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Boosting High-Quality Belt and Road Cooperation Through Rigorous and Sustained Efforts

By Zheng Shanjie Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2024-01-05

This year marks the 10th anniversary of President Xi Jinping’s proposal of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). From October 17 to 18, the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation was held in Beijing. In his keynote speech at the opening ceremony, President Xi reviewed the remarkable achievements and successful experiences of Belt and Road cooperation over the past decade. He also announced eight major steps China will take to support the joint pursuit of high-quality cooperation, envisioning yet another golden decade for the BRI.

I. Fruitful results from ten years of Belt and Road cooperation

In 2013, President Xi Jinping put forward the pioneering proposal to build a Silk Road Economic Belt and a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. In the decade since, with President Xi personally mapping out, planning, and promoting the initiative, the BRI has gotten off the ground, achieved impressive growth, and delivered concrete and meaningful results.

More extensive and in-depth policy communication

Policy communication provides an important guarantee for Belt and Road cooperation. Over the past decade, China has worked steadily to align its development plans, strategies, mechanisms, platforms, and specific projects with those of other participating countries. Leveraging a variety of channels to boost communication, we have secured consistent progress on forging philosophical consensus, promoting convergence of interests, and deepening mutual political trust.


A train on the Lagos Rail Mass Transit (LRMT) Blue Line in Lagos, Nigeria, December 21, 2022. The first phase of the LRMT Blue Line is the first electrified urban light rail project in West Africa ever to be designed, constructed, and operated by a Chinese enterprise. It highlights the greater infrastructure connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative. XINHUA / PHOTO BY TOPE AYOKU

The consensus on international cooperation has been steadily enhanced. China has signed over 230 Belt and Road cooperation documents with more than 150 countries on five continents and over 30 major international organizations. The BRI and its core concepts have been incorporated into the outcome documents of multilateral mechanisms such as the United Nations and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the number of good friends and partners getting on board the BRI has continued to grow. A long-term policy communication mechanism is now basically up and running. We have established and refined regular communication channels for a range of entities at multiple levels and on various platforms, with head-of-state diplomacy as the guiding force, intergovernmental strategic communication as a key pillar, local and departmental policy coordination playing a facilitating role, and project cooperation among enterprises and social organizations as the vehicle for progress.

China has successfully hosted three editions of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, providing an important platform for participating countries and international organizations to deepen exchanges, enhance mutual trust, and maintain close contact. Based on memorandums of understanding (MOUs) signed with participating countries, China has actively promoted the agreement of cooperation plans under the BRI and has established and improved bilateral and multilateral working mechanisms. In addition, by engaging with political parties, parliaments, local communities, and civil society, China has held a variety of communications with a wide range of stakeholders and steadily expanded the fields and avenues for promoting both exchanges and alignment.

Enhanced infrastructure connectivity

Infrastructure connectivity is a priority area in Belt and Road cooperation. Over the past decade, China and other participating countries have made consistent efforts to promote four-dimensional connectivity across land, sea, air, and cyberspace, delivering solid progress in cooperation on traditional infrastructure as well as eye-catching achievements in cooperation on new types of infrastructure. A connectivity framework featuring six corridors, six types of routes, multiple countries, and multiple ports has thus taken shape.

We have also seen a series of landmark Belt and Road projects coming to fruition, including the China Railway Express (CR Express), the China-Laos Railway, the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, and the Port of Piraeus. Such projects have set a solid foundation for economic development and the improvement of people’s lives in the countries involved.

Notable among these is the CR Express, which comprises a network of rail lines spanning Europe and Asia, with 86 operational routes running to over 200 cities in 25 European countries. Having entered into operation since December 2021, the China-Laos Railway had transported 21 million passengers and 26 million tons of freight by the end of September this year. The railway is helping the Lao people realize their dream of turning their landlocked country into a land-linked one and has created convenience for both them and the people of China. In Greece, the Port of Piraeus has increased its annual cargo throughput to more than 5 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units). On the back of major efficiency improvements, it has become Europe’s fourth-largest container port and a leading container port in the Mediterranean Sea.

