Dr Iqbal Survé

CAPE TOWN – China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the most significant development in global politics in decades, on par with the establishment of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, and the signing of the Paris Climate Change Accords.

This is according to Dr Iqbal Survé, executive chairperson of the Sekunjalo Group, Independent Media and the African News Agency.

At its core, the BRI is a massive infrastructure development project bankrolled by the Chinese, encompassing roads, bridges, railway lines, harbours, and airports, among others.

The "Belt" in the name refers to the historic Silk Road Economic Belt; the ancient network of trade routes between Europe and the East, as well as Africa, and the surrounding industries that supported it. The "Road" refers to the maritime shipping lanes connecting China to India, Southeast Asia, the Indonesian archipelago, Arabian peninsula, Somalia to Egypt and Europe.

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The BRI is globalisation done right, according to executive chairman of the Sekunjalo Group Dr Iqbal Survé. Dr Survé is also a council member of the Belt and Road News Network.

"Their own is that by investing in Africa, Europe and Asia, that they are able to promote economic development, and in so doing, promote peace and cooperation across the various countries," Dr Survé said. 

This sentiment has not been shared by some, who have accused the Chinese of neo-colonialism and debt-trap diplomacy, in a bid to extend China's influence in global geo-politics. 

"I think firstly, if you look at the countries who are participating, they are very diverse. They are from various persuasions of ideology, left and right, socialists and capitalists, including G7 countries. I don't think they would allow themselves to be colonised in any way," Dr Survé said. 

"China has never colonised anyone, to the best of my knowledge. The Chinese have always promoted trade, hence the Silk Road. 

"I think countries themselves have to make sure, South Africa and other countries in Africa, they have to make sure to guard their sovereignty. And this is what's important. But one of the components of the Belt and Road Initiative is what President Xi Jingping said in his opening speech, that he wants transparency, he wants openness, he wants clean government, he wants green economies. So, in terms of what he has set out in what he wants from Belt and Road is very different from what's being said. More importantly, he wants better cooperation between countries and people to people cooperation and skills exchange," Dr Survé said. 

He said it was very important for Africans in general and South Africans in particular to embrace the initiative. 

"This is the biggest thing that's happening in the lasrt couple of decades and if we are silly enough to allow other people to suggest things that aren't true, to scaremonger, we are the ones who will face the consequences of that."

China was not imposing its political or cultural ideologies on anyone, Dr Survé said. 

"When you speak to the Chinese, they will tell you. It's got nothing to do with ideology. They're not interested in your internal politics, they don't care if your country is conservative or left-wing, or whatever. All that they believe is that if there is economic integration, and economic growth and development, you improve the lives of all the people that creates a much better economy for the world and one which China itself can benefit from. They've seen that work in their own backyard. And I think it's that, that they're trying to emulate in Africa, Asia and Europe," he said. 

Dr Survé said South Africa needed to look after the interests of her people, and the people of Africa.

"Africa needs investment. It needs infrastructure. It needs development. It needs job creation. And this is what we have to do. But we have to do it in a way that we don't get into trouble economically, but the suggestion that the Chinese are going to engage a debt-trap, well... the Chinese invest in the US. The Chinese invest in Italy. So, if the US and Italy and Spain and the UK are good enough to accept Chinese investment, on what basis should Africans or Asians not receive Chinese investment?"

The Chinese were playing a long-game, he said, creating a future where skills exchange and interconnectivity for the benefit of all mankind could be realised.

"I'm a great admirer of President Xi Jinping. He has taken a long-term view with this project. He will not see the benefits of this project in his lifetime. The real benefits of this project will only be seen in fifty years from now," Dr Survé said. 

BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE