The Belt and Road: A Path for Global Development and Human Wellbeing
In the autumn of 2013, President Xi Jinping successively unveiled major proposals to develop the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, known collectively as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Since its inception, the BRI has heralded a new chapter of development for China and the world.
Over the past decade, the BRI has evolved from a visionary concept to a tangible reality and from a broad outline into a period of high-quality development yielding multiple outcomes. Growing into the world’s largest and most extensive platform for international cooperation, it has become a source of Eastern wisdom for endeavors to improve the global governance system and a compelling example of how to build a global community of shared future.
I. Seeking the greatest common interest in the pursuit of common development in the world
“South Africa was the first African country to sign a Belt and Road cooperation document with China. It has been China’s top trading partner in Africa for 13 years in a row, as well as one of the African countries with the largest stock of Chinese investment.”
This quote is from an article by President Xi Jinping titled “Sailing the Giant Ship of China–South Africa Friendship and Cooperation Toward Greater Success” published in the South African media in August 2023. The piece, which marked President Xi’s attendance at the 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg and state visit to South Africa, depicted the golden era that China and South Africa have entered under the BRI on the basis of deepening strategic trust and fruitful cooperation.
Over the past decade, BRI cooperation has yielded significant tangible outcomes.
For example, by the end of September 2023, China Railway Express (CR Express) had completed over 78,000 journeys, reaching 217 cities in 25 European countries. It has connected the eastern and westernmost points of the Eurasian continent, giving rise to a new paradigm in international transportation that facilitates people-to-people exchanges and economic and trade cooperation through links running eastward and westward across land and over sea.
By the end of June 2023, China had signed over 200 BRI cooperation documents with more than 150 countries and 30 international organizations, encompassing areas such as investment, trade, finance, science and technology, and people’s wellbeing. The BRI has become a widely hailed public good and a platform for international cooperation in today’s world.
Between 2013 and 2022, China’s total import and export volume with other BRI partner countries reached US$19.1 trillion, with an average annual growth rate of 6.4%. Two-way investment between all participating countries surpassed US$380 billion, with China investing more than US$240 billion overseas.
These remarkable results are the fruits of farsighted vision and comprehensive planning.
On September 7, 2013, President Xi Jinping delivered an address titled “Promoting Friendship between Our Peoples and Working Together for a Bright Future” at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. In his speech, President Xi elaborated on China’s policy of good-neighborliness, friendship, and cooperation with Central Asian countries. He called for efforts to leverage innovative modes of cooperation to jointly build a Silk Road Economic Belt, which would serve as a great undertaking to benefit the people of all countries along its routes.
On October 3 of the same year, President Xi delivered an address titled “Working Together to Build a China-ASEAN Community of Shared Future” at the People’s Representative Council of Indonesia. In the speech, he detailed China’s policy of good-neighborliness toward Indonesia and other ASEAN members. In addition to calling for efforts to bolster the China-Indonesia comprehensive strategic partnership, he put forward the proposal of building a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Adapting to the historic trend of economic globalization, the need for global governance reform in the new era, and the ardent aspirations of people worldwide for a better life, President Xi has injected contemporary significance into the ancient Silk Road with the proposal of the BRI.
From the perspective of historical development, humanity finds itself in an era of great development, transformation, and adjustment. The trends of peace and development remain unstoppable, while reform and innovation advance with unwavering momentum.
EMU trains parked near the Tegalluar Depot on the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway. The rail line, connecting Indonesia’s capital Jakarta and its tourist city of Bandung, is a flagship project for China-Indonesia cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER XU QIN
In the present day, however, we are still faced with persistent challenges. Deficits in peace, development, security, and governance are posing serious issues for all.
President Xi has pointed out that “In pursuing international cooperation and the BRI, all parties follow the principle of shared growth through discussion and collaboration and join hands to meet global economic challenges together. Aiming to draw on each other’s strengths and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes, all sides are eager to explore new opportunities, discover new drivers of growth, and create new spaces for development, and to edge continuously closer toward the realization of a global community of shared future.” He has also declared, “The Belt and Road initiative I have put forward aims to achieve development with mutually beneficial outcomes to be shared by all.”
“In pursuing the BRI,” he has stated, “we should focus on the fundamental issue of development, unlock the growth potential of participating countries, and realize economic integration and interconnected development to deliver benefits to all.”
He has further stated that “We have proposed the BRI as a practical platform for building a global community of shared future. It is based on our country’s reform and opening up endeavors and long-term development. It gives expression to the ancient Chinese vision of universal harmony and the Chinese people’s worldview of cherishing people from afar and seeking harmony among nations. All this has committed the BRI to high ethical principles in global affairs.”
