It has been 10 years since President Xi Jinping’s announced the Silk Road Economic Belt, now called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as a major investment project building rail, road and maritime infrastructure around the world, starting from the ancient Silk Road.
Since its launch, through the BRI, China has invested in and helped built hundreds of kilometres of rail, bridges, ports and infrastructure both domestically and abroad. The recently inaugurated bullet train, connecting Jakarta and Bandung, the first of its kind in southeast Asia, a 414 km railway connects China and Laos, the world’s longest suspension bridge, above the Lvzhijiang River, in the Yunnan Province, and Croatia’s Pelješac Bridge, inaugurated last July and connecting the southernmost part of the country and Dubrovnik to the rest of the mainland, are only a few projects that have benefitted from BRI support.
During a conference, Ambassador Fu Cong, Head of the Mission of China to the EU, offered insight on the achievements of the BRI over the past 10 years and also the path ahead.
It is fair to say that the initiative has not only benefited China, but also the whole world.H.E. Ambassador Fu Cong, Head of the Mission of China to the EU
“As of June this year, China has signed over 200 BRI cooperation documents with more than 150 countries and 32 international organizations. The BRI has stimulated nearly a trillion US dollars of investment, generated more than 3,000 projects, created 420,000 jobs for local countries, and lifted about 40 million people out of poverty. The World Bank estimates that, with the BRI, 7.6 million people will get out of extreme poverty and 32 million out of moderate poverty by 2030”, the Ambassador explained.
Between 2013 and 2022, trade between China and the BRI countries increased from $1.04 trillion to $2.07 trillion, while two-way investments surpassed $270 billion, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua News. Moreover, the integrated development of culture and tourism is also a key area for BRI, China having signed agreements in the field of cultural tourism with 142 countries along the BRI by 2022, fostering alliances with theaters, museums, art festivals, libraries and art galleries.
Talking about the recently announced India – Middle East – Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), a cooperation between the US, EU and India, which the Biden Administration has launched to rival and counterbalance the influence exerted by the BRI, the Ambassador pointed out that China does not see it as a rival, but complementary initiative.
The world needs much more investment in terms of basic infrastructure, especially in the Global South. China alone cannot afford to make all these happen.H.E. Ambassador Fu Cong, Head of the Mission of China to the EU
“We welcome all these initiatives, so there is no reason that we should become a counterweight or counterbalance against each other”, Cong explained. “We hope that we can cooperate and we are willing to do that. (…) In fact, green is the most distinctive colour of the BRI, which is highly consistent with the EU’s approach to development. When it comes to cooperation on green infrastructure projects, China and the EU have a lot to offer to each other.”
He then went on to share some lessons learned over the past decade, specifically that the BRI’s success lies in the “triple principle of reciprocity” every project has at its core, that is reciprocity in consultation, reciprocity in construction and reciprocity in benefit sharing.
Firstly, the projects chosen for investment through the BRI are always host country driven. “China never imposes any project on any country. It’s always the country that comes up with the project, and China comes in with help and assistance”, the Ambassador explained.
Secondly, the construction phase is conducted with local labour, even if parts of the projects are managed by and oversaw by Chinese companies that travel on site.
Lastly, regarding benefit haring, “we see the BRI projects more from the economic perspective”, Cong said. “I do not deny that, in the process, China’s soft power increases, because if you do good things for the country, of course you will be positively received. But that is not our initial objective. Our initial objective is to engage on an equal footing. (…) We do not pretend to be the saviour of the world. The Chinese companies are going there for their own purposes and for their own benefits. But at the same time, we also bring benefits to the local people.”
To celebrate the achievements of the past decade and chart the way forward, a third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held in Beijing mid-October.