The Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation that took place in Beijing on April 25-27 was a resounding success. It consolidated what has become the largest initiative for infrastructure and connectivity in modern history. Some 150 countries, including 37 heads of state or government, and 90 international organizations attended the event, in addition to thousands of entrepreneurs. New economic deals of one kind or another amounting to some $64 billion were signed, and new plans laid for the future, amid a refreshing atmosphere of optimism.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his keynote address to the opening session, vowed to create “an even brighter future” for cooperation in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. The aim, he said, is to jointly meet the challenges and risks confronting mankind and deliver “win-win outcomes and common development”.
The Chinese President also presented a list of major policy steps that China has undertaken as part of its “Opening Up” strategy, which touch on a number of criticisms voiced in the trans-Atlantic political establishment. include some of the main sticking points of negotiations with the trans-Atlantic read like some of the major components of the economic and trade deal now being negotiated with President Trump, and which is reportedly nearly finalized.
Among those steps: greater market access for foreign investment, more imports of goods and services, intellectual property protection, and “a binding mechanism” for honoring international agreements.
The tremendous benefits to be reaped from this global development process, which as President Xi stresses is open to all nations, is recognized by a growing number of political and business leaders from around the world. So much so that even skeptics or those deemed so have been won over. Just to name a few:
- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, for example, gave interviews in which he expressed full confidence in the BRI and surprise at its scope. Speaking to Bernama News Agency April 28, he pointed out that under previous international arrangements, “including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, developed countries made the proposals and asked us to accept them.” But at this forum, small countries sat together at the same level with China and discussed “how to develop infrastructure projects.” He said he was glad to attend the event “because now I understand better the character of the project. China has a lot of new technologies, and we need these technologies.”
- Indonesia’s Investment Minister Tom Lembong, who had been critical of China’s rail investments, told the South China Morning Post that China had responded positively to his government’s feedback on ways to improve the projects. He now expects additional investments “in probably tens of billions of dollars” over the next 5 to 10 years.
- Moody’s Investors Service, in a statement issued May 2, noted that investments in the BRI contribute to both near-term economic growth and long-run growth potential in recipient countries. The investments in large transportation and energy projects, in particular, help to expand productive capacity by closing critical infrastructure gaps, Moody’s found.
- The Rhodium Group, a leading New-York based investment advisory firm specializing in business in China, issued a report on April 29 titled Why China’s belt and road loans may not be the debt trap other countries fear. The Group studied debt renegociations carried out by China with 24 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The conclusion: Beijing is inclined to renegotiate or write off debts incurred by other countries and in only one case had to seize assets to cover unpaid loans.