The Belt and Road - An Initiative for Shared Prosperity (by H.E. Jiang Jiang, Chinese Ambassador to Malta)

Over two thousand years ago, the brave and hardworking people on the Eurasian continent, defying the vast land expanse and raging seas, opened several routes for trade and personnel interflow across Asia, Europe and Africa. As silk was the dominant commodity at that time, German geographer Baron von Richthofen gave these routes a romantic name - the “Silk Road”. Spanning thousands of miles and years, the ancient Silk Road opened a window for exchange and friendship among different countries. As a bond of shared progress for all along the routes, the Silk Road became a symbol of exchange and cooperation between East and West, and is cherished as a historical and cultural heritage for all humanity.

Time passes and brings big change to the world. As past glories fade and heyday comes to an end, some erstwhile places of wealth and weight are now associated with such words as distress, crisis, even conflict. How should we deal with a world in uncertainty and turbulence? The Oriental wisdom, old yet vibrant, may be a good source of inspiration.

During his visits to Central Asia and Southeast Asia in the autumn of 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the initiative of jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which caught the high attention of the international community. Under the principle of shared benefits through consultation and cooperation, the initiative seeks to build a community with a shared future among all participating countries, a community with political trust, economic integration and cultural inclusiveness via policy, facility, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has no geopolitical agenda, nor is it a “trap” as some people labeled it. Instead, the BRI offers a new pathway for China and the rest of the world to embrace shared opportunity and prosperity.

The past five years have seen the BRI go from vision to reality underpinned by concrete actions and productive cooperation. It has attracted countries well beyond the ancient Silk Road and gone from Eurasia to Africa and to the American continent. To date, China has signed BRI cooperation agreements with more than 140 countries and organizations, built 80-plus overseas economic cooperation zones and created 244,000 local jobs. Despite the sluggish global economic recovery, trade between China and other BRI countries has enjoyed robust growth, reaching over US$5 trillion in five years. In these five years, Chinese businesses invested over US$70 billion in other BRI countries and contracted over US$500 billion of projects overseas. A number of international corridors including railways, ports, oil & gas pipelines are well underway. Financial cooperation has deepened with 11 Chinese-invested banks setting up 71 tier-one institutions in 27 countries.

The BRI has provided an opportunity and platform for equal cooperation, and renewed the vigor and vitality of the ancient Silk Road. From the echo of camel bells and convoys of sailboats to the rumble of bullet trains and container freighters, the Silk Road spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit remains as relevant as ever. Five years are but a fleeting moment in history, yet the past five years have opened a new journey of extensive, multi-modal connectivity in human history.

It is vitally important that China and Europe, as two major economies, engage in meaningful dialogue and cooperation centering around the Belt and Road Initiative. So far, 14 EU member states have signed cooperation documents with China. A large number of projects on infrastructure, logistics, e-commerce and financial services are making steady progress. People-to-people exchanges keep expanding. The China-Europe cargo train services have reached 42 cities in 14 European countries with over 9,000 trips so far, making Chinese and European goods much more accessible to each other’ s markets. Under the BRI, Greek Port of Piraeus regained its position as a key international logistics hub. In the UK, China is partnering with France to build a nuclear power plant, a stellar example of tripartite high-tech cooperation under the BRI. A European think tank estimates that the EU’ s external trade will increase by 6 percent thanks to the BRI.

Malta has long been a transportation hub and an intersection between East and West. The BRI has brought a golden opportunity for China-Malta cooperation. In 2014, the two governments signed an MOU on medium-term cooperation, outlining a blueprint for upgrading China-Malta practical cooperation in all areas. In 2015, Malta joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a founding member. In 2017, China-Malta trade grew by 31.4 percent year on year.

Earlier this month, I had the honor to accompany Prime Minister Muscat when he attended the inaugural China International Import Expo in Shanghai. During his visit, our two governments signed an MOU on the Belt and Road cooperation, reaffirming our support for the business communities to cooperate under the BRI framework for win-win results. Our cooperation shall cover a broad range of areas including infrastructure, energy, health, education, culture, science, technology, tourism and financial services. Going forward, the two sides will jointly implement the cooperation agreement to deliver tangible benefits to people in both countries and contribute to the sound and sustained growth of the world economy.

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