The Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) is considered China’s most ambitious plan in the modem era. The first public announcement was made by President Xi Jinping in September 2013 in his official visit to Kazakhstan and he raised the initiative of jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. The “Belt” includes countries situated on the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe will consist of six economic corridors connecting China to the far reaches of Eurasia by road and rail. The “Road” is a complementary initiative aimed at investing and fostering collaboration in Southeast Asia, Oceania, and North Africa, through several contiguous bodies of water – the South China Sea, the South Pacific Ocean, and the wider Indian Ocean area. Currently, there are more than 150 countries and international organizations signed agreements on BRI cooperation with China.
The Belt and Road Initiative aims to promote the connectivity of Asian, European and African continents and their adjacent seas, establish and strengthen partnerships among the countries along the Belt and Road. Policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds are the five major cooperation priorities of BRI. The BRI focus on connectivity as a vital part to advance cooperation, since the infrastructure is considered the bedrock of connectivity, the lack of infrastructure has held up the development of many countries.
OECD Business and Finance Outlook 2018 reports says that based on sources, annual global investment needs range between USD 2.9 trillion and USD 6.3 trillion and BRI investment projects are estimated to add over USD 1 trillion of outward funding for foreign infrastructure over the 10-year period from 2017. According to Asian Development Bank (ADB), Asian region alone needs USD 26 trillion in infrastructure investment to 2030. The African Development Bank estimates that Africa’s infrastructure needs are between $130 and $170 billion per year; however, financing for African infrastructure currently falls short by between $68 billion and $108 billion per year.
Hence BRI is supported by some newly created financial institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the New Silk Roads Fund (NSRF), the Chinese government’s foreign exchange reserves and several of its largest state-owned banks, the $100 billion of AIIB, $40 billion of Silk Road Fund and others would serve as financial support for physical infrastructure improvement and human resources development lacking in many Belt and Road partner countries.
The BRI is generally popular in the developing world, where most of the countries face infrastructure deficiencies. Some of the notable projects include the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway – Ethiopia, Entebbe-Kampala Expressway – Uganda, Nairobi-Mombasa rail line – Kenya, Abuja-Masaka light rail – Nigeria, Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Rail – Indonesia, Colombo Port City and Hambantota port – Sri Lanka, Piraeus Port – Greece, Temburong Bridge – Brunei, Padma Bridge – Bangladesh, Punta Sierra Wind Farm – Chile, Yamal LNG Project – Russia, China-Belarus Great Stone Industrial Park – Belarus, Djibouti International Free Trade Zone – Djibouti, Budapest-Belgrade High-Speed Railway – Hungary/ Serbia, China-Maldives Friendship Bridge – Maldives, China-Myanmar Oil Pipeline – Myanmar, Dhaka Elevated Expressway – Bangladesh, East Coast Rail Link Project – Malaysia, Gwadar Port – Pakistan.
In the recent keynote speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined a new vision for the joint building of the Belt and Road Initiative, saying that China will endeavor to build a closer partnership for health cooperation, connectivity, green development, openness and inclusiveness. Further Xi reiterated China’s commitment to make the BRI “a public road open to all” instead of a “private path owned by one single party”. “All interested countries are welcome aboard to take part in the cooperation and share in its benefits. Belt and Road cooperation pursues development, aims at mutual benefits and conveys a message of hope,” he said.
Speaking at a Communist Party study meeting held on 1st June 2021, Xi said it was crucial for China to improve its ability to spread its messages globally in order to present a “true, three-dimensional and comprehensive China”. Further Xi said China needed to develop an “international voice” to match its national strength and global status. It also needed to strengthen publicity efforts to help foreigners understand the Communist Party of China and the way it “strives for the happiness of the Chinese people”. The country needed to create a team of professionals and adopt “precise communication methods” for different regions, Xi said.
Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka (BRISL), a Sri Lankan organization pioneer in promoting BRI and cheering for Mutual Benefit and Win-win Cooperation though BRI, recently contacted some of the Chinese diplomats around the world to get their opinion about BRI to show the world about China’s unified strategic vision of BRI.