The year 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the launch of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI, which is a global multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary project, aims to ultimately improve international, regional and national connectivity, and facilitate economic integration along its routes.
Since its launch in 2013, the BRI has initiated over 3,000 cooperation projects with a total investment of nearly USD 1 trillion. Many countries have embraced the BRI platform to construct desperately needed infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and railroads. These projects have contributed to poverty reduction by creating jobs during both implementation and ultimate use. To date, the program has resulted in the creation of 420,000 jobs and the acceleration of economic growth in a number of countries.
During the China-Central Asia Summit held in Xi’an, northwest China’s Shaanxi Province from May 18 to 19, the leaders hailed the benefits of the BRI and noted that the project was now inevitable for the success of the region that comprises Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Indeed, the leaders went further and promised to align their national development strategies with the BRI. In effect, this will boost the region’s infrastructure and engineering construction, connectivity of digital and green infrastructure, and in trade, connectivity of railways and roads, and flights.
China’s BRI has developed and now offers far more than just infrastructure development to help intra-African trade grow. It now includes the five pillars of policy coordination, facility connection, unhindered trade, financial integration, and people-to-people bonds. Driven by the need to foster stronger economic cooperation among nations in the aftermath of slow and inequitable global economic growth, rising trade tensions and unilateralism, and insufficient infrastructure and financing mechanisms, particularly in developing countries, China sees the BRI as a means of addressing these global challenges.
Now, one of the unsung benefits of the BRI is the so called “small and beautiful” projects. Now, the focus has been on the huge billion-dollar infrastructural projects around the world. These have definitely transformed the countries and regions in which they are located using the principles of “high starting point, quick returns, low risk, and good image”.
Delivering a keynote speech via video at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference in November 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated the key principles that would guide the next stage of the BRI in order to control the increasing global risks facing BRI projects in various countries and regions. The new strategy is also aimed at poverty alleviation and enhancing growth. Xi encouraged companies and their regulatory bodies to prioritise “small and beautiful” projects in international cooperation, and to avoid “dangerous and turmoiled places”.
Citing a World Bank report, the Chinese president noted that by 2030, BRI projects could help lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty, and 32 million people from moderate poverty across the world.
The new small and beautiful projects are also expected to greatly impact the lives of the people. These include schools, hospitals and water projects. While they may not have huge financial outlays or even returns like roads and bridges, these small and beautiful projects will enhance the people’s quality of life. This will lead to an increase in their productivity.
In Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, the China Railway Construction and Corporation (CRCC) built the Arima General Hospital from June 2015 to March 2020. Termed as the new medical “Noah’s Ark” from China by writer Hu Yifeng, the hospital was critical in managing the COVID-19 pandemic in Trinidad and Tobago and provided a plan for local prevention and control against the pandemic. CRCC provides one-stop services including architectural design, construction, procurement of equipment, installation, commissioning, training and hospital maintenance under a USD 240 million contract.
In a second example, the China-aided Mauritania Animal Husbandry Technology Demonstration Center was built by Ningxia Jinfulai Sheet Industry Company. The demonstration center has been transformed into an oasis in the Sahara Desert through Chinese technical support.
In Egypt, the National Aquaculture Industrial Park was planned, designed and built by Guangdong Hengxing Group. Officially opened on November 18, 2017, the project involves seedling breeding, feed production and, pond and industrialized aquaculture.
DHS was founded in 1998 by entrepreneurs from the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northwest China. They benefited from the city of Petrosani’s favorable policies in Hunedoara County, western Romania, which granted investors exemption from import duties on equipment, raw materials, and parts. When the company formally began production in 1999, its annual output was more than 10,000 bikes.
The BRI is based on comprehensive consultation, collaborative effort, and mutual benefit. It also improves policy consultation, trade promotion, infrastructural connectivity, financial cooperation, and interpersonal exchanges. It focuses on combining the Belt and Road countries’ development strategies and complementing advantages, creating a multiplier effect.
The joint efforts made by China and countries involved to push forward the Belt and Road Initiative are based on market rules and international norms. Every project is the result of equal consultation. China, along with other 26 countries has jointly formulated the Guiding Principles on Financing the Development of the BRI. The Guiding Principles advocate a transparent, friendly, non-discriminatory and predictable financing environment and ensure sustainable economic and social development.
Debt sustainability is also taken into account when mobilizing finance. Based on these principles, China has helped many developing countries break their capital bottleneck by financing and investment cooperation. Our partner-countries and their people are best qualified to evaluate the cooperative effects.