In his landmark speech on July 1 to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, reiterated China's commitment to building a community with a shared future for mankind and promoting the Belt and Road Initiative.
China's success in largely containing the COVID-19 pandemic and achieving positive economic growth last year show its determination to fulfill its promises.
The novel coronavirus outbreak may have wreaked havoc globally, but it has come with the proverbial silver lining, that is, the potential to enhance camaraderie and connectivity of hearts and minds among most of the Belt and Road countries.
The spontaneous donation of personal protective equipment on the heels of the outbreak in China last year by countries such as Malaysia was later reciprocated by China with its generous PPE aid and urgent supply of medicines and medical equipment to other countries to help them fight the virus.
Similarly, China's outreach to other countries has greatly helped improve connectivity among peoples of different Belt and Road countries. This was further enhanced by the prioritized dispatch of Chinese vaccines to these countries.
China is fulfilling all the pledges President Xi Jinping made at the World Health Assembly last year by making Chinese vaccines global public goods and supplying them to nations across the world.
Parallel to this, the goodwill built through reciprocal support between China and the other Belt and Road countries at the height of the outbreak paved the way for better collaboration in managing future public health crises. A case in point is the proposed "China-ASEAN Health Silk Road", designed to serve as a useful platform for global collaboration in the fight against future pandemics.
All these constitute a promising scenario for the future of the Belt and Road Initiative. Yet the heavily pummeled global economy needs to be resuscitated through its own vigor. No amount of political lip service paid in the name of liberal democracy can save the day. The self-proclaimed "value-driven" economic model characterized by Western-style democracy has proved ineffective in the face of hard realities that the pandemic has created.
The devastating pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the global economy. Many countries, both developed and developing, are now struggling to revive their floundering economies.
Mounting debts have been stalling many countries' efforts to implement many physical infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative framework. As a result, weaker and small economies may now find the sustainable growth goal of poverty alleviation more distant than ever before.
Against such a gloomy global backdrop, the digital economy, once alien to many developing countries, has unexpectedly taken the world by storm. The necessity of avoiding physical contact and maintaining social distancing has triggered the emergence of the new normal, which has had an impact on virtually all aspects of life and boosted the development of the digital economy across the globe at an unprecedented pace.
Amid the cacophony of self-salvation, China was the only major economy to achieve positive GDP growth in 2020, and it is poised to lead the post-pandemic economic recovery thanks to its reactivated supply chains.
The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and the new development paradigm of "dual circulation" in China are expected to further open up to the other Belt and Road countries a vast Chinese market to cash in on in the post-pandemic recovery period.
And the scheduled implementation of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement in 2022 will add to the advantages of the Chinese and Southeast Asian markets, and help open those markets wider.
Given the significance of the digital economy in the post-pandemic economic recovery, it is necessary to further develop the "Digital Silk Road". Even during the height of the outbreak, China not only averted total economic breakdown despite the lockdowns, but also served as a viable alternative to the conventional initiatives of resuscitating economies.
Yet the "Digital Silk Road" is not challenge-free. The level of social acceptability and readiness needed to usher in the digital economy varies from one country to another. And the availability of digital infrastructure, a pre-requisite for the proposed Digital Silk Road, poses another grave challenge to the would-be participants.
Since it began developing the digital economy ahead of other countries, China has become a leader in the sector. So the potential that China can unleash in the digital economy is enormous. And this is widely believed to be the next main thrust of the globalized economy in the face of the protracted impact of the pandemic. As such, China is likely to play a bigger role through the Belt and Road Initiative in the post-COVID global recovery.
The author is chairman of the Centre for New Inclusive Asia, Malaysia.