Engaging with Belt and Road

Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong Chairman Liew Mun Leong began his closing keynote address by declaring that, with the collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, “The world is left with only one potential collective vision that can be the engine of world economic growth.” He was referring to the China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to create economic, physical, and maritime corridors connecting China to most of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

As the world’s top exporter and second-largest source of foreign direct investment, China has much to gain from encouraging world markets to remain open. One option is to ramp up its spending on overseas infrastructure. The scale of BRI—which is 12 times the size of the post-World War II Marshall Plan—has attracted attention from companies outside China. Liew believes that, in time, it could become the largest global platform for economic cooperation.

BRI and China's role in the global infrastructure agenda

Insights from senior partner Diaan-Yi Lin

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While some have reservations about whether China can deliver BRI fairly and transparently, Liew noted that China’s economic transformation over the last 35 years demonstrates its capacity to successfully steward such an initiative. According to MGI, from 1992 to 2013, China invested more in its economic infrastructure—transport, water, power, and telecommunications systems—than North America and Western Europe combined—an average of 8.6 percent of its annual GDP.

Acknowledging the geopolitical concerns around BRI, Liew said, “It may be that BRI will increase China’s dominance and influence. Any country that invests or trades heavily with another country is bound to have some degree of political and cultural impact on the host country.” He continued, “Having a plan or vision is better than having no plan.”