Citigroup said on Wednesday that its revenue is up 30 per cent over the past year from clients along trade corridors being developed as part of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”.

The bank said the growth was being driven by increased business activity by Chinese companies, as well as multinational corporations, along trade routes connecting China to Europe and the Middle East through Central Asia and China to Southeast Asia.

The projects cited by Citi included a US$775 million project bond for Indonesian utility PT Lestari Banten Energi in February; a US$2.5 billion syndicated loan for Africa’s largest company Naspers; and US$3.8 billion in belt-and-road-related bonds issued by Bank of China’s branches from Hong Kong to Luxembourg last week.

Beibei Li, who was named Citigroup’s head of belt and road last year, said the bank has been helping trade and investment activity for more than 100 years along those trade corridors that China is now looking to further development.

Citi is seeing “an increased demand for banking services as more of our global clients increasingly identify and invest in opportunities across the belt and road,” Li said.

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The announcement came two days after the bank reported revenue in its Asian business was flat in the first quarter at US$4.13 billion, compared with US$4.14 billion in the first quarter of last year.

Revenue in its institutional clients segment, which is responsible for most of the bank’s belt and road business, was up 2 per cent in Asia in the quarter. Revenue from its continuing operations in Asia in that segment rose 13 per cent in the quarter.

On Monday, Citi reported that its overall net income rose 2 per cent to US$4.71 billion in the first three months of the year, up from US$4.62 billion in the same period in 2017.

On Wednesday, Citi, which identified itself as a banker to close to 90 per cent of Fortune 500 companies operating in belt and road markets, said that it has seen increased corporate and investment banking, cash management, trade, foreign exchange and other business in those trade corridors.

Citi said it is targeting a 25 per cent increase in revenue among intra-Asian trade corridors in 2019, including belt and road markets. The bank said that it saw a 22 per cent increase in revenue in the first quarter along those corridors.

The belt and road initiative is a major effort by Beijing to improve infrastructure and increase trading outlets for its goods, in some cases following the old Silk Road to Europe.

The initiative, which has proved controversial in some countries, has included Chinese government funding and ownership stakes in infrastructure and development projects in more than 60 countries to increase overland and sea links.

Malaysia agreed last week to proceed with the China-backed East Coast Rail Link, which had been stalled since Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suspended work on the development soon after taking office last year. The project is expected to cost US$10.6 billion.

Mahathir said at the time that Malaysia needed to renegotiate “unfair” terms with the project’s main contractor, China Communication Construction Company.

Last month, Italy signed a “non-binding” protocol during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to join the belt and road initiative, the first member of the Group of Seven economies to do so.