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Jean-Pierre Raffarin: BRI will Help Europe Regain Global Stature

Volume 4, 2017

Former Prime Minister of France and Member of the CEIBS Board

~ Paris, July 11

“To progress together, is the key to everything. There is not a speech from [Chinese] President Xi Jinping or Prime Minister Li Keqiang without them constantly telling us: ‘One cannot succeed alone. We all need others.’ It is a logic of win-win, a logic of international cooperation today, which is the only true response to tensions – and ultimately, to war.

In this context, the Belt and Road Initiative, known as the BRI, should not be viewed with an attitude of fear. What we are offered now is a very powerful new Marshall Plan. We must study the initiative with lucidity. The lucidity is that of course the BRI is a project that is conceptualised by the Chinese and favourable to China. Obviously, China, like all other nations, will not build projects that are harmful to their own interests. So obviously and naturally, this project is China-oriented. It is clearly useful for the internationalisation of the RMB, for finding new markets to soak up its industrial overcapacity, for engaging with its neighbouring counties, for building a relationship with Europe… The BRI is clearly of China’s interests.

But there is something unique to China: they make 60, even 80-year plans while others plan within a 5 or 10-year framework. For 5 years, a plan can be aggressive. For 70 years, plans can be much more tranquil, so that people can build projects with a peaceful approach that leaves a lot of room for others. It is in a long-term strategy and the project leader can explain a number of things clearly to the world. That is why it would be a mistake to consider the BRI a western idea, or as a marketing campaign we sometimes see in the political life of our western democracies. The BRI is a long-term strategy, and to cope with long-term strategies, the only practical thing to do is to participate. This means trying to look at this issue as something useful, something gainful, not only because it is in our interests, but also because we have something to say. We have things to say about reciprocity, we have things to say about transparency in public markets, we also have things to say on many subjects related to our own culture. For example, when infrastructure is being built, local authorities should be consulted: you do not build a highway or a railway line here or there without consulting the local authorities. So we have things to say. But if we are not around the table, there is no chance for us to be heard.

This Belt and Road Initiative is a powerful strategic initiative. Already more than 40 infrastructural projects are underway. And it's not just limited to infrastructure. It’s also about connectivity, according to the fundamental report on this issue. And as to connectivity, there are projects in the fields of telecommunications, digital, and all the new technologies, aimed at shortening distances between different people and economies.

Bearing all that in mind, I find that Europe is not sufficiently engaged in the plan in a positive way. Europe must move further, in particular with its Juncker Plan, to propose collaborative investments. For example in France, we have a large project on which we have done a lot of work. I am talking about the Lyon-Turin [high-speed railway project]. This is a project that appeals to the BRI dynamic because it is really the best way to maximise the value of Lyon – the French “Capital of Silk”. We have concrete projects, and we have insights. So this is a strategy that is important for both states and corporations – for economies like Europe, or in particular France, for its big companies in construction, railway, energy, and the infrastructure sectors. We have large groups that are capable of playing a role in large-scale projects, as long as we engage in long-term reflection on the BRI, in line with the interests of Europe in general, and of France in particular.

The President of the Republic sent me, as a special envoy, to the forum organised by President Xi Jinping in May 2017 on this great project; at the event were some thirty Heads of State gathered together.

What I saw was that 41 countries interested in this project were mobilised. What I have seen are tools, industrial tools, banking tools… The [Asian] Infrastructure [Investment] Bank (AIIB) has become a major multilateral structure since its birth. More than 70 countries asked to join the AIIB at the very beginning – even though we were not really encouraged to do so by our American friends – and even Canada wanted to follow the initiative.

Around the project, there is really an international mobilisation which is extraordinarily powerful. I really think we should involve Europe more. But in this Europe, France should play a major role. And, in my opinion, this is in line with the strategy of President [Emmanuel] Macron, which is to show that France can be the leader in mobilising Europe on this subject, to introduce new projects, inspire with new methods, propose initiatives and ensure that this major project is a tool for cooperation between countries including, naturally, Asia, all Central Asian countries, as well as Eastern European countries – since 16 countries have already been identified by China as privileged partners of the BRI. So there really is a proactive approach that needs to be developed. And all these will be factors of investments and projects.

Often, there is a concern that these investments are investments of threats, threats to every country. They say, ‘The Chinese are coming. They’re going to eat everything. They will absorb everything.’ We have concerns, but if we do not participate and, especially if there are no projects proposed, [we will be at an even greater disadvantage].

Speaking as a convinced European, who is no longer a politician, I can tell you that there is really something big behind the BRI, something significant for us. With this project, we are repositioning ourselves back to the centre of the world. It places us today – this Belt and Road Initiative – at the centre of a dynamic that invites us to look at the East, but also invites us to look to the South, to Africa. This initiative will articulate these regions to ensure that investments can benefit every participant. Our destinies are all linked together and that is why this triangle of Asia, Europe and Africa is a strategic triangle that the world needs.

I would like to express my conviction today that, in this project, the most negative attitude, that of just being a spectator, would be irresponsible. The challenges in front of us make it our duty to use the existing forces to drive them back to the right direction, which is aligned with the interests of Europe and France.”