Home » Belt and Road Initiatives as World’s System and Interdependency Success in Asia-Pacific: Focusing on Infrastructure and Economic Development Aspect

Belt and Road Initiatives as World’s System and Interdependency Success in Asia-Pacific: Focusing on Infrastructure and Economic Development Aspect

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In 1974, the world system theory and approach has developed by sociologist, Immanuel Wallerstein. This theory and method then have been recognised by almost all international relations and global experts to help them understand how states engage with one another to advance their interests, among other social issues, including social change. The World systems theory provides a model of approach to understanding the changing order of the global system and the relationship between its parts. According to this approach, the world system is a territorial classification of labor in which the production and exchange of goods and services are necessary for the daily life of its inhabitants. This labor classification refers to the strength of the world economy’s production relations. [1] It helps them to understand how states engage with one another to advance their interests, among other social issues, including social change.

As for the classification, Wallerstein divided countries into four categories or systems: Core, Semi-periphery, Periphery, and External. Two of the four that are very important and influential are core and periphery. Core countries focus on industrial and labor-intensive economic activities while the latter focus on capital strengthening. The relationship between core and periphery is structural in the semi-peripheral state and acts as a buffer between the core and the periphery.

According to Wallerstein, the world system is called the “world economy”, It is integrated through markets rather than political centers, where two or more regions are interdependent concerning needs such as food, fuel, protection, etc. Therefore, on the economic side, it allows mutual relations between mutualism parts that interact. Developing countries need resources to build their countries with the support and assistance of developed countries. Conversely, developed countries can obtain resources that are not generated from their countries but are available from developing countries. Therefore, goods are exchanged in both interactions, referred to as interdependence.

As a result of globalisation, territorial boundaries between regions and countries seem to be biased and easily penetrated. It is undeniable that globalisation is an opportunity and challenge for a country or region. Nevertheless, the fading of national borders is an opportunity for cooperation between countries and regions. Several regional and sub-regional ideas have proven it by establishing cooperation initiations such as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Connectivity initiative, the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program, the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS) Cooperation Program, the South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Program, as well as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Those ideas came about to restore the infrastructure funding gap faced by countries and cities in these regions until the prediction of 2030 through improved transportation connectivity in the Asia region.

A tangible form of the world system and interdependence, as both interact with each other in dependence between functions, where the state (Core and Periphery) serves as a functional actor, and its role in the international system forms an order of cooperation in the development sector. In this case, The Belt and Road Initiatives (BRI) launched by the Chinese government is a long-term policy package program with transcontinental coverage for infrastructure development and accelerated economic integration of the country through which the Silk Road passes.[2] The initiative broadly aims to promote the connectivity of the Asian, European, and African continents by building and strengthening partnerships between countries along the BRI route, especially the silk road in the Asian, East African, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern regions. Therefore, in this article, the author aims to explain how Belt and Road Initiatives could be understood as the success of the world system approach and interdependency concept.

Essentially, the Belt and Road Initiatives combine two initiatives in one strategy, including the Silk Road Economic Belt that connects six development corridors and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. As for the Asia-Pacific region itself, it is traversed by the development corridors of the China – Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor (CICPEC), Bangladesh – China – India – Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIMEC), and China – Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Moreover, the 21ST Century Maritime Silk Road also connects China to Southeast Asia, Indonesia, India, the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, Egypt, and Europe, encompassing the South China Sea, Strait of Malacca, Indian Ocean, Gulf of Bengal, Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf, and the Red Sea.

Subsequently, we can see the connections between states in the framework based on cooperation that must be related to one another. First, the interdependences of economic development may be provided by the BRI connection among regions through its corridor. For instance, in the case of China, the BRI may attract investment and bring other benefits to countries that join the corridor. For China itself, the investment and development fund will boost its economic growth through direct or indirect investment through this initiative. On the other side, the investment and funds will benefit several countries as members of the BRI corridor. BRI predicted to increase its GDP by 2.6% to an average of 3.9% for some countries in the development of an EAP, which is larger than the gains anticipated for the world as a whole. Meanwhile, the fusion of two powers resulted in more robust GDP growth for countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia, namely:

  1. The increased efficiency of railway lines or ports succeeds in reducing the cost of trade for each country that uses infrastructure;
  2. The contribution of large production and regional value chains in the EAP region to amplification of its important effects.

