Belt and Road Initiative projects. Photo: Xinhua

This 2023 marks the first ten years of implementation of the China-led Belt and Road Initiative, with the purpose of "exploring new common development paths for distant and neighboring countries, and developing a path to happiness that benefits the whole world."

The words quoted in quotes are from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who since 2013 placed this project that bets on multipolarity among the priorities of the Asian giant's foreign policy. A decade after its launch, the results of the Belt and Road are palpable, with almost 1 trillion dollars in investments in different countries.

According to Chinese Ambassador to Havana Ma Hui, "Over the past ten years, the Belt and Road Initiative has moved from idea to action, from vision to reality, from laying foundations, erecting pillars and beams to taking root and fruit, opening new directions for international cooperation and exchange, providing a new impetus for common development in the world, and becoming a popular global public product and a platform for international cooperation."

Speaking on Tuesday at an academic seminar on the subject, which took place in the context of the Saber-UH International Scientific Convention, which takes place at the University of Havana, the diplomat argued: "China has signed more than 200 cooperation documents with 151 countries and 32 international organizations to jointly build the Belt and Road."

And all this, said the ambassador, coinciding with the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the United Nations, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Connectivity Master Plan of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the 2063 Agenda to enhance the external projection of the African Union.

China has hosted and held two international summits on the Initiative, and Chinese and foreign partners have jointly launched a series of multilateral platforms for dialogue and cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road, with projects in a wide range of sectors: railway lines, ports, green development, energy sources, tax revenues, finance, media, think tanks, among others.

China has also hosted a number of international trade and economic events, such as the China International Import Expo, continued to improve the level of freedom and ease in trade and investment, and strived to expand its network of high-level free zones for the whole world.

Academic seminar on The Belt and Road that took place in the context of the International Scientific Convention Saber-UH, which takes place at the University of Havana. Photo: Courtesy of the Chinese Embassy in Cuba/Cubadebate

"China has become one of the main trading partners of more than 140 countries and regions," said the ambassador in his presentation, with Foreign Trade executives, experts and academics as an audience.

At the same time, he said, "China has initiated and participated in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the BRICS Development Bank and the Silk Road Fund" and "established bilateral local currency swap agreements with more than 20 countries jointly building the Belt and Road, as well as yuan payment agreements with more than ten countries."

In tangible terms, "the Initiative has generated nearly $1 trillion in investments, formed more than 3,000 cooperation projects, created 420,000 jobs for countries along the route, and lifted nearly 40 million people out of poverty," he said.

Several examples of projects implemented under the umbrella of the Initiative highlighted by Ma Hui in his presentation, including the China-Laos railway that "has realized the long-standing desire of the Lao people to move from a 'landlocked country' to a 'land-connected country', creating a new situation for Laos' economic and social development and promoting interconnection and mutual benefit in Laos. region".

He explained that since the start of the railway construction, more than 3,500 Laotian employees have been hired, which has indirectly created more than 100,000 jobs in the logistics, transport, trade and tourism sectors.

Likewise, Ma Hui said, "the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway is a flagship project of pragmatic cooperation between China and Indonesia, being the first time that a Chinese high-speed railway project lands abroad with its entire system, elements and industrial chain."

Its construction began in 2018 and is currently undergoing joint tests between China and Indonesia. "After its inauguration, the journey from Jakarta to Bandung will be shortened from more than three hours to 40 minutes, which will greatly improve the local transport situation and boost economic and social development along the route."

Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway. Photo: Xinhua

As a "flagship Belt and Road project," the ambassador pointed to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is being developed under the 1+4 cooperation scheme, and includes not only the construction of the corridor but also the port of Gwadar, energy, infrastructure construction and industrial cooperation.

"Energy projects that have been put into operation, have supplied almost a third of Pakistan's electricity," the diplomat said, adding that according to preliminary estimates, by the end of 2022, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would have created 23,6000 direct jobs, with a workforce of 155,000 Pakistani workers.

In addition, 52 African countries and the African Union as a group have signed cooperation documents with China within the framework of the Belt and Road, giving way to representative projects such as the African Union Conference Centre, the headquarters of the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mombasa-Nairobi railway and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway.

Argentina was the first Latin American country to sign a memorandum of understanding with China under the Belt and Road. "Cooperation in new energy sources, biotechnology, aerospace, medicine, health, and tourism has begun to unfold great potential, and innovation in science and technology, digital economy and green development have become new highlights of China-Argentina cooperation," Ma Hui said.

He also highlighted that "the Chinese model of rural e-commerce is taking root in Mexico, while Line 1 of the Bogotá Metro helps citizens realize their 'metro dream.'"

In Cuba, the ambassador stressed, "the Mariel photovoltaic park and the Ciro Redondo biomass plant are helping Cuba achieve energy security and sustainable development."

A China-Europe freight train from Turkmenistan loaded with raw materials for licorice, a Chinese medicinal herb, arrives at Xi'an International Port in the city of the same name, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi province, on Aug. 31, 2022. Photo: Xinhua

52 African countries and the African Union as a group have signed cooperation documents with China under the Belt and Road framework, giving way to representative projects such as the African Union Conference Center. Photo: Xinhua

Spirit of openness and tolerance

China's ambassador to Havana, Ma Hui, said that in the past ten years, the Belt and Road Initiative has gone from idea to action. Photo: Courtesy of the Chinese Embassy in Cuba/Cubadebate

At another point in his speech, the Chinese ambassador in Havana referred to the fallacies that some countries promote about the Belt and Road Initiative and the alleged hidden objectives of Beijing.