These extensive, open channels have effectively promoted flows of commodities, capital, technology, and people between various countries, generating strong momentum for global connectivity and shared development and providing robust support for the stable and smooth functioning of industrial and supply chains.

More mutually beneficial trade

Smooth trade is an important aspect of Belt and Road cooperation. Over the past decade, China has vigorously promoted mutually beneficial economic and trade partnerships with participating countries, dismantling many barriers to trade and investment and setting up free trade zones. This has facilitated the establishment of a more balanced, equitable, and sustainable trade system with greater scope for mutual investment and industrial cooperation. While the scale of investment and trade between China and participating countries has expanded at a constant pace, continuous improvements have also been made to trade structures.

As a result, investment and trade levels have risen steadily. Between 2013 and 2022, the total import and export volume between China and other BRI countries reached US$19.1 trillion, with bilateral investment exceeding US$380 billion. The value of newly contracted projects and completed turnover of contracted projects in participating countries has exceeded US$2 trillion and US$1.3 trillion, respectively.

Improvements have also been made to the platforms for China’s opening up. With their international standing and influence steadily rising, major cooperation platforms, such as the China International Import Expo, the China International Fair for Trade in Services, and the China International Fair for Investment and Trade, have provided a strong boost to economic, trade, and investment cooperation under the BRI. The Belt and Road Energy Partnership and the BRI Tax Administration Cooperation Mechanism have been put into place to provide important support for practical cooperation in related fields.

Trade facilitation and liberalization have been significantly enhanced. China and other participating countries have made good progress toward realizing coordination on technical standards, mutual recognition of inspection results, and online availability of electronic certificates. The dividends of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement have also gradually become more evident, with China boasting the highest number of Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) mutual recognition agreements in the world. The general belief among international think tanks, experts, and scholars is that the BRI is an effective Chinese solution to the backlash against globalization.

Industrial cooperation has also been further promoted. China has signed production capacity cooperation agreements with more than 40 countries. In line with the principles of complementarity and mutual benefit, it has actively pursued industrial investment cooperation with participating countries in industries such as agriculture, iron and steel, building materials, construction machinery, energy resources, the digital economy, new energy vehicles, and 5G, which has vigorously promoted the upgrading of industrial structures and industrial chains in various countries.

Enhanced financial connectivity

Capital financing is an important pillar of Belt and Road cooperation. Over the past decade, China has engaged in various forms of financial cooperation with participating countries and relevant organizations, promoting the development of a network of financial institutions and financial services. Thanks to steady improvements, the financial services system has lent strong support to financial exchanges between countries and provided strong and sustainable impetus for Belt and Road cooperation.

A diversified investment and financing system has gradually been put into place. China initiated the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). By the end of June this year, the AIIB’s cumulative financing had reached US$43.6 billion, with projects in areas such as transportation, energy, and public health. The Silk Road Fund has also provided vital support for BRI investment and financing, with a total of 75 investment projects signed. China has signed MOUs with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and other international financial institutions and has teamed up with multilateral development banks to jointly establish the Multilateral Development and Financing Cooperation Center, which has helped effectively mobilize market capital participation.


A teacher from Tianjin Urban Construction Management & Vocation Technology College introduces the use of mapping devices to students at the Luban Workshop in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, April 12, 2023. Dubbed “vocational development stations” of the Belt and Road, Luban Workshops aim to cultivate high-quality technical skills for partner countries. XINHUA / PHOTO BY KALIZHAN OSPANOV

The scale of local currency swaps and cross-border settlements has continued to expand. China has concluded bilateral local currency swap agreements with 20 participating countries and established RMB clearing arrangements in 17 participating countries; and UnionPay mobile payment services have been set up in 74 BRI countries. This has brought a steady increase in the number of participants, volume of business, and influence of the RMB cross-border payment system.

Sustainable investment and financing cooperation has been continuously strengthened. China and 28 other countries have jointly approved the Guiding Principles on Financing the Development of the Belt and Road. China has worked to strengthen coordination and cooperation between governments, financial institutions, and enterprises from participating countries in order to improve debt management capabilities. Based on the true reality in BRI countries, China has issued the Debt Sustainability Framework for Participating Countries of the Belt and Road Initiative to provide an improved architecture for managing and defusing financial crises and bolstering the collective capacity to deal with financial risks.