The BRI, with profound historic significance, paves a path to the future. Although it was put forward by China, it belongs to the whole world. It is a major initiative proposed by President Xi based on his deep reflections on the future of humanity and major development trends in China and around the world, with the aim of promoting mutually beneficial cooperation and shared development for both China and the world.
Over the past decade, China has hosted two Belt and Road forums for international cooperation, laying a solid foundation for promoting high-quality development of the BRI and providing development opportunities for more and more countries and their people.
Over the past decade, President Xi has attended numerous BRI-related meetings to study plans for the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. During overseas visits and domestic tours, he has paid keen attention to the advancement of major BRI projects and has called on all sides to join hands to promote high-quality BRI development during multilateral and international events.
Over the past decade, BRI members have worked toward physical connectivity through infrastructure development, leveraged institutional connectivity based on rules and standards as an essential support, and regarded people-to-people connectivity as a crucial foundation. The joint endeavors to drive high-quality BRI development have helped shape an ever-widening road to happiness for all involved.
The BRI has brought numerous changes to the world, including friendship bridges, development belts, and prosperous ports. Moreover, it has spurred the formation of a new landscape of all-around opening up for China.
II. Focusing on “five connections” cooperation to foster a new pattern of greater connectivity
When we are connected, we progress together; when we are isolated, we all regress. That is why “five connections” cooperation (covering policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, trade links, capital flows, and people-to-people exchanges) sits at the heart of the BRI.
Over the past decade, policy coordination has been steadily deepened, leading to broad international consensus
Given that BRI Countries have different political systems, growth models, and cultural traditions, policy coordination stands as the top priority in order to realize coordinated development.
At a regional level, the BRI effectively dovetails with regional development plans and cooperation initiatives, including the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the European Union’s EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy. This has facilitated consensus on the need to promote connectivity and support the process of regional economic integration.
On a global level, the BRI is also well-aligned with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, enabling policy synergy to promote common global development.
Over the past decade, infrastructure connectivity has also been continuously reinforced
On September 14, 2023, the X8015 train of the CR Express departed from Wuhan Wujiashan Station. Loaded with electronic components, automobile parts, and other goods produced in Hubei Province, the train left China through the Alataw Pass in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region for Moscow.
This was the 188th CR Express train to depart from Wujiashan Station this year. Over the last decade, the CR Express has become a new land transport artery connecting Asia and Europe.
Within China’s borders, the CR Express operates along three principal routes—western, central, and eastern—and exits the country through five key ports: Alataw Pass and Horgos in Xinjiang, Suifenhe in Heilongjiang, and Manzhouli and Erenhot in Inner Mongolia. It has 86 scheduled operating lines running at speeds of 120 kilometers per hour to 112 cities across China.
Beyond China, three main routes—northern, central, and southern—have been initially established, extending to over 200 cities in 25 European countries and more than 100 cities in 11 Asian countries.
The CR Express has exerted a major impact. Over the past decade, it has shipped a total of 7.31 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of goods, with a value of more than US$340 billion, and has thus become an important bridge for international economic and trade cooperation.
Thanks to the BRI, Indonesia has entered the high-speed rail era, the high-speed railway dream of the Lao people has become a reality, the Maldives’ first cross-sea bridge has been constructed, and the Port of Piraeus in Greece has been revitalized.
Thanks to the concerted efforts of all sides, a connectivity framework featuring six corridors, six types of routes, multiple countries, and multiple ports has taken shape, with the completion of a number of landmark projects, including the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, the China-Laos Railway, and the Jakarta-Bandung High-speed Railway.
By the end of June 2023, Silk Road Maritime shipping routes served 117 ports in 43 countries around the world, with more than 300 well-known domestic and foreign shipping companies, port enterprises, and think tanks involved in this association.
The “Air Silk Road” has also yielded impressive results. The network of air routes between participating countries has witnessed rapid growth, with China concluding bilateral air transport agreements with 104 participating countries, including direct air services with 57 countries.
The development of a multilevel, multimodal infrastructure network has thus shifted into high gear, giving initial shape to a four-dimensional layout for connectivity across land, sea, air, and cyberspace, and laying a solid foundation for further economic, trade, and production-capacity cooperation, cultural cooperation, and people-to-people exchanges.
Over the past decade, trade has flowed more smoothly, and economic, trade, and investment cooperation has been expanded
Recently, the RoRo ship Morning Linda, carrying 40 heavy machinery loaders, departed from Haitong International Automotive Terminal in the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Port Area for Saudi Arabia. On the same afternoon, a fleet of 91 construction vehicles, featuring brands such as China Heavy Duty Truck and XCMG, were loaded onto a bulk carrier at the Jungong Road Terminal in Shanghai to set sail for Guyana.
