China’s new Silk Road plan attracts support

It was an ambitious plan unveiled in 2013.


And, now, it is considerably closer to becoming a reality, with 68 countries and international organisations signing Belt and Road cooperation agreements with China.

China’s initiative is a modern take on the old Silk Road, a vision to revive the network of silk-trade routes across ocean and land of centuries past.

It is designed to instigate an infrastructure-building boom across Central Asia up to Europe to boost trade and improve transport logistics.

The land-based projects are the belt.

Various economic corridors are part of the scheme, involving such countries as Pakistan, Mongolia and Bangladesh.

The maritime route would connect China’s southern provinces to South-East Asia and the east coast of Africa with ports and railways.

Chinese president Xi Jinping says the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative is in full swing.

He says wide consensus was reached at the forum.

“We hope to jointly look for new driving forces for economic growth through Belt and Road construction, establish new platforms for global development, promote re-balance of economic globalisation and stride forward towards the target of building a community of common destiny for mankind.”

Leaders at the summit have agreed to promote a rules-based, open and multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organisation at its core.

In a communique issued at the close of the forum, China and other nations have also stressed the importance of expanding trade and investment based on a level playing field.

But the communique was not agreed upon before some intense discussion, debate and demands.

European Union Commission vice president Jyrki Katainen urged negotiations on equal market access for European Union firms in China be accelerated.

“Chinese companies have full access to the European market when they want to invest in Europe, but, unfortunately, this is not the case with the European companies in the Chinese market. And this is the reason why European companies’ investments with China have decreased. Actually, last year, it dropped some 23 per cent, which is the lowest for 10 years. And it’s only because of problems in the Chinese market, or the lack of market access.”

Mr Xi has pledged $124 billion US for his new Silk Road.

But Western diplomats and China’s key Asian rivals like Japan and India have expressed reservations about China’s motives.

And Jabin Jacob, from the Delhi-based Institute of Chinese Studies, has told Al Jazeera a number of technical details remain to be ironed out.

“Each of these countries across Asia has different gauges for their railway tracks. So that’s something that needs to be fixed. At the moment, they are just transported from one coach, from one gauge, to another. Then there are issues of … well, questions over currency management, financial transactions, all of this. You know, China is also trying to use this as a vehicle for the internationalisation of the renminbi, but quite a few countries, including allies, so-called allies, are uncomfortable using the Chinese renminbi. They still prefer the US dollar.”

China plans to host another One Belt One Road forum in 2019.