To cheers and applause, the extension of Sri Lanka’s Southern Expressway was officially opened to traffic in February.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony together with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, later tweeted, “The extension of Southern Expressway up to Hambantota will connect lives, livelihoods and boost economic activity. It’s the key infrastructure that links Hambantota Port and Mattala Rajapaksa Hambantota Airport and supports our vision in building Sri Lanka as a logistic hub in Asia.”
The extension of Sri Lanka’s fast roads is just one of the many advances made as part of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) over the past year. Since the Second Belt & Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) was held in April 2019 in Beijing, the initiative has entered a new stage focusing on high quality development, and has become increasingly viable and advantageous to countries along the B&R amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
High Quality Development
Over the past year, 16 countries and international organizations have signed with China the official BRI cooperation documents, bringing the total number to 199. More and more people are benefiting from related projects put in place in various countries.
In a small village in Laos’ northern Luang Prabang Province, for example, the life of Khamphiw Tawa and his five-member family changed after he was employed in April 2017 by PowerChina Sinohydro 3, one of the Chinese contractors building the China-Laos railway.
The 36-year-old head of a welder team and his wife, Phone Tamong, currently earn more than double their previous income, which was mainly from farming and odd jobs. “I learned something about welding before, but it’s different to be here working. Modern equipment, and I know a lot more,” Tawa said.
“I want to work longer for the company if it stays after the railway is done,” he said.
In late December, with a 9,384-meter-long tunnel drilled through the tropical mountains of northern Laos, seven months ahead of schedule, the engineering work of the China-Laos railway entered its final phase.
Green development is also an important feature of the BRI, as highlighted in the 100-million-euro project of the Kaposvar solar park in southwestern Hungary scheduled to be completed this year, which is expected to cut Hungary’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by 120,000 tons.
China’s official BRI related data in the first quarter of this year recorded 4.2 billion U.S. dollars in non-financial direct investments in 52 partners by Chinese enterprises, an increase of 11.7 percent from a year earlier.
A total of 1,941 China-Europe freight trains ran during the January-March period, shipping goods of 174,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, up by 15 and 18 percent year-on-year respectively.
The strong vigor of BRI construction has helped increase confidence and has provided direction and practical options for its partners during the global novel coronavirus pandemic, said Wang Linggui, senior research fellow and deputy director of the Institute of Intelligence and Information Research of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Stronger Mutual Support In Pandemic
Mutual support and collaboration between China and its BRI partners in jointly fighting the COVID-19 pandemic have made the BRI an initiative with the principle of consultation and cooperation for shared benefits, more appealing, Wang said.
At the critical moment of China’s fight against the disease, Pakistan actively donated emergency supplies. Pakistani President Arif Alvi also visited China to express his country’s firm support to Chinese leaders in person. Later, when Pakistan was facing mounting challenges during the pandemic, China not only donated tons of medical supplies, but also sent medical experts to help the country.
What’s more, the second-stage construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor remained in progress without disruption from the virus under the efforts of 40,000 local workers and 7,000 Chinese workers, Pakistani media reported.
The two countries have shown the world through their concrete actions that the China-Pakistan community of a shared future isn’t just empty words, said Shakeel Ahmed Ramay, head of the China Study Center at Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute.
Ramay added he believes more and more countries will recognize and support the BRI in the future, as it will help the world overcome the pandemic crisis and secure sustainable economic growth.
Such mutual help during the pandemic is also extensive between China and Italy. Apart from supporting each other through deliveries of much-needed materials, the two countries have also given one another moral support. In February, for example, Italian President Sergio Mattarella hosted a special concert at the presidential palace to show solidarity with the Chinese people at the critical moment of China’s fight against the COVID-19 outbreak.
In the eyes of Fabio Massimo Parenti, an Italian Scholar of International Studies at the International Institute Lorenzo de’ Medici, Italy has made the right decision to be the first among G7 to sign a memorandum of understanding on the BRI with China.
In the post-coronavirus era, the BRI will surely be promising in the public health sector, Parenti said.
The BRI has such a bright future, as it represents economic globalization and is in line with the law of economic development, said Michael Nyirenda, former president of the Zambia Association of Commerce and Industry.