According to customs statistics, in the space of a decade, China’s import-export trade with BRI countries has surged by 1.1 times, surpassing the growth rate of China’s overall foreign trade.
Indeed, smooth trade flows are an important driver of sustained economic development for all countries. To this end, China’s General Administration of Customs has this year signed a memorandum of understanding on single-window cooperation in international trade with the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration and concluded agreements for mutual recognition of authorized economic operators with the Philippines, Costa Rica, and Uzbekistan.
As a result of these efforts, new energy vehicles, lithium batteries, and household appliances are being exported from China at an accelerated pace, while products like South African nuts, Ethiopian coffee, and olive oil produced in Singapore have successively made their way into Chinese households. The scope for economic and trade cooperation between China and other BRI countries continues to expand, yielding a steady stream of mutually beneficial outcomes.
Over the past decade, financial connectivity has become more diversified, leading to consistent improvements in the financial system
Under the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity (CCI), Chongqing and Singapore have established a diverse range of cross-border financing channels, promoting efficient regional connectivity.
By the end of March 2023, various cross-border financing projects worth US$19.6 billion have been implemented under the CCI framework. These projects have reached more than 10 provincial-level regions, including Chongqing, Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Yunnan, with overall financing costs about one percentage point lower than domestic levels.
Under the CCI, 20 financial institutions from Singapore have established their presence in Chongqing, becoming involved in funds, financial leasing, rural banking, and other operations through joint ventures or sole proprietorships.
Staff members display Fijian musical instruments at the exhibition booth of the Fijian embassy in China during a cultural exhibition of countries along the Belt and Road at the 2023 China International Fair for Trade in Services. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER JU HUANZONG
By the end of June 2023, a total of 75 investment projects have been signed under the Silk Road Fund, with committed investments totaling about US$22.04 billion; the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has 106 members and has approved 227 investment projects with a total investment of US$43.6 billion.
Over the past decade, people-to-people connectivity has been bolstered, accompanied by a continual deepening of exchanges
In Anxi County, Fujian Province, the Gao Jianfa Tea Manor spans over 66 hectares. In addition to more than 53 hectares of ecological tea gardens, the estate also boasts facilities capable of hosting dozens of guests for tea appreciation and leisure activities. The manor has developed a comprehensive tea production line, offering visitors the opportunity to experience the delight of tea picking and to immerse themselves in the craft of tea production.
This manor is an example of mutual learning between the tea and wine industries. After exchanging visits with European wine-producing regions, Anxi County adopted the vineyard management model employed in those regions for its own tea gardens. Currently, the county has established 39 tea estates implementing such a model.
Fujian tea farmers have benefited from the exchange of experience in the pursuit of the BRI. At the same time, they have actively participated in foreign assistance and cooperation, providing personnel and technical training to contribute to promoting industry upgrading and people’s wellbeing in BRI countries.
The BRI has also helped boost the poverty alleviation capacity of participating countries. For its part, China has provided various forms of professional skills training. According to World Bank projections, by 2030, BRI-related investments will help lift 7.6 million people out of extreme poverty and 32 million people out of moderate poverty in BRI countries.
III. Jointly pursuing high-quality development on the road to a promising future
On September 17, 2023, the second phase of a wind power project with a capacity of 56 MW was commissioned and went into operation in Akmola, Kazakhstan. This brought the total capacity of the Akmola wind farm to 206 MW, maintaining its record as the facility with the largest operational wind power capacity in Central Asia.
Funded by the China State Power Investment Corporation, the wind power project will play a significant role in Kazakhstan’s journey toward achieving carbon neutrality.
In the Lancang-Mekong region, China Southern Power Grid (CSG) manages over 10 transnational “electric expressways” connecting to other national power grids in the region. This has facilitated a robust flow of cross-border bidirectional power trade exceeding 70 billion kilowatt-hours. In South America, CSG is currently preparing and constructing Chile’s first high voltage direct-current transmission project. As construction progresses, the project is anticipated to generate approximately 5,000 jobs for the local community.
On the southern tip of the African continent, coastal winds are helping to light up thousands of homes. This is thanks to the wind turbines of South Africa’s De Aar wind power project, which has been developed by China Energy Group. It is the first integrated Chinese wind power initiative in Africa, with investment, construction, and operation provided by China. It is also South Africa’s largest wind power project. With the capacity to meet the electricity needs of 300,000 local households each year, the project has helped improve South Africa’s energy mix and create a green legacy for the local community.
