China's Belt and Road Initiative is an opportunity for the Arab world to close the infrastructure funding gap and to lift its economic sectors to the next level, Nasser Saidi, a leading economist in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said on Monday.
Speaking in a keynote speech at the "New Silk Road Dialogue" organized by Harvard Kennedy School, UAE Chapter, Saidi said that, as the economic tectonics of the world shift to the east, "the Arab world should play the Belt and Road Initiative card to the fullest."
This Arab world should establish a digital Silk Road, cooperate with China on clean energy and life sciences, join forces with Beijing to establish a space station, for example in the UAE which has a national space program, and lift their financial links to the next level, he proposed.
"Asia, including China, will represent by the end of the year 33.3 percent of the world economy, while the United States will have a share of 15.1 percent, down from 15.3 percent," said Saidi, a former chief economist of the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), the biggest banking free zone in the Middle East.
The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by China in 2013, aims to connect Asia with the Middle East, Africa and Europe through building a trade and infrastructure network along the ancient trade routes.
As the initiative is poised to lead to investments into infrastructure projects of 26 trillion U. S. dollars along the New Silk Road within the next 15 years, "this masterplan is an opportunity for Arab sovereign wealth funds to invest in the new epicenter of the global economy," Saidi said.
On green energy, Saidi pointed out that China is already the world's leading producer of solar power systems and therefore the ideal partner for the mostly sun-rich Arab countries.
On the digital Silk Road, Saidi said Chinese applications like Alipay can help to improve the financial inclusion of the Arab world, which is still underbanked with 85 million Arabs having no access to finance.
He urged the multi-national Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a China-led financial institution set up to spur funding of roads, bridges, ports, airports and railways along the New Silk Road, to open branches in the UAE's banking free zones, including the DIFC and the Abu Dhabi Global Market.
Countries along the New Silk Road "represent 65 percent of the world's population, 40 percent of the world's gross domestic product, 25 percent of global trade, and it spans 62 countries," he noted.
Therefore, the Arab oil exporting states like the UAE should not only sell oil in U.S. dollar, called petro-dollar, but they should also valuate the exported barrels in Renminbi, or petro-yuan, he added.
At the end of his speech, Saidi advised the 200 listeners at the forum in Dubai's Emirates Towers "to immediately start learning Mandarin, in case you have not done so already."