The Belt & Road Initiative would usher in a “new international order”, says Algeria’s Ambassador to China, citing it as a key reason why his country joined the agreement last year.

Ahcène Boukhelfa noted that the existing international order, formed after World War II, was skewed in favour of developed countries, mostly the Western nations.

Speaking on the sidelines of an innovation and technology event of the Boao Forum for Asia in Macao in mid-November, Boukhelfa said it is high time developing countries take the stage and participate in setting the world order by sharing common values and striving for prosperity and development for all, both economically and socially.

The North African nation, which established diplomatic relations with China in 1958, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to join the BRI in September 2018. That preliminary agreement was ratified in July 2019.

BRI, first introduced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, seeks to connect Asia with Europe, Africa and beyond by building a trade and infrastructure network. The initiative would cover at least 65 countries along the route.

According to China’s National Development and Reform Commission, as of now 138 countries and 31 international organizations have signed 201 agreements in relation to the Belt and Road program.

Calling it “the most important project” of this century, Boukhelfa said the objective of the proposal is to develop connectivity between countries, including connectivity of infrastructure, business, trade and people under the concept of multilateralism.

The construction of a mega port in Algeria’s Mediterranean coast town Cherchell, which is over 60 kilometres west of Algeria’s capital city Algiers, is testament to the two countries’ long-standing collaboration in infrastructure. It is being built by a joint venture formed by China State Construction Engineering Corporation, China Harbour Engineering Company and Algeria’s state-run Port Services Group.

The US$3.3-billion project, known as the central port of El Hamdania, will be the biggest and first deep-water port in Algeria and the second deep-water port in Africa. It will have a capacity of 25 million tons per year and 23 terminals capable of handling up to 6.5 million 20-foot containers.

Boukhelfa said the project will benefit not just Algeria, but also the landlocked countries in the African continent.

For them, the port will be the gate or window to Europe, he said.

Currently, these countries are exporting their products from some ports in West Africa, which could mean 30 to 40 days for the goods to arrive in Europe. But with the new Algeria port, once the work is finished, such time will drastically shorten to about two weeks.

Chinese companies are also involved in other Algerian infrastructure, including the East-West Highway and the extension of the railway network.

According to Boukhelfa, the pandemic has given BRI a new meaning the connectivity of health

Throughout COVID-19, recovery is ignited by the BRI as it facilitates the flow of medical kits and medical personnel between various continents.

In the first half of 2020, when the pandemic was ravaging Europe, China-Europe freight a key traffic link under the BRI saw the trip number rise 36 per cent year-on-year to 5,122, bucking the trend of traffic suspension in many countries.

It managed to bring a lifeline to Europe by transporting 3.67 million pieces and 27,000 tons of anti-pandemic materials to European countries, including Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Poland and Hungary, according to a Xinhua report.

Medical experts from China have come to the aid of many Belt and Road countries during the pandemic. In early March, a Chinese medical team was sent to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad to build a lab for coronavirus testing for the country soon after its first COVID-19 case.

In Africa, Algeria is among the countries that have had a strong cooperation with China during the pandemic.

“We receive Chinese experts” and follow their advice, Boukhelfa said, adding that the situation in the country is under control.

Boukhelfa was in Beijing when the pandemic first struck China.

“I was living here all this time and I saw with my eyes the efforts made by Chinese people, also the discipline of the Chinese people. I think, and I believe, that the victory reached by Chinese was the result of the leadership. And also the result of the discipline of the Chinese people,” the envoy said.

Boukhelfa feels other countries should follow China’s successful example and discard political arguments, as humanity should prevail in the face of the common threat to mankind. He is also in awe of China’s speedy recovery of its economy, and is optimistic about the spillover effects it will have on other economies in the world.

“When the second largest economy is working, it is like a train. It’s taking the other economies in the same way,” he said.

In the long run, the ambassador wants to strengthen people-to-people bonds by having more Algerian exchange students in China.