The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a grand vision. Its implementation is full of challenges. Looking at the slow progress made by the United Nations in the past 74 years, one might get discouraged by the project like BRI. There is plenty of nay-sayers in its start but progress has silenced many and encouraged new joiners. This paper makes a brief review on the criticisms and achievements of BRI then extrapolates to a positive future outlook.
The future of BRI seems to be bright despite of some opposition. The scope of BRI is huge encompassing over one hundred projects and countries. It is a tremendous effort to track all the projects, but the news media has published sufficient data for us to make an assessment of the BRI projects and predict its future outlook. The following list of check points and accomplishments for 2019 will give us some idea on the progress and momentum of the BRI:
1. Starting on January 5, China will use a new railroad map. China-Europe rail will increase from 65 to 68 scheduled lines and China-Asia rail will increase from 30 to 33 scheduled lines.
2. E-commerce Law is effective from January covering all aspects of e-commerce expecting a revolution in individual and micro businesses. The momentum of e-commerce in China is pushing over to several BRI countries.
3. Africa Continent Free Trade Zone established on March 21st. This free trade zone will be a key player in the BRI.
4. Nigeria Dungote petrochemical project (650,000 barrels production) planned to complete in March is delayed. Hopefully, this drawback will be remedied.
5. 125th China Import-Export Trade Conference (3/15) and horticulture Expo ( 4/29-10/7 Beijing)
6. 4th Silk Road International Expo and East and West China Cooperation, Investment and Trade Conference (May)
7. Biennial Anniversary (2019) of Kenya Munne Railroad, which is one of the earliest BRI achievements, with extension line to be completed in June as the main rail line in East Africa.
8. 15th International Cultural Products Expo (May, Shenzhen), Cultural interaction is one of the goals of BRI.
9. 4th China-East Europe Minister level Economic and Trade Conference, 5th China-East Europe Investment and Trade Expo (June, Ningbo) and 6th China-Russia Expo (June, Harbin)
10. Pakistan Tar Coalfield II Block Coal Mine and Power Station Projects to be completed in June, Pakistan’s largest coal mine and first coal-electric combined project.
11. Padma Bridge, Bangladesh, to be completed in June connecting capital Dhaka and southwest 21 districts and linking China and Southeast Asia’s Pan Asia railroad.
12. 4th AIIB Annual Meeting (7/12-13, Luxembourg), members increased from 57 to 87, approved $7 billion investments for 34 projects. This is a significant accomplishment.
13. Tongjiang Sino-Russian Railway Bridge to be operational in July, 7193.71 meter long, annual load passage of 21 million tons, crossing China-Russia border accommodating different train track width. New railroad will have the same standard track width.
14. Hubu coal-fired power station, Pakistan,to be operational in July, with capacity of 9 billion kilowatthour. This will boost Pakistan’s productivity.
15. China’s 22 cities e-commerce trial zone will complete its one year test (8/7/2019). The zone is expected to expand.
16. 7th China-Asia-Europe Expo planned to be held in Urumqi, Xinjiang (August-September), a significant trade event.
17. 21st China’s International Investment and Trade Conference (September 8-11, Xiamen)
18. China-Arab Expo (September, Ningxia, yinchuan)
19. 18th China West International Expo, one of BRI platform ( September, Chengdu, Sichuan)
20. China-Japan-South Korea annual rotating meeting (October, Matsuyama, Japan), possible for Japan and Koreas to be more active in BRI.
21. 2019 Sea Silk Road Expo planned (October, Guangdong Dongguan)
22. 2nd China International Import Expo (November, Shanghai)
23. 2019 APEC, 30th Anniversary (November, Chile), BRI will reach South America.
24. 5th Anniversary of Silk Road Fund, established on 12-29-2014 for supporting BRI, infrastructure and resources development and manufacturing and financial cooperation.
25. Russia’s Siberia Strength pipeline, 3000 km, supplying gas to China (12/20/2019), a major project benefitting both China and Russia and their neighbors.
26. Other related meetings: Brazil hosting BRICS meeting, 2nd China-Arab Beidou Satellite Positioning Conference, a key technology sharing conference.
27. Shanghai Free Trade Zone will be expanded in 2019.
28. Gaku Railway will be operational, benefitting South Xinjiang.
Since the beginning of BRI, China Import-Export Bank has supported 1200 BRI projects and contracted 700 billion RMB ($100 billion). China Bank has supported 460 major projects amounting to $68 billion. Obviously we cannot review these thousands of projects and their success stories. Among the 60 BRI nations, 50 of them can use UnionPay cards. Financial institutions are all trying to participate in the BRI financing. President Xi has announced that China will add 100 billion RMB to the Silk Road fund and he also urged Chinese banks to open overseas financing in RMB to support BRI and cooperate with AIIB, BRICS New Development Bank, World Bank and other institutions. China and participating financial institutions have approved a guideline for BRI financing, a step to fair and cooperative financing. The growth of investment money for BRI is the best testimony of BRI’s success.
From the above list of activities and accomplishments in 2019 alone, we can appreciate the momentum of the BRI. Indeed, the future of BRI appears to be very bright, despite of some countries still sitting on the fence or making ominous remarks. President Trump has already considered China’s BRI initiative important enough to send delegates to attend its meeting. Great Britain was the first European country to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The rail connection from China via central Asia to Europe will soon show significant impact on trade, cultural exchange and tourism. The criticisms about the BRI will soon be silenced by cheers of celebration. Perhaps, the BRI may turn out to be an efficient international cooperation platform for joint projects of mega size and a closer and stronger partnership network to unite every country on Earth to trade and pursue joint projects beneficial to the world as a whole. The success of many projects will bring confidence to China and participating BRI members. With confidence, the BRI can push for a more just, reasonable and balanced international governance system. The initial success of the BRI projects will draw more countries to join the BRI and start more projects. Hopefully, the Belt and Road initiative will become a true global development program for all people on Earth.