Impressive results in people-to-people exchanges

People-to-people exchanges provide the social foundation of Belt and Road cooperation. Over the past decade, China has carried out extensive people-to-people exchanges at multiple levels and in multiple fields with its BRI partners, achieving substantive cooperation in sectors such as education, science, culture, sports, tourism, and archaeology. This has helped promote mutual learning between cultures as well as cultural mingling and innovation. In this process, we have developed numerous small yet effective wellbeing projects, which have helped pave a path of great promise that forges emotional bonds, satisfies public expectations, and delivers real benefits for people. Such efforts have created a growing sense of fulfillment and happiness for people in countries along the routes.

The BRI has promoted talent development. China has successfully organized more than 270 training courses on Juncao technology for mushroom cultivation, providing training opportunities for more than 10,000 personnel from participating countries. Under the Green Silk Road Envoys Program and the Belt and Road South-South Cooperation Initiative on Climate Change, China has provided training for more than 3,000 environmental managers, experts, and scholars from more than 120 countries.

The BRI has spurred innovation. China has continued to strengthen cooperation and exchanges in science and technology innovation with BRI countries, moving quickly to promote alignment and sharing of innovation factors. It has signed inter-governmental sci-tech cooperation agreements with over 80 participating countries. Membership of the Alliance of International Science Organizations in the Belt and Road Region has reached 58, and more than 50 joint Belt and Road laboratories have been established in participating countries in fields such as agriculture, new energy, health, and medicine.

The BRI has helped advance health. China has continued to expand cooperation with Belt and Road countries in areas such as maternal and child health, rehabilitation for people with disabilities, infectious diseases, and traditional medicine, providing medical assistance and emergency medical aid to the countries concerned. Following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, China provided tens of billions of masks and 2.3 billion doses of vaccine to various countries, and it dispatched 38 teams of epidemic experts to 34 countries, making a special contribution to the fight against the epidemic in countries along the Belt and Road.

The BRI has promoted poverty reduction. China has continued to implement the Rural Poverty Alleviation Plan and the Technical Assistance Program for Poverty Reduction Demonstration Cooperation. Working alongside 20 participating countries, it has established a number of Luban Workshops to provide vocational training. It is estimated that by 2030, Belt and Road cooperation will help lift 7.6 million people in relevant countries out of extreme poverty and 32 million people out of moderate poverty, thus increasing global income by 0.7%–2.9%.

Over the past decade, the BRI has evolved from vision into reality, progressing from a general outline to specific projects. It has seen China pursuing more in-depth opening up and injected strong momentum and vitality into our efforts to accelerate the creation of a new development dynamic and promote high-quality development. It has also raised the level of global connectivity, provided fresh momentum for global economic growth, opened up new space for global development, and created new platforms for international economic cooperation. The BRI stands for shared development, which is the greatest common interest of humanity. It has fully reflected China’s sense of mission and responsibility as a responsible major country and contributed Chinese insight, input, and strength to the building of a global community of shared future.

II. Fully applying the successful experience of Belt and Road cooperation

We must demonstrate a global vision and strive to build a global community of shared future

China can only do well when the world is doing well. When China does well, the world will do even better. It has been proven in practice that through Belt and Road cooperation, China’s door is opened wider to the world, the potential for opening up among China’s regions is unleashed, and strong impetus is generated for comprehensively deepening reform and promoting high-quality development. At the same time, China’s vast domestic market and complete industrial system provide other Belt and Road countries with broad space for investment, economic, and trade cooperation, and China’s high-quality development offers important development opportunities to countries the world over.

At present, China is in a critical period wherein its national rejuvenation strategy is intertwined with the once-in-a-century changes unfolding in the world, with each having a mutual effect on the other. China is fully integrated with the rest of the world, and its future and destiny are tightly tied together with those of the world. Working to build a global community of shared future, shared interests, and shared responsibilities based on mutual political trust, economic integration, and cultural inclusivity not only demonstrates China’s broadminded vision and aspiration to build a better world, but also conforms to the fundamental desire among the countries of the BRI to collectively work together and live in harmony. This is what commits the BRI to high ethical principles in international affairs.