Energy cooperation is a key aspect of the BRI. As participating countries carefully calibrate their energy transition to make the best use of local wind and solar resources, more and more new sources of green energy are being added, helping to upgrade industrial chains and make them more eco-friendly.
Since the beginning of this year, the Horgos Highway Port in Xinjiang has been a scene of bustling activity, with a large number of domestically produced cars, typically new energy passenger vehicles, clearing customs in a swift and orderly fashion. Cars from Shanghai, Shandong, Anhui, Henan, and other places are being exported to countries like Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Indeed, Chinese new energy vehicles have received a warm welcome in BRI countries. In response to the demand, Xi’an has launched a dedicated freight train service for exporting new energy vehicles. Recently, JAC Group held a ceremony to mark the delivery of 10,000 passenger vehicles to the United Arab Emirates, and BYD has become the leading player in Thailand’s pure electric vehicle market.
Data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers show that China exported 727,000 new energy vehicles from January to August this year, up 110 percent year-on-year.
The BRI has now become synonymous with promoting health, green development, and digital industries. Among these, the Digital Silk Road has become a new driver of global economic growth.
Although global internet and communication technologies have been developing rapidly, the construction of internet infrastructure in African countries has long lagged behind.
However, thanks to technical support from Huawei, Zambia has established 4G and 5G networks.
“The 5G network is in line with the Zambian government’s national development agenda of pursuing technological advancement and digital economic transformation,” Zambian President Hichilema noted.
The BRI has not only fostered communication but also opened up new paths for trade and commerce and given rise to new business models.
The African Goods Online Shopping Festival, jointly hosted by China and Africa between April and May 2022, was a vibrant and colorful event. A diverse array of products, including South African red wine, Rwandan chili sauce, and Kenyan black tea, were showcased and sold to Chinese households through online livestreams. The event also provided opportunities to many Chinese enterprises keen on venturing into African markets.
Statistics from the Ministry of Commerce reveal that this event attracted the participation of 23 African countries, along with more than 100,000 brands and over 1 million merchants from China and Africa.
Erastus Mwencha, former Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, declared, “Ongoing BRI projects, including digital infrastructure development, are facilitating connectivity and commerce while also changing the lives of ordinary Africans.”
In recent years, China has harnessed the power of the digital economy to fuel high-quality development. This move has not only expanded China’s own scope for openness and cooperation but also cultivated new drivers for global economic growth.
Cainiao, a cross-border e-commerce logistics provider, operates approximately 18 cargo flights per week to its digital logistics hub in Liège, Belgium, which is considered the largest smart logistics hub in Europe. It also operates around 60 trucks that travel between Liège and other major European cities on a daily basis.
The Europe-China Cross-Border E-Commerce Association has set up Europe’s first-ever incubator for cross-border livestreaming e-commerce in the Netherlands, with the aim of cultivating professionals in the cross-border e-commerce sector.
In BRI countries in ASEAN, West Asia, South Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa, China’s Beidou satellite navigation system is playing a role in promoting the smart agriculture, mining, and digital construction sectors.
Digital empowerment has also facilitated a major step forward in cooperation in science, technology, and innovation across many fields.
Since the launch of the Belt and Road Science, Technology, and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan in 2017, China has cooperated with participating countries on science and tech personnel exchanges, development of joint laboratories, and science and technology parks. These efforts aim to adapt to a new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation and develop the BRI into a road of innovation.
By the end of June 2023, China had signed intergovernmental sci-tech cooperation agreements with more than 80 participating countries, and membership of the Alliance of International Scientific Organizations in the Belt and Road Region had reached 58. Since 2013, China has supported more than 10,000 young scientists from participating countries in coming to China for short-term scientific research and exchange programs and provided more than 16,000 training opportunities for technical and managerial personnel from participating countries.
A host of small but useful initiatives are being implemented in BRI member countries in areas such as joint infrastructure construction, cooperative scientific and technological R&D, economic and trade exchanges, and the upgrading of industrial chains.
For example, in tropical rainforest villages of Guyana, Chinese enterprises have installed solar-powered street lamps, solving the problem of nighttime lighting for local residents. They have also drilled wells in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, giving villagers access to safe drinking water, and reconstructed the Buta Bridge in Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati, which has become known as a “bridge of convenience” among local residents. In addition to being small but useful, these projects are beneficial and practical. They are helping to improve the wellbeing of local residents and providing them with a genuine sense of fulfillment, happiness, and security.
The high-quality development of the BRI holds great promise.
All along, the BRI has been much more than just a road. It represents a philosophy, a network for shared development, and a bridge that contributes to global development and brings together diverse people and cultures.
This article was written by Dai Xiaohe, Ye Haoming, Gao Kang, Zou Duowei, and Fan Xi.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 20, 2023)