Photo taken on Oct. 17, 2015 shows the aerial view of the port in Beihai city, southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Beihai city, starting point of China's ancient marine silk road towards outside world, plays an important role in China's foreign trade over 2,000 years ago. To revitalize economic prosperity, Beihai is playing catch-up by joining the movement behind the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road to make its port an export channel for west China and a star of the modern version of the maritime Silk Road. (Xinhua/Huang Xiaobang)
BEIJING, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Since the Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative was proposed four years ago, China has expanded its "circle of friends" in the B&R region with fruitful achievements in infrastructure construction and capacity cooperation, seeking further development in the future.
Put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the initiative aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes.
Statistics from China's Ministry of Commerce indicated that China's direct investment in 53 countries along the routes reached 14.53 billion U.S. dollar and the total value of contracts China signed with 61 related countries amounted to over 126 billion dollars in 2016.
The B&R has delivered promising early results that have benefited other countries and regions -- showing the great development potential of the initiative, according to Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng.
In the spirit of regional connectivity, China has initiated railway, road, civil aviation, electricity and telecommunications projects across the B&R, said Gao in February.
"Because of new infrastructure projects, the B&R region's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 grew by 4.6 percent, exceeding the developing economy's average growth of 3.6 percent," said Lu Yao, capital projects and infrastructure director of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers China.
China has signed more than 130 bilateral and regional transport agreements with countries involved in the B&R, according to the Ministry of Transport.
The on-going Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway (HSR) project in Indonesia, an investment of 5.1 billion U.S. dollars, was officiated by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in January last year.
The mega project, a significant achievement in the early stage of the B&R, is the first overseas HSR project that brought along a full set of its systems, total elements and industrial chains, said Xie Feng, Chinese ambassador to Indonesia.
The 142-km-long railway project would make passengers experience shortened traveling time of around half an hour between Jakarta and Bandung, spurring economic activities along the line.
Chinese investment in Indonesia not only brings capital and technology, but also creates numerous job opportunities and adds the people's prosperity, said Said Aqil Siradj, chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organization.
The development of overseas HSR projects will accelerate circulation of logistics and personnel, promote local economy and achieve mutual benefits and win-win results, according to Huang Qiang, lead researcher at China Academy of Railway Sciences.
Chinese businesses helped build 56 economic and trade cooperation zones in about 20 countries along the B&R with a combined investment surpassing 18.5 billion dollars, generating nearly 1.1 billion dollars in tax revenue and about 180,000 jobs in those countries, Gao said.
More than 1,000 Chinese corporations have entered these zones, generating output value of 50.9 billion dollars, according to Zhao Jinping, director-general of the research department of foreign economic relations at the Development Research Center of the State Council.
The Thai-China Industrial Park in Rayong, located some 200 km from Bangkok, is now the biggest center of industrial cluster, manufacturing and export of China's traditional industries in ASEAN countries.
"We helped expand development space and also filled the gap of optical fiber technology in Thailand," said Wang Jianyi, president of Futong Group, which is based in southeast China.
So far, the industrial park has attracted about 90 corporations with agreements of 2.5-billion-dollar investments. It has generated tax revenue of 120 million dollars and offered more than 20,000 local jobs.
China has pushed forward the B&R with solid progress and stepped up policy coordination with the B&R countries, which have responded positively with practical coordination strategies.
The initiative has so far gained the support of over 100 countries and international organizations, and more than 40 of them have signed cooperation agreements with China.
The concept of the economic belt was first proposed by Xi on a visit to Kazakhstan in September 2013. Kazakhstan was the first country with which China started capacity cooperation and strategic coordination.
The two sides have achieved some early results, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang said on his visit to Astana this month, referring to the 51 major cooperation projects worth over 27 billion dollars and more than 1,200 China-Europe freight trains that passed through Kazakhstan.
During Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Australia in March, the two sides agreed to integrate the B&R initiative and Northern Australia development plan.
Jan Adams, Australia's ambassador to China, has said that the B&R and the Northern Australia development plan are highly complