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Leona Meyer-Kasai

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The Belt and Road Comes to a Neighborhood Near You

Here follow brief summaries of some of the discussions known to have taken place around the world just in the last two-three days on how to develop the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to benefit each participant:

Myanmar: State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi chaired the first meeting of her government’s steering committee to coordinate implementation of the agreement signed last September between China and Myanmar for a “China-Myanmar Economic Corridor” stretching 1,700 km between the two countries from Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan Province, to Myanmar’s major economic centers, as part of the BRI. Since that time, the two countries have been discussing what projects should be prioritized along that route. Aung San Suu Kyi cautioned the meeting that the government has “to make sure that the selected projects are in conformity with national plans, policies and domestic procedures,” but, she emphasized, “being a country located at a strategic position for the BRI, Myanmar needs to participate in the initiative.”  The 25-member steering committee, which includes cabinet ministers, heads of regions, and other officials, will attend the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing this April, according to The Irrawaddy media group.

Malaysia: Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed announced that he will lead his nation’s delegation to that April Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. Malaysian Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng likewise emphasized at the Malaysia-China Business Council’s Chinese New Year luncheon that “the good relations between Malaysia and China will be continued and strengthened,” adding that Malaysia will continue to support the BRI.

New Zealand’s Minister of Economic Development David Parker will attend the April Belt and Road Forum, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced, and Parker plans to take a trade mission with him when he goes. Ardern said conversations were ongoing with China about joint infrastructure projects. This decision brushes aside earlier criticisms of the BRI, which had been voiced by Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

Lebanon’s role in the BRI was discussed when China’s Ambassador to Lebanon Wang Kejian met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Feb. 18, after the formation of his new government after winning a strong vote of confidence. China is willing to work together with Lebanon to consolidate political mutual trust and strengthen policy coordination within the framework of the BRI, Ambassador Wang told the Prime Minister, Xinhua reported. Hariri thanked China for its assistance to Lebanon in the political, economic, military and humanitarian fields, and said he looks forward to “more achievements in our cooperation with China on many levels.”

Iran’s role in the BRI was discussed when Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing today. “The initiative is of special significance to both Iran and China,” Zarif told Wang, Xinhua reported. That discussion came within their broader discussion of the difficult situation Iran faces today. Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported that Wang told Zarif that Beijing values Iran’s role in regional affairs and looks forward to a seeing that role expand further. He counselled that in the middle of a region and world undergoing major changes, Iran and China can maintain strategic strength, with the understanding that both China and Iran are countries with thousands of years of civilization and tradition. Notably, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman will also visit Beijing for high-level meetings within a few days.

Spain’s public TV2 (RTVE) broadcast a 52-minute program on prime- time Sunday night (Feb. 17) on “The Iron Dragon”: the Yiwu-Madrid rail route of the New Silk Road. Notably, French and Swiss public TV networks were involved in producing the program, which told the story of Yiwu-Madrid through the eyes of 60 people who work on the railway in the eight countries through which it crosses, ranging from machinists to cargo inspectors, international trade experts, and businessmen.

Nepal Pushes for Expanding Belt and Road Initiative

Sputnik reports that the Chinese government today officially handed over to the Nepalese government the expanded Kalanki-Koteshwar section of the Ring Road in the Nepali capital Kathmandu, which Beijing had financed.

At the ceremony, attended by China’s Ambassador, Nepal’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli said that “Nepal and China are set to identify several other projects under BRI [Belt and Road Initiative] framework, besides striving to complete projects like the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway on time.”

Nepal has developed its relationship with China’s great New Silk Road project in order to become a transportation bridge between China and India, and its stance affects that of India.

Prime Minister Oli rejected outright the British Imperial attack against the Belt and Road: “Even though there are some rumors, let us be clear that we are not going to fall into debt trap,” he was quoted in Nepalese media, reported Sputnik. “Instead, the BRI is going to be beneficial for us. We are aware of our national priorities and interests. Nobody should be worried about it at all.”

