The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been hailed by officials and experts at the ongoing International Transport Forum (ITF) in Germany, with some saying the initiative is an “opportunity that each country should grab.”
Li Xiaopeng, China’s Transport Minister, said at a press conference during the forum on Thursday that the BRI has made solid progress across Europe, and in particular, has made breakthroughs in Western Europe in recent years.
“Despite the BRI initiative originating in China, opportunities belong to the world, and China is willing to cooperate with all countries and regions to conduct pragmatic cooperation and build a new pattern of transport cooperation,” Li said.
Li’s remarks come amid growing unilateralism and uncertainties in the world. Li said that the BRI, which stresses connectivity, multilateralism and cooperation, is significant and will benefit the world’s development under the current global situation.
Since its inception, the BRI has been bringing tangible benefits to both Europe and China.
One of the tangible benefits is China Railway Express, which connects 59 Chinese cities with 49 European cities in 15 countries. There were 6,363 trips in 2018, surging 73 percent from 2017, according to a report from Xinhua News Agency in March.
Freight trains have rumbled along the routes taking garments, auto parts, chemicals and other Chinese goods to European consumers, while bringing back European food, machinery, equipment and timber.
“More fruits will continue to emerge in the future,” Li said.
Officials and experts echoed Li’s comments. They described the initiative as an opportunity that each country should grab as it will reunite countries in Europe and bring new growth opportunities to them.
“I look at BRI as an opportunity that is coming. It’s up to each country and each region to make use of it. The market can be enlarging; the pie can be bigger, so it’s up to each country to look for a win-win cooperation and work towards it,” Supee Teravaninthorn, director general of investment operations, AIIB, said during the forum.
Stephan Ossenkopp, a Berlin-based expert associated with the Schiller Institute, an international think tank, said that most nations in Europe have realised that the BRI is a unique opportunity to address issues such as infrastructure deficits and lack of long-term funding for such projects.
Ossenkopp said that under the BRI, China could help Germany build some large projects involving dams, power stations, rail and roads, that Germany may not be able to do alone.
“If Germany and France would join the BRI [after Italy], Europe could finally unite again around a common project, which would bring new growth and opportunities for its citizens,” Ossenkopp noted.
In March, China and Italy signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly advance the construction of the BRI.
“China will continue to promote the construction of high-quality & sustainable infrastructure with countries along the BRI routes, to promote connectivity on land, sea, air and internet, while strengthening the construction of policies, rules and standards under the initiative,” Li said.