The Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) will contribute to the global economic rebound by stabilizing supply chains among countries along the BRI route while laying the foundation for further global cooperation, experts said ahead of the opening of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, which will discuss a series of topics surrounding how to restore economic growth in 2021 after a coronavirus-triggered recession across the globe last year.

The five-day Davos Agenda Summit 2021 of the WEF began from Monday and was held online as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Key topics of discussion include measures on responding to the COVID-19 crisis, unlocking social entrepreneurship for economic recovery, as well as discussing pathways to economic transformation.

The agenda didn’t include a forum on BRI projects, according to WEF’s official website. In the past, a Belt & Road Davos Forum was held on four occasions during the Davos Summit.

However, given that BRI projects have continued largely unaffected around the globe despite difficulties posed by the pandemic on logistics and labour markets. According to data released by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), no major BRI Projects had paused as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Peng Huagang, a spokesperson of the SASAC, said recently that most of the BRI projects were still proceeding, including the Jakarta-Bandung High-speed Railway and the China-Laos Railway. The E-60 Highway in Georgia also completed construction and began to be open to traffic recently.

Experts stressed that the BRI’s role has been strengthened amid the pandemic as an inclusive international cooperation mechanism, because it played a key role in shipping materials and goods between countries, providing much-needed assistance for reeling of global industrial centres around the world.

“While promoting infrastructure connect that helped the shipping of medical supplies, daily necessities and COVID-19 vaccines, the initiative also contributed to stable industrial and value chains among countries along the BRI and stabilize global economic rebound expectation,” Wang Yiwei, director of the institute of international affairs at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told.

According to Wang, many overseas countries had benefited and come to appreciate the importance of BRI projects, especially railway projects like the China-Europe block train, when cold-chain transportation became impractical and unsafe by air or by the sea throughout the Pandemic.

Latest data from China Railway showed that the China-Europe Railway Express completed a total of 12,400 services in 2020, up 50 percent year-on-year. Sending 1.14 million standard containers, the services connect more than 90 cities in over 20 countries.

A China-Europe Railway Express train carrying 88 standard containers of home appliances and medical supplies departs from the Hefei North Train Station, East China’s Anhui Province on November 12, 2020, en route to Duisburg, Germany.

It’s estimated that China-Europe Railway Express trains to and from Hefei will exceed 500 in 2020, up 48.5 percent year-on-year.

Experts predict that the BRI, by providing connective infrastructure, will help further boost partnerships on a global scale. They also noted that BRI will be further enhanced by the signature of cooperative agreements between China and many other countries.

Amid the fallout of the global pandemic and the rise of unilateralism and protectionism, China has continued an agenda of expanding and opening-up, injected pushing forward the regional and global economic recovery. In 2020, Chinese enterprises’ non-financial direct investment in 58 countries along the BRI increased 18.3 percent year-on-year to $17.79 billion, data from the Ministry of Commerce showed.

“The outbreak of the coronavirus brings new challenges to the global economy, which strengthens the need for cross-border cooperation to share information and increase resilience,” Wang said, noting that cooperation in public health, digital economy, green development and regional integration will continue to be the focus in 2021 and years to come.

Zhao Gancheng, director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told that infrastructure connects as the basis for boosting diversified cooperation would still be in the limelight in 2021, such as BRI railway projects in Laos, Thailand and Indonesia.

He also said the depth of BRI cooperation is expected to further strengthen this year based on the hard work and investment undertaken across 2020.

“Amid unprecedented challenges last year, countries throughout the BRI strengthened exchanges focused on policies and trade practices, for example, the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and closure of China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment talks,” Zhao said, noting that these achievements make BRI cooperation more structured and resilient.

Wang also said that after signing of the RCEP and completion of talks on EU-China investment deal, the trend is increasingly evident for regional connection to strengthen after the pandemic. “I think that the BRI projects will also take an increased focus on working within the region,” he said.

Gao Yan, a Chairperson of the China Council for Promotion of International Trade, said at a press conference on January 15 that the council will step up efforts to promote trade and economic cooperation under the BRI framework and support Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions to participate in the joint building of the BRI.

Editor’s note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.

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