Remarks by Executive Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng at the Welcoming Dinner of the First Meeting of the Advisory Council of The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF)
Beijing, 15 December 2018
Members of the Advisory Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by expressing, as the Secretary General of the Organizing Committee of the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, congratulations on the establishment of the BRF Advisory Council and warm welcome to all the members.
All the Council members are active advocates and supporters of international cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Mr. Jean-Pierre Raffarin attended the first BRF last year as the special envoy of the French President. Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, in her previous capacity as the Executive Secretary of UN ESCAP, supported the signing of the BRI cooperation document between ESCAP and China. Sir Douglas Flint is the UK Treasury’s Belt and Road envoy. The other members also have keen insights into international cooperation on the BRI. The fact of so many internationally renowned figures joining the Council speaks to the support for international economic cooperation and casts an international vote of confidence on the BRI.
We have come together for the common purpose of advancing international cooperation on the BRI. I myself have quite some connections with the Initiative. Back in 2013 when President Xi Jinping first raised the idea of building a Silk Road Economic Belt, I was there as Chinese Ambassador to Kazakhstan. I have also witnessed how the BRI and Kazak Bright Road Initiative have complemented each other, how the China-Europe Railway Express has helped catalyze local growth, and how the world’s biggest land-locked country has gained access to the ocean thanks to the BRI. The Kazaks hail China as “Kazakhstan’s ocean”. In a BRI essay competition held in Kazakhstan earlier this year, the first prize winner wrote, “It is not exactly accurate to say that the BRI is part of the effort to revitalize the ancient Silk Road, because the Silk Road has never been forgotten in Kazakhstan. In other words, just as the ancient Silk Road contributed to the hustle and bustle on that piece of land, the BRI is generating new development opportunities for it as well.
Carrying forward the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, and seeking fresh impetus and creating new opportunities for common development is precisely why China has put forth the BRI.
First, the BRI is a modern version of the ancient Silk Road. The ancient Silk Road was all about connectivity and common development, hence it is dubbed by some as “globalization 1.0”. We have proposed the BRI in search of ways to address development issues in today’s world. Greater connectivity between Asia, Europe and Africa enables more countries to benefit from the global value chain and industrial chain, turn more land-locked countries into land-linked countries, and bring about greater economic vitality on more lands. The World Bank recently conducted a study on the economics of the BRI. I would prefer to see a study on the development economics of the BRI.
Second, the BRI promotes reform and opening-up in China. Thanks to 40 years of reform and opening-up, China has become the world’s second largest economy and the biggest trading partner of more than 130 countries, and is poised to be the world’s biggest consumer market. That said, China is still confronted with development imbalance among different regions. The less developed western region, with 72 percent of China’s landmass and 27 percent of its total population, accounts for a modest 20 percent of the GDP and 7 percent of foreign trade and outbound investment of China. We hope that joint efforts to develop the BRI will usher in a new round of high-standard opening-up, and generate more opportunities for investment, market and cooperation. We hope that such efforts will also create new space and opportunities for China’s development. And the western region, a latecomer in opening-up, will catch up and even take the lead, shaping a prospect of interconnected and mutually beneficial development between the western interior and the eastern coast. To quote former Prime Minister of Egypt Essam Sharaf, the BRI is not only a Chinese dream, but a dream for the whole world.
Third, the BRI outlines China’s approach to better global economic governance. Ms. Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of UN ECLAC, spoke highly of the BRI’s capacity to help address the dilemma facing globalization and to provide an innovative approach and broad perspective for resolving global issues. China actively participates in and contributes to global economic governance. The world is faced with changes unseen in a century and growing uncertainties and destabilizing factors. In such a context, we hope the BRI will provide support for multilateralism, help build an open world economy and contribute to global development. The BRI upholds the “golden rule” of consultation and cooperation for shared benefits, and is open to all interested countries around the world. The BRI is in sync with international rules and standards rather than forming an exclusive club. The BRI is advanced by all participating countries through extensive consultation rather than playing any doomed geopolitical game or the winner-takes-all, zero-sum game. Just as Professor Justin Yifu Lin said, the BRI can contribute to the realization of mankind’s aspirations for all countries to prosper and embrace a better future.
Just as there are 1,000 Hamlets in 1,000 people’s eyes, in this world of great diversity, it is only natural that people may have different views about the BRI. Nevertheless, the majority of the international community support the BRI and see it as an opportunity for greater cooperation. It is not necessarily a bad thing to hear some criticisms and negative comments, as they could help us make improvement where we fall short. To date, more than 140 countries and international organizations have signed BRI cooperation agreements with China. The first Belt and Road Forum was attended by more than 140 countries and over 80 international organizations, many of whom have synergized their infrastructure cooperation initiatives with the BRI, leading to cooperation projects worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Many people ask us whether China had expected such rapid progress when it first came up with the BRI. Our answer is yes and no. “Yes”, because the BRI meets the trend of international development and the common interest of people worldwide. But also “no”, because we had not expected such fruitful outcomes and positive responses from so many countries in such a short period of time. With the ancient Silk Road as a reference, the BRI initially covered over 60 countries. Yet more and more countries, including those from Latin America, wish to be part of it, and we welcome the active participation of interested countries.
