Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan once said, "There is no long-term security without development." In light of this, the Belt and Road initiative represents an opportunity to build a shared vision for common prosperity through regional cooperation. Infrastructure will bring economic development, through which the Belt and Road initiative could act as an accelerator for achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and sustaining peace and development.
The Belt and Road initiative vision covers a vast population of 4.4 billion and an economic output of $21 trillion in more than 70 countries in Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Africa. A key strength of the initiative is it strategically targets recipient countries'development gaps.
According to a joint study by the Asian Development Bank, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the UN Development Programme (Making it Happen, 2015), in the Asia-Pacific region alone, the total financing requirement for infrastructure is $8.3 trillion between 2010 and 2020, or $750 billion per year. While the majority of financing is expected from government revenues, foreign direct investment will play an increasingly important role — making the Belt and Road initiative a powerful framework for facilitating its flow.
The question is how these investments can bring not only economic development but also human development benefits along the way. The Belt and Road initiative will contribute to improved infrastructure and industrialization, but it should not stop there. It must also transform local communities, help reduce poverty, protect the environment and facilitate inclusive social development, contributing to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The majority of these countries along the Belt and Road are emerging and developing countries, facing the same challenges that China has experienced and overcome through infrastructure development. The China experience showed connectivity is critical to enhancing development, which is a foundation for long-term sustainable economic and social security.
Through connectivity, the Belt and Road initiative aims to foster trade and financial integration, while promoting inclusiveness and win-win cooperation — hence reshaping the landscape of international cooperation.
The UN and UNDP are supporting China and other countries along the Belt and Road achieve their development aspirations by building more consensus, providing an analytical basis for policymakers to engage in the initiative and identifying practical projects coupled with investments to ensure common economic prosperity will go hand-in-hand with inclusive social and environmental gains alongside peace and development.
The Belt and Road initiative is also intended to encourage people-to-people connectivity. It is an opportunity to promote dialogue, research, policies and development activities that build the resilience of communities and sustain peace through further cooperation and understanding among people in countries along the Belt and Road.
The UNDP and the Himalayan Consensus recently launched the Silk Road Dialogue program, aimed to enhance people-to-people connectivity and share analysis and information related to cultural, social and economic aspects across the Belt and Road participating countries.
Addressing some of the development challenges can help to boost stability and social cohesion. Hence, the Silk Road Dialogue will bring together scientists, think tanks and academia from countries in the Himalayan region to engage in a dialogue to address the most pressing common cross-border issues. For instance, the glacier melt in the Himalayan region will potentially impact the lives of millions of people due to dire consequences for farming and hydropower generation downstream.
Therefore, BRI's success will critically depend on its ability to contribute to national and local development objectives and improving the livelihoods of local communities, through creating decent jobs, increasing capacities and overall living standards.
Peace and sustainable development are deeply embedded in the Charter of the United Nations, and as key principles of the UN they are also very much relevant today. Given their mutually reinforcing natures, sustaining peace and sustainable development are two sides of the same coin.
Witnessing this great contribution that development cooperation has brought to sustaining peace, we propose one effective solution to prevent societies from descending into crisis — building local resilience and generating development opportunities through inclusive, sustainable investment and people-to-people bonds.
(Nicholas Rosellini is the UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in China.
Laurence Brahm is founding director of the Himalayan Consensus Institute.)