World Food Program Head Praises China, as Greatest ‘Success Story’ in Ending Hunger

David Beasley, the Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP)— the food-assistance branch of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security—was interviewed on Jan. 24 by CCTV on the sidelines of the Davos Forum. He said:

“When you look where the world has gone in the last few decades, [there are] a lot of success stories around the world, but there’s no greater success story than China. China has reduced the number of people that are hungry by 800 million people in the last 40 years. And it needs to be replicated, modeled and using that experience in other parts of the world. We would like to have your expertise and involvement, and engagement in addressing hunger in countries around the world. So China has gone from being a beneficiary country to now a donor,” said the WFP executive director.

He further stated: “China is a global superpower. China has a role to play in helping the world move in a more peaceful, stable direction. And I think the quicker that the West and China can find that path to work together, I think the world will benefit from that.”

Czech President Endorsing New Silk Road

Czech President Milos Zeman said he supports his country’s companies to participate in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and he firmly hopes it would help boost the country’s industries such as railways and real estate. He made the remarks in an interview with Xinhua in Prague on Jan. 24. He said he has a dream that the “New Silk Road will lead through the Czech Republic to Western Europe.” Praising the Belt and Road as a “wonderful initiative,” Zeman said courage is needed for such a project.

As for China’s development, Zeman said China is a major country both politically and economically. He said China has been successful in increasing the standard of living of its people, and the middle class is growing in the country. He also stressed that his country adheres to the one-China policy.

Switzerland Clearly Opts for New Silk Road

Swiss President Ueli Maurer said, after a meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan ahead of the Davos World Economic Forum, that he views the Belt and Road as offering many good opportunities for Swiss industry. In contrast to substantial restrictions which the EU has imposed against Chinese direct investments into European companies, the Swiss, which are not part of the European Union, will not do so.

Maurer pointed out that the Swiss economy has greatly benefitted in the past from unrestricted access to other countries, therefore the Swiss do not fear Chinese investors and will welcome them, rather than impose restrictions on them. Maurer hinted during a state visit to China last April that he will sign a far-reaching agreement of cooperation with the Chinese.

Wang Qishan turns out to be very interested in the history of Switzerland, particularly its relations with, and independence from, the House of Hapsburg—the Wilhelm Tell paradigm. The Chinese official was given a tour of the original Hapsburg castle in Aargau, yesterday, and at a reception there, exchanged views with local officials on the history of the Hapsburg Empire and the relation to the Chinese Empire 500 years ago, along the old Silk Road by land and by sea, which connection is currently revived with the New Silk Road.

Philippines Case Proves China ‘Debt Trap’ Is Fake News

A serious study of Philippines debt compared to the development of the real economy by a doctoral student in the U.S. has provided powerful proof that the hysterical campaign against the Belt and Road Initiative in the West—centered on the lie of China creating debt traps aimed at taking over nations around the world—is unreconstituted organic fertilizer.

Alvin Camba, a PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins University, has conducted in-depth research on the Philippines economy for several years. On Jan. 18 he published some of his findings, titled “Examining Belt and Road Debt Trap Controversies in the Philippines” on the Jamestown Foundation website. After reviewing the many articles claiming the Philippines is a model of China’s debt trap, he counters: “In the case of the Philippines, the country possesses economic fundamentals that mitigate against the danger of excessive indebtedness. Between 1999 and 2014, Philippine debt increased from $51 to $77 billion. However, at the same time, the country’s external debt to GDP ratio (in percentage) decreased from 61.6% to 27.3%. The total amount of the country’s annual debt service during those years ranged from $6.5 to $7.5 billion, but the percentage of debt service decreased from 14.6 to 6.2%, indicating that less of the country’s GDP has been used for servicing debt.”

Even more important, Camba writes that the opponents of the BRI “ignore the likelihood that projects that generate internal demand could successfully contribute to economic growth.” He points to the rise in overall productivity created by, especially, the two rail lines being constructed by China in Luzon.

He also states that China is not the only investor in Philippine infrastructure, but that “more than half of developmental infrastructure projects in the country are funded by the Japanese International Corporation Agency and the Asian Development Bank.”