BEIJING — Amid rising protectionism globally, China’s “circle of friends” under the Belt and Road Initiative is expanding, attracting more and more countries to join.
The key lies in the enticing opportunities that the initiative offers in counteracting global upheaval and shrinking economic growth.
The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by China in 2013, aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa.
Initially people were skeptical that the project was an attempt to offload Chinese domestic surplus overseas, but facts and figures tell a different story.
State leaders that recently visited China and hope to engage with the initiative come from various countries, including Saudi Arabia, Israel, Madagascar, Nepal, Micronesia and Serbia. They will engage with many facets of the initiative, such as cooperation in connectivity, free trade arrangements, agriculture, industrial capacity, energy and post-disaster reconstruction.
Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said Nepal would formally sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China to become a part of the initiative.
The prime minister, who returned home from his China visit on March 29, informed reporters that his country would become the part of the Belt and Road Initiative as early as possible and reap benefits from the initiative.
On Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic’s visit in China, China hopes to strengthen the alignment of the Belt and Road Initiative and Serbia’s strategy of reindustrialization, and advance big cooperative projects, such as the Serbia-Hungary railway; Serbia said it is ready to enhance pragmatic cooperation with China in infrastructure, production capacity, mining and agriculture, and will actively participate in the Belt and Road construction.
During the visit to New Zealand by Premier Li Keqiang, the two countries signed a MoU on the initiative, making New Zealand the first western developed country to participate.
China’s proposal has been recognized by more economic players and has transcended ideology and geopolitics.
So far, Chinese businesses have helped build 56 economic and trade cooperation zones in 20 countries along the routes with a combined investment surpassing $18.5 billion, generating nearly $1.1 billion in tax revenue and 180,000 jobs in those countries.
China is sharing its investment and infrastructure construction experience to level the playing field and bring about opportunities for every member to have promising growth.
The Belt and Road is not a one-way street for Chinese outbound investment. There is also huge export potential for western products, technologies and services to enter China’s colossal market.
For instance, China has been Australia’s largest trading partner for the past eight years. Last year, trade between the two countries reached $107.8 billion, with China seeing a deficit of more than $30 billion.
In the case of China and Australia, strong China commodity demand supported the latter’s export growth, and helped Australia withstand the global financial crisis.
Although China has run a trade deficit so far, its economy has benefited from Australia’s supply of commodities, and Chinese consumers are getting a good deal from Australia’s consumer goods.
Today, a growing number of countries together with China have sent a signal of jointly pursuing openness and mutual cooperation to strengthen confidence in the region and the world at large.
Naturally, the Belt and Road is not paved with gold. There are risks and uncertainties, as with business ventures.
Yet the concerted efforts of countries involved are expected to safeguard global free trade, oppose protectionism and usher in a more inclusive globalization.