5 things to know about China's Belt and Road initiative for the world

President Xi Jinping raises a toast at the 'Belt and Road' summit in Beijing.
PHOTO: AFP

If you drop the term "Belt and Road" in a conversation with an average Singaporean, you'll likely to get a blank look.

And you can forgive anyone who thinks it's got to do with a strip of leather and a road.

But it's an official initiative so significant that leaders from 29 countries, as well as the heads of the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank, are now congregating at the "Belt and Road" forum in Beijing, China.

It's a milestone event designed to promote Chinese President Xi Jinping's grand vision of expanding trade, financial and infrastructure links between Asia, Africa and Europe.

Here are five things you should know about this initiative (so no more blank looks).


Photo: China Daily

1. A trade and infrastructure network inspired by ancient trade routes

The Belt and Road Initiative is a grand plan to connect Asia with Europe and Africa in a monumental trade and infrastructure network. Aimed at promoting prosperity for countries across the world, it was proposed by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

China calls it a "modern Silk Road" with plans to build six major economic corridors generating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Apart from free trade, the plan would provide opportunities for peace and inclusiveness, said President Xi at the forum, adding that old models based on rivalry and diplomatic power games should be abandoned, reported Reuters.

World leaders at Belt and Road Forum welcome banquet

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan and other leaders arrive for the welcoming banquet.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping makes a toast during a welcome banquet.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) arrive for a welcome banquet for the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China.
  • Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (second left) and his partner Betty Batziana (left) stand with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan (right)
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan and Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and her husband Xavier Giocanti.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping poses next to his wife Peng Liyuan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan, Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang and his wife Nguyen Thi Hien.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his partner Honeylet Avancena.
  • Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic (left) is greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan (right)
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and his son Nikolai.
  • Turkish President Tayyip (left), his wife Emine (second left), Chinese President Xi Jinping (second right) and his wife Peng Liyuan.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan, Argentine President Mauricio Macri and his wife Juliana Awada.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and his wife Emanuela Mauro.
  • Ethiopia's PM Desalegn and his wife Roman Tesfaye pose with Chinese President Xi and his wife Peng.
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan, Swiss President Doris Leuthard and her husband Roland Hausin.
  • Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (second left) and his wife Rosmah Mansor (left) stand with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan (right) during a welcome ceremony for leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum
  • Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, his son Nikolai and Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen make a toast during the welcoming banquet for the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China.
  • Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko (left) and his son Kolya (second left) present gifts to Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan
  • Chinese President Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan, Fiji's Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama and his wife Maria Makitalena.
  • Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the welcoming banquet for the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China.
  • Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, his son Nikolai and Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen make a toast during the welcoming banquet for the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China.
  • Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (second left) and his wife Maitree Wickremesinghe (left) pose with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan (right)
  • Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta second left) and his wife Margaret Gakuo Kenyatta (left) pose with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan (right)
  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (left) poses with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan.

2. Open to all countries

China says the scheme is open to all countries and aims to be a win-win for all. It has rejected criticism by some Western diplomats who see the plan as an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency said the new Silk Road would be a boon for developing countries that had been largely neglected by the West, noting that some Western countries are moving backwards by erecting "walls".

"These bridges are China's important offering to the world, and a key route to improving global governance," it said

Xi even offered Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, of deeply indebted Greece, strong support saying the two countries should expand co-operation in infrastructure, energy and telecommunications.

3. Widespread international support

So far, the initiative has garnered support from more than 100 countries and international organisations. More than 40 have signed co-operation agreements worth billions of dollars with China.

During the forum, China will sign business and trade agreements with over 30 countries and discuss free-trade guarantees.

Some of China's most reliable allies and partners attending the forum include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

European leaders participating include the prime ministers of Spain, Italy, Greece and Hungary.

Photo: AFP

4. Infrastructure projects need trillion-dollar investment

Collectively, it can turn out to be the largest ever infrastructure project requiring nearly a trillion-dollar investment across the globe. By some estimates, China plans to pump US$150 billion (S$210 billion) into such projects each year.

At the forum, President Xi pledged US$124 billion for his new Silk Road plan.

In the pipeline are a port in Pakistan, bridges in Bangladesh, railways to Russia, a port in Sri Lanka, a high-speed rail link in Indonesia, and an industrial park in Cambodia.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has provided US$1.7 billion for nine major projects so far.

Photo: Reuters

5. Trump actually gave the initiative a boost

Thanks, or no thanks, to President Donald Trump's "America first" stance, his protectionist trade agenda is probably helping China to expand its global influence and win over more allies.

But the US will be happy if it can make money out of the new Silk Road.

White House adviser Matt Pottinger said the US welcomed efforts by China to promote infrastructure connectivity in the initiative, adding that US companies could offer top value services, Reuters reported.

chenj@sph.com.sg


Photo: Merics

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