"Some countries have invented fallacies such as 'economic coercion,' 'debt trap,' 'environmental pollution,' 'labor abuse,' and 'neocolonialism' in response to the construction of the Belt and Road," Ma Hui said.

"Has China exercised 'economic coercion'? This is definitely about an attack from behind," he said, arguing that "China adheres to the path of peaceful development and pursues a win-win strategy and win-win situation, and does not follow the old and crooked path of colonial plunder and hegemony when a country is strong."

He assured that this type of message is promoted from the United States, in the eagerness of the North American nation to distort the real image of China, according to its geopolitical interests. "The United States is the origin and command of 'economic coercion' and is to blame for destabilizing free trade and the production and supply chain."

"The Belt and Road Initiative adheres to the main line of economic cooperation and interconnection, advocates common business, construction and sharing, and pursues mutually beneficial cooperation and common development. The label of 'economic coercion' cannot be put on China's head under any circumstances," he stressed.

"Will the countries participating in the Belt and Road project fall into the debt trap?" the ambassador asked, then said: "Due to numerous external factors, the debt risk of developing countries has increased sharply in recent years. According to the analysis of authoritative research institutions, Western commercial creditors and multilateral institutions are the main creditors, accounting for more than 80% of debt, both in terms of historical debt and new debt.

"China acts in accordance with market laws and international norms, respects the wishes of affected countries, has never forced any party into debt, and will not attach political conditions to loan agreements.

"China has never forced any country into debt, but has done its best to help developing countries ease their debt burden," he stressed.

Responding to the question of whether China is involved in so-called 'neocolonialism' in Africa, Ma Hui explained: "The African people have suffered more than 500 years of colonial rule and know better than anyone what colonialism is. There may be 'neocolonialism' in Africa, but it doesn't come from China, and there is a broad consensus among African countries on that."

"The China-Africa Belt and Road project will help African people free themselves from colonialism and achieve independence and development in the true sense of the word. We will work together with African countries to deepen cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, so that we can work together to build a common destiny and bring more benefits to the Chinese and African people," he stressed.

At the end of his speech, the ambassador said that "the Belt and Road Initiative has its origin in China, but it belongs to the world."

"In the process of co-building, all countries are participants, contributors and beneficiaries alike," he said, noting that "the Initiative is open, and we welcome other countries."

Cuba on the Belt and Road

The Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment of Cuba, Déborah Rivas Saavedra, also spoke at the seminar and emphasized our country's participation in the Initiative. Photo: Courtesy of the Chinese Embassy in Cuba/Cubadebate

The Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment of Cuba, Déborah Rivas Saavedra, also spoke at the seminar and emphasized our country's participation in the Initiative.

The vice minister recalled that "Cuba was the first Latin American country to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China," a country that is today "an important actor in the nation's Economic and Social Development Plan until 2030."

"Both countries have maintained frequent high-level exchanges, deepened bilateral relations of friendly and historic cooperation. We share similar development principles and strong economic complements for mutual benefit."

In this regard, he listed the signing of cooperation agreements in key areas such as economy, technology, cooperation in productive capacity, biomedicine, renewable energy, culture, tourism, environment, media, telecommunications, education, scientific research and agriculture, as well as the strengthening of ties between local authorities of both countries.

Rivas Saavedra recalled that in 2013 President Xi Jinping proposed the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the XXI Century, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

"Until the end of last year, 21 Latin American and Caribbean nations were members of BRI, and their main projects in the region are aimed at financial interconnectivity, currency exchange, financing large-scale projects, building industrial complexes, promoting academic and linguistic cooperation (development of Confucius Institutes) and tourism."

At the third meeting of ministers of the China-CELAC Forum (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), held in 2021, the Joint Action Plan in key areas of the CELAC member countries and China (2022-2024) was approved.

In November 2018, on the occasion of the visit of President Miguel Díaz-Canel to China, the country's incorporation into the Initiative was formalized with the signing of the "Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Republic of Cuba and the Government of the People's Republic of China for cooperation within the framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative and the Maritime Silk Road Initiative. XXI century".

In December 2021, the Cooperation Plan between Vice Premier Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz and Chairman of China's National Development and Reform Commission He Lifeng for the joint promotion of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the <>st Century is signed.

According to the vice minister, "there are multiple opportunities for collaboration between Cuba and China within the framework of the Initiative."

He argued that "Cuba is situated on an important international maritime route and has historically been the gateway to the Americas and an important hub for world trade."

He considered that there are potentialities to "strengthen the exchange and communication of public policies in the renewable energy and resources industry, promote cooperation in this sector, for a cleaner and more inclusive energy system."

Also "deepen cooperation, promote industrial investment projects, and cooperation in digital infrastructure, communication equipment, 5G, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, internet of things, smart city, internet +, universal telecommunications service, radio spectrum administration and other fields of mutual interest".

In video, Cuba on the Belt and Road

See also

Ambassador Ma Hui: China is steadfast in its purpose of promoting peace, cooperation and mutual learning among civilizations