For Indonesia, cooperation with China in infrastructure development is urgently needed to improve connectivity between islands and the quality of its port infrastructure. Thus, the investment offer from China is in line with Indonesia’s goal of advancing the country’s general welfare. The Indonesian government realises that achieving rapid economic growth needs to be balanced with a large flow of funds. Through the Silk Road project, China and Indonesia will collaborate to strengthen international trade cooperation by establishing transportation routes to encourage the pace of development. The President of the Republic of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, assessed the cooperation forum as a promising opportunity and opportunity to obtain the investment needed to support infrastructure development in Indonesia.

Sources: https://asiatimes.com/2020/01/myanmar-a-perfect-fit-on-chinas-belt-and-road/

In the context of Myanmar, China has its own reasons for Myanmar’s important role in the BRI. First, geographically, Myanmar is unique, as can be seen in Figure 1. Many of China’s neighbouring countries are adjacent, but some are locked in with the mainland. While the Mainland does not lock some other countries that have stood out in the BRI, their distance is still relatively far from China; thus, presenting a unique challenge since the core idea of the BRI is transportation and mobilisation. Therefore, Myanmar is the answer to both problems. It was made clear by President Xi Jinping’s visit to Myanmar in January 2020 after two decades of strengthening the BRI. Then it was supported by Myanmar experts on China in their explanation that Myanmar is a prominent missing link for the BRI (By their interview on 5 February 2020)[3]. Today, there is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which covers the mainland part of China, while the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) is for the southeastern part of China.[4]

Another example is Pakistan, which has shown welfare gains of 10.5% and 8.6% share of the total BRI corridor profits. This is the highest level of prosperity among the countries involved in this initiative. The increase in profits was due to the comparatively lower trade costs than previously due to increased Gwadar port connections via highways, railways, and pipelines. Other projects include the Peshawar-Karachi highway and the expansion and reconstruction of the railway line from Karachi to Peshawar. The petroleum and coal products sector shows the sharpest decrease in trade and import costs. However, the construction, trade in services, and transportation sectors also showed high reductions.

Lao PDR is predicted to see a 3.1% increase in welfare by 2030. Cost reductions due to infrastructure upgrades directly affect the number of trades connected in the infrastructure network. Thus, access will be faster and easier to reach the sea and provide trade benefits with partner countries connected to maritime routes. Another project impacting Lao PDR is the investment of a railway line from Vientiane to the port of Bangkok, Thailand.

The Kyrgyz Republic, one of the countries included in the BRI, has gained the second highest percentage of welfare quality, with 10.4% as predicted by 2030. It has enjoyed the BRI project’s advantages, such as transportation improvements, most of which are railways and roads. Most of the sectors of the economy that benefit from these cost reductions are lower trade costs. Therefore, this creates an increase in the export figures of the Kyrgyz Republic such as exports of leather, coal, machinery and equipment, as well as exports of trade and transportation services which encourage the expansion of output in some of these sectors.

The increased access to the port of Sihanoukville in Cambodia and the Kra canal in Thailand also benefits all sea shipments to the western region. This is to prevent the ships from taking a long-time path and streamline delivery times. On the other hand, this is accompanied by increased imports such as machinery and equipment, chemicals, rubber and plastics, to processed foods. [5]

It can be seen that from some of these cases, there is a proven interdependence that successfully affects one another. The BRI is a form of cooperation that develops and underpins the Chinese state to build cooperation initiatives through its BRI policies. The sense of interdependence between nations fosters a sense of forming cooperative partnerships. This is being driven to a greater extent by the impact of globalisation, which makes it easier for cooperative relations to grow across corridors like the Silk Road or the maritime Silk Road. To conclude, the success of the BRI is evidenced by the development of several countries, especially in the Asia-Pacific, which has a significant development impact on the sustainability of transportation, trade, and economic growth in each country.

About the writer:

Ahmad Arrofian Taufiq Hilmi, Undergraduate student on International Relations, Lampung University and Knowledge Management and Communication Intern at the UCLG ASPAC Secretariat.


[1] Sorinel Cosma. No Year. IMMANUEL WALLERSTEIN’S WORLD SYSTEM THEORY. Universitaty Constanta

[2] Belt and Road Initiative | European Bank for Reconstruction and Development | https://www.ebrd.com/what-we-do/belt-and-road/overview.html | accessed on 8 August 2022

[3] Mark SiuSue , Overland Indra, and Vakulchuk Roman. 2020. Sharing the Spoils: Winners and Losers in the Belt and Road Initiative in Myanmar. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs

[4] Ibid

[5] Maliszewska Maryla, Dominique van der Mensbrugghe. 2019. Policy Research Working Paper: The Belt and Road Initiative Economic, Poverty and Environmental Impacts. World Bank Group (https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/31543/WPS8814.pdf?sequence=6&isAllowed=y) accessed on 8th August 2022

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