Research and study of ideologies of social and national emancipation and their application to conditions within imperialist society

The Belt and Road Initiative is a key component of Marxist internationalism in the 21st century. Closing speech at a webinar marking 10 years of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) hosted by Friends of Socialist China and the International Manifesto Group on the theme “Building a multipolar world – ten years of the Belt and Road Initiative”. 4 November 2023.


First, on behalf of Friends of Socialist China, I’d like to thank all those who registered for, attended, and supported our webinar today.

Special thanks go to our brilliant speakers who, from five continents, have shared their insights with us on the Belt and Road Initiative.

Thanks also to our co-organisers, the International Manifesto Group, as well as our sponsors, Connolly Books, Critical Theory Workshop, Geopolitical Economy Research Group, Geopolitical Economy Report, Hampton Institute, International Action Center, Iskra Books, Kawsachun News, Peace, Land and Bread, Pivot to Peace, and Veterans for Peace – China Working Group.

It is 10 years since President Xi Jinping put forward the Belt and Road Initiative and therefore a good time to take stock and make an initial summing up. Last month, I was privileged to be seated in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to listen to President Xi open the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, his speech being followed by those of President Putin and the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Indonesia and Argentina, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

As President Xi noted, in the course of its first decade, Belt and Road cooperation has extended from its initial focus on the Eurasian landmass to Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. Indeed, more than 150 countries and over 30 international organisations have signed Belt and Road cooperation documents. Through this process, he explained, belt and road cooperation has progressed from ‘sketching the outline’ to ‘filling in the details’, and blueprints have been turned into real projects.

Xi Jinping said that over the past decade, “we have learned that humankind is a community with a shared future. China can only do well when the world is doing well. When China does well, the world will get even better.”

President Xi, in my view, expresses things here with such simplicity and clarity, making it sound like obvious common sense, that it might seem that this is acceptable to all and that nobody could possibly disagree with it.

But this is far from the case. The BRI is concerned with development, modernization and globalization. And there are two fundamentally different approaches to these questions in today’s world. It is not a coincidence that the approach to these questions that represents and embodies the interests of the overwhelming majority of countries, and the overwhelming majority of the people in every country, should be put forward by the world’s leading socialist country. Nor is it a coincidence that it is above all the world’s leading imperialist country that announces a supposed alternative to the BRI every few months, none of which achieve any traction or any concrete result.

Comrade Liu Jianchao, the Minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, spelled matters out clearly in a recent article, where he wrote:

“The vision of building a human community with a shared future and the three global initiatives are scientific. They encapsulate the stances, viewpoints, and methods of Marxism, reflecting the hallmarks of Marxism, and demonstrating salient theoretical character. Underpinned by dialectical and historical materialism, the vision and the three global initiatives reveal the laws governing the development of human society and its future direction.”

Careful study of the White Paper released by the Information Office of China’s State Council on October 10, to coincide with the tenth anniversary and the Beijing Forum, can help to understand this more concretely. And all the documents to which I refer may be read in full on our website, along with useful introductions.

The White Paper again makes clear that whilst the BRI has been launched by China, it belongs to the world and benefits the whole of humanity.

“Irrespective of size, strength and wealth, all countries participate on equal terms.”

Making very clear the distinction between the socialist and imperialist approaches to such questions, it notes that the type of development advanced by the BRI diverges from, “the exploitative colonialism of the past, avoids coercive and one-sided transactions, rejects the centre-periphery model of dependency, and refuses to displace crisis onto others or exploit neighbours for self-interest.”

The same point was made even more forcefully by President Xi Jinping in his report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October last year, where he stated:

“In pursuing modernization, China will not tread the old path of war, colonization and plunder taken by some countries. That brutal and blood-stained path of enrichment at the expense of others caused great suffering for the people of developing countries.”

These words of President Xi surely acquire even greater relevance and poignancy today in the face of Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza and the courageous resistance of the Palestinian people, a veritable 21st century Warsaw Ghetto. On one hand, the United States, Britain, France and Germany, aid and abet the genocide and even seek to curtail and deny their own peoples’ right to protest. On the other hand, socialist China, along with the overwhelming majority of the countries of the world, principally the Global South, and as seen in the recent United Nations General Assembly vote, stand for peace, an end to the war of aggression, and for the long overdue realization of the national rights to an independent state of the Palestinian people.

And the same fundamental distinction with regard to which road to take informs socialist China’s approach to globalization. In the western countries, the prevailing discourse, from much of both the left and the right, tends to assert that China has wholeheartedly embraced the model of globalization advanced by the major capitalist powers. This is so far from reality as to suggest that those who advance it are either ignorant or malicious. Or quite possibly both.

The White Paper is clear that the fruits of economic globalization have until now been dominated by a small group of developed countries. Rather than contributing to common prosperity at a global level, it continues, globalization has widened the wealth gap between the rich and poor, between developed and developing countries, and within the developed countries themselves. Many developing countries have benefited little from economic globalization and even lost their capacity for independent development. Certain countries, it notes, have practiced unilateralism, protectionism and hegemonism.

But just as, in their day, Marx and Engels could not endorse, but rather repudiated and stood against, the Luddite approach which, faced with the undoubted depredations and cruelties of the industrial revolution, sought to reverse the objective course of historical progress, China, unlike some, does not reject globalization. But it stands for a different globalization. Economic globalization, the White Paper insists, remains an irreversible trend. It is unthinkable for countries to return to a state of seclusion or isolation. But economic globalization must undergo adjustments in both form and substance.

The focus of BRI, it explains, is precisely on contributing to a form of globalization that generates common prosperity and that brings benefits particularly to developing countries. Thus, while the BRI is open to all, it is neither accident nor coincidence that the majority of its participants are developing countries. The developing countries as a whole all seek to leverage their collective strength to address such challenges as inadequate infrastructure, lagging industrial development, and insufficient capital, technologies and skills, so as to promote their economic and social development.

Grounded as it is therefore in the stand, viewpoint, and method of Marxism, it should be clear that the BRI is based on and inherits not only the Silk Roads of antiquity, but also the diplomatic history of socialist China as well as the international standpoint and practice of the international working-class movement more generally, particularly since the establishment of workers states, the constitution of the working class as the ruling class.

It resonates, for example, with China’s building of the Tazara railway in Zambia and Tanzania in the 1970s. With the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence put forward by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1954 and the Ten Principles adopted by the Afro-Asian Conference held in the Indonesian city of Bandung the following year.

As far back as 1921, even before the official formation of the USSR, Lenin’s government concluded treaties with Afghanistan, Persia and Turkiye, which provided for mutual support, aid in the financial, technical, personnel and other fields, and especially for support in their struggles to win and maintain independence from colonial and imperial powers.

This in turn built on the deliberations of the Second Congress of the Communist International, held in 1920, which established the absolute duty of the working-class movement to support the struggles of the colonial and oppressed countries and peoples for liberation and for independence against imperialism.

The Belt and Road Initiative, and the other global initiatives put forward by President Xi Jinping, are the 21st century inheritance and expression of this Marxist theory and practice. The difference is that today it is becoming a material force that is progressively uniting and mobilizing the majority of humanity. This is a major part of why President Xi constantly reminds us that we are presently witnessing changes unseen in a century. That is since the birth of the first workers’ state.

In Friends of Socialist China, we will continue to pay the closest attention to these developments. Thank you again for your support today and we hope to continue working with you.

Writings of Keith Bennett