannot overlook the supporting role of the BRI in regional development.
Before Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan won, they both demanded a reevaluation of China-backed projects. Yet they raised the issue to attract voters who were biased against China and the BRI projects. The East Coast Rail Link, which was suspended by Mahathir after he took office, is now back on track after an agreement was signed on April 12. Khan, after taking office, invited Saudi Arabia to participate in the CPEC projects.
It is normal to see renegotiations over the BRI programs after changes in the political forces of other countries. It is also understandable to see the shelved projects resuming with lower budgets after negotiations. After all, countries along the BRI routes yearn for China’s capital, technology and experience in their infrastructure construction. This is why thousands of representatives from over 100 countries and international organizations are expected to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation later this month. This is the charm and vitality of BRI.