We must pursue mutually beneficial cooperation and strive to promote common development and prosperity

Belt and Road cooperation is about pursuing development, advocating mutual benefit, and conveying a message of hope. It has been proven that through such cooperation, China and other participating countries can seize development opportunities, expand the space for development, and share in the fruits of development. People in participating countries have come to embrace the concept of a global community of shared future, and multilateralism has been further enriched and expanded both as a concept and practice. This has provided the vitality needed to help the world economy emerge from a rough patch and achieve sustained growth. It has also provided new solutions for improving the global economic governance system.

At present, the world is undergoing momentous changes at an accelerated pace, with profound adjustments to the international landscape. In particular, certain countries have come to regard the development of others as a threat and economic interdependence as a risk. In the name of “de-risking,” they have undercut the international economic and trade order and market rules, created obstructions to exchanges and cooperation in the people-to-people and scientific and technological spheres, and erected barriers to the long-term development of humanity.

In the long run, however, the tide of global multipolarity and economic globalization cannot be rolled back. No one can change the desire of people around the world for a better life or stand in the way of any country seeking to realize its aspirations for national development and prosperity. The sustained and healthy development of emerging markets and developing countries, of which China is representative, has provided strong ballast for the efforts to make the international order and global governance system more just and reasonable and fostered a favorable international atmosphere for the development of the BRI.

We must stay true to the spirit of the Silk Road and strive for mutual benefit and peaceful development

The modernization we are pursuing is not for China alone, but for all developing countries based on our joint efforts. It has been proven in practice that by staying true to the spirit of the Silk Road, China can overcome any national, belief-based, or cultural differences it may have with other participating countries and remain firm in the conviction that all countries are equal participants in, contributors to, and beneficiaries of the BRI. On this basis, it has continuously deepened practical cooperation, established a new framework of win-win cooperation and common development, and joined with other participating countries to explore new paths for realizing modernization.

At present, imbalanced global economic development and intensifying global issues are exacerbating the deficits in peace, development, security, and governance, and many developing countries are finding it difficult to get onto the right track of modernization. This has compounded the global development gulf. More and more countries are seeing that we cannot continue any longer with just a handful of countries calling the shots in global economic development and dictating economic rules. What we need is the involvement of all countries in determining the future of our world, setting international rules, governing global affairs, and enjoying the gains of development.

III. Carrying out all goals and tasks for promoting high-quality development of the BRI

Continuously consolidating the fundamentals of cooperation

We must deepen political mutual trust. Harnessing the guiding and catalytic power of policy communication, we will make every effort to ensure the implementation of the multilateral cooperation outcome documents and practical cooperation projects from the most recent Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, so as to turn political consensus into tangible actions and agreed principles into solid outcomes.

To build a multidimensional Belt and Road connectivity network, we will continue to promote four-dimensional connectivity across land, sea, air, and cyberspace, furthering cooperation on projects for traditional and new-type infrastructure and accelerating high-quality development of the CR Express, the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, and the “Air Silk Road.”

To support the development of an open world economy, China will expand the scale of trade with Belt and Road partners. We will encourage the import of more high-quality products and implement measures to abolish restrictions on foreign investment in the manufacturing sector. We will further advance high-standard opening up by promoting cross-border services trade and investment and deepen cooperation in international production capacity and third-party markets. We will also enhance investment and financing cooperation. We will work to improve the Belt and Road network for financial cooperation and advance cooperation in cross-border financial services. We will encourage Chinese-funded financial institutions to team up with multilateral development agencies and financial institutions from developed countries in third-party markets.

From a people-to-people perspective, we will strengthen exchanges among civil society organizations and promote closer exchanges among groups for women, young people, and people with disabilities. We will work to consolidate the foundation of public will and support for the BRI and give shape to an overarching pattern of multifaceted and dynamic people-to-people exchanges.


Container operations on the MSC RINI III at the Chuanshan Port Area of Ningbo-Zhoushan Port, Zhejiang Province, September 21, 2023. In recent years, the port has leveraged its geographical advantage to expand land-sea transport corridors and facilitate high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. XINHUA / PHOTO BY JIANG XIAODONG

Steadily expanding cooperation in new areas and spaces

To promote green development, we will push forward the construction of the Green Silk Road. We will continue to strengthen practical cooperation with respect to green infrastructure, energy, transportation, and finance, promote information sharing and capacity building for green and low-carbon development, and deepen cooperation on environmental and climate governance.

With a view to advancing scientific and technological innovation, we will press forward with implementation of the Belt and Road Science, Technology, and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan. We will work to boost international cooperation on intellectual property protection, promote the healthy, orderly, and safe development of artificial intelligence (AI) globally, and strive to create an open, fair, just, and non-discriminatory environment for scientific and technological development. We will move faster to develop new forms and models of business that facilitate cooperation in the digital sphere. In the areas of smart cities, the Internet of Things, AI, big data, and cloud computing, we will engage in deeper practical cooperation with our BRI partners. We will accelerate the development of digital hubs with interconnected facilities and data and establish pilot zones for Silk Road e-commerce cooperation.

China will promote the building of a global community of health for all. To this end, we will seek stronger cooperation on public health and safety, move forward with cooperation on joint prevention and control of infectious diseases, and promote cooperation and exchanges in traditional Chinese medicine as well as cooperation in the training of health personnel.

Promoting practical cooperation on landmark projects and small yet effective wellbeing projects

China will advance the construction of landmark projects based on high quality standards. We will work with other participating countries to enhance joint planning and construction for a number of major cooperation projects that will promote local economic development and the wellbeing and employment of local residents, giving full play to the guiding and exemplary role of such projects. We will continue with the construction of the China-Thailand Railway, the Budapest-Belgrade Railway, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and other ongoing construction projects, and ensure the smooth operation of the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, and the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway. We will steadily and systematically push forward the development and operation of the ports of Kyaukpyu, Gwadar, and Piraeus, and actively promote the integrated development of Silk Road Maritime ports, shipping, and trade.

We will advance the development of wellbeing projects small in scale but effective in practice. Guided by the principles of focusing on people’s daily lives, ensuring public support, keeping costs low, and achieving sustainability, we will construct a series of new representative projects to serve as model examples in key areas such as infrastructure, health, green development, agricultural cooperation, poverty reduction, humanitarian assistance, and education and training. Such projects will serve to enhance the sense of fulfillment and happiness among people in participating countries. We will further improve signature programs such as the Confucius Institutes, Luban Workshops, and Juncao technology for mushroom cultivation. Giving full play to the leveraging effects of foreign assistance funds, we will develop a number of landmark projects to promote cooperation on poverty alleviation and food security.

We will improve the BRI’s international cooperation mechanisms, and promote the development of multilateral cooperation platforms with participating countries in fields such as energy, green development, and disaster reduction. We will host further editions of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation and promote the implementation of its outcomes.

Improving risk prevention and control for overseas projects

The mechanisms for risk prevention and control will be strengthened. We will establish a unified, efficient, and coordinated working mechanism for the prevention and control of overall, country-specific, and project-specific risks relating to the BRI. We will deepen bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the area of risk prevention and control, assist participating countries in improving their capacity to guard against and forestall risks, and work with them to refine security measures.

We will pay close attention to the implementation of risk prevention and control systems. We will guide enterprises operating overseas projects in fulfilling their primary responsibility for risk prevention and control, ensuring they raise their awareness and ability in this respect, conduct thorough risk evaluations prior to initiating overseas projects, and regulate conduct for overseas business operations, so as to better control risks at the source and ensure early detection, warning, and prevention of risks.

We will see that Belt and Road cooperation is underpinned by integrity. China will further international anti-corruption cooperation and make sure its international cooperation initiatives are conducted in an open and transparent manner. We will regulate the operations and conduct of enterprises of all types, focus on guarding against and defusing transnational corruption risks, and work with all parties of the Belt and Road to build a clean Silk Road characterized by integrity.


Zheng Shanjie is Minister of the National Development and Reform Commission and Head of the Office of the Leading Group for Promoting the Belt and Road Initiative.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 21, 2023)