There are also questions about whether the BRI projects are all contracted to Chinese companies and only benefit the Chinese side. Our answer is that the BRI is never just about China. It is joined by various parties who share benefits and risks together. I agree with Dr. Mari Pangestu wholeheartedly that the BRI, instead of just benefiting Chinese companies, needs to help the businesses of more countries get involved and reap benefits. I would like to point out that the majority of the BRI projects are carried out through cooperation between Chinese enterprises and local firms. Recently, we have been working with a dozen of countries on third-party cooperation. The German firm Siemens has worked with more than 100 Chinese companies in exploring markets, providing gas turbines, steam turbines, generators and other equipment to BRI projects. The US company GE won equipment orders worth US$2.3 billion from BRI projects. The British bank Standard Chartered will provide at least US$20 billion of financing for BRI projects by the end of 2020. The list goes on. Over 10,000 China Railway Express trains have traveled between China and Europe, benefiting countries along its route, including Germany where the city of Hamburg alone has 600 local businesses cooperating with Chinese companies.
As to questions about whether the BRI adds to the debt of some countries and creates a so-called “debt trap”, our answer is no. Businesses, as the main players in BRI cooperation, will naturally act according to the law of the market so that they don’t end up losing money. It has only been five years since China put forth the BRI. The debt problem of developing countries has a much longer history, so it would be unfair to blame the BRI or China for their debt problem. Infrastructure projects usually require long-term and large investments. They may not yield handsome returns in the short term, but these investments will pay off in the long run. It is just like when a young couple buy a home with a mortgage, they may be in debt, but they would also own some fixed assets in return. It is not reasonable to deny long-term benefits for lack of short-term returns. Having said that, there is always room for improvement with every endeavor. Both the Chinese government and businesses are working to make the BRI projects more fiscally sustainable.
Some people are asking how much of an impact has the BRI made? Has the cooperation produced any results? No one can answer these questions better than the local communities. Let me share with you some stories.
The first story is about the central Asian country Uzbekistan. One third of the Uzbek population live in the Andijan region. In the past, if they wanted to go to Tashkent, the capital, they had to either drive four or five days in the mountains or transit through a third country by train. This changed after a Chinese company built a 19-kilometer-long tunnel in just 900 days. Now the locals can reach the capital in just four hours and it takes merely 900 seconds for the train to go through the tunnel. The 900-second miracle created in 900 days is warmly applauded by the local community.
Another story is about the African country Kenya. The railway connecting Kenya’s biggest port city Mombasa to its capital Nairobi built by China is the first railway constructed in the country in 100 years. Kenya calls it the railway of the century and the pride of the nation. More than 300 Kenyan companies were involved in the construction and over 90 percent of the workers were locals. The railway, now in operation, has cut the travel time between Mombasa and Nairobi from more than ten hours to just over four, lowered logistics costs by at least 40 percent and contributed 1.5 percent of Kenya’s GDP growth.
Thanks to the BRI, Kazakhstan now has access to the sea; Laos will become land-linked instead of land-locked; Belarus can produce its own sedan cars; the Maldives has a cross-sea bridge; Pakistan and Tajikistan have overcome long-standing power shortages ... the list goes on. Actually, it is Professor Kishore Mahbubani who suggested that we share these stories to show the concrete outcomes of the BRI and how it helps benefit some countries. These stories show that the BRI does not benefit just China; it is a success shared by all partner parties.
Members of the Advisory Council,
BRI cooperation was first conducted through bilateral channels and is shifting to multilateral and bilateral progress in parallel. At the first BRF held in Beijing in May 2017, we worked together with countries around the world to draw a blueprint for cooperation and launched the process of multilateral cooperation. Many foreign leaders spoke about the need to hold the forum on a regular basis. In response to their suggestion, we plan to host the second BRF in April 2019. Preparations are well underway. Building on the principle of consultation, cooperation and benefit for all put forward at the first BRF, we will champion high quality and high standards in our cooperation. We are confident that with the joint efforts of all partners, this goal will be met.
As a group of internationally renowned figures brought together by the BRF Organizing Committee, the Advisory Council aims to pool international wisdom, build international consensus, and advance international cooperation in connection with the BRF. We welcome your active participation in the Council’s activities, your balanced interpretation of the BRI to the world, and your insights on the forum’s future development, which will make more contribution to Belt and Road cooperation.