While China hides the truth about the near-stoppage of its most prestigious BRI project related to the economic corridor between the two countries in Pakistan, the communist country is using the new year to tom tom its success elsewhere.
China embarked on the BRI project with Pakistan a few years ago but Pakistan realised neither its citizens nor its infrastructure were in reality profiting from it, other than provide China a land and rail facility to move its goods to Europe through Pakistan.
During the period Imran Khan was Prime Minister, he saw through the game. Many projects were suspended as local Pakistanis started protesting, angered at the easy prosperity of Chinese nationals living in their country working on the projects while local Pakistanis hardly got any jobs or other benefits. Some Chinese citizens were also attacked, with some of them getting killed even. That has since become a sore point between the two countries.
China steadfastly refuses to explain what went wrong with the Pakistan BRI experiment, but plays up only “landmark BRI projects” that have come to fruition. In 2022, China operated 16,000 China-Europe freight trains, rising 9 percent year-on-year. The trains carried 1.6 million standard containers worth of goods, growing 10 percent. Trains that ran through the New Land-Sea Corridor in Western China handled 756,000 containers in 2022, up 18.5 percent year-on-year. And, the China-Laos Railway carried nine million passengers in 2022.
More than one million vehicles have used the Chinese-invested Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, Cambodia’s first expressway, since it opened to traffic three months ago. The Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway (HSR) in Indonesia, the first high-speed railway built by China in Southeast Asia, was successfully put into trial operation.
Terming these projects as milestones of progress, China shifted the focus of its foreign policy from one of internal development to that of external influence. And so, a fresh BRI push has begun. As analysts observed, the BRI has largely been successful “not in terms of concrete projects only but in ways that have helped China strengthen its diplomatic and economic ties with 140 partner nations and position itself as the champion of globalization”.
Media reports say that since the rise of China, its broader and integrative geo-economic agenda is seeking to enhance its reach into distant markets and trade enterprises. The ultimate objective is to provide a non-US alternative for the world’s countries.
Like in 2022, in 2023 as well China proposes to make efforts to increase the transport capacity of the trains. In November 2022, the first full-time schedule China-Europe freight train was dispatched and arrived to Duisburg, Germany after an 11-day journey.
A full-time schedule means the arrival and departure time as well as the running route are fixed in each section, unlike the previous model under which local railway departments set separate running times.
China used the last couple of pandemic years to test how much freight can be carried through BRI transport projects from China to Europe. More than 109,000 tons of anti-pandemic products have been sent to Europe through the trains to date, along with auto parts, electronic products, and raw materials, effectively guaranteeing the stability of international industrial and supply chains.
“The train has created a new passage between China, Central Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the European continent. It is also building a new landscape in global trade that will lead to win-win cooperation with countries and regions along the BRI,” Liang Haiming, dean of the Belt and Road Institute at Hainan University, told the Global Times recently.
China expects that once the freight services become successful and regular, many trading companies might for the train if the cargo was sent from Japan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia and heading to Mongolia, and central Asia, according to industry insiders. The train is crucial to the economy of transit countries such as Mongolia and Belarus, as it boosts those countries’ transportation income and foreign exchange inflows.
In the new year, China will expect the China-Europe freight trains to open up new markets and deepen China’s trade ties. This is seen as a counter to the United States’ trade monopoly with Europe.
The People’s Daily reports that as an important public product provided by China to improve global governance, the high-quality joint construction of the “Belt and Road” will continue to innovate and take the initiative, emphasizing “seeking common ground while reserving differences, inclusiveness, and promoting the incremental reform of the existing international order and international rules”. The expectation is that the BRI freight project successes will enable China to sit more prominently on global forums like the United Nations, the G20, APEC and other regional organizations, and thus have a say on important consensus points on global governance.
The Chinese government believes that the establishment of multilateral development institutions and cooperation platforms such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund has promoted the development of the global governance system in a more just and reasonable direction. Tan Zheli, a senior researcher at the Mbeki African Leadership Institute at the University of South Africa, is quoted as saying that the joint construction of the “Belt and Road” initiative has contributed an important force to the improvement of global governance. It is such propaganda that encourages China to even consider hosting the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation this year to inject new impetus into global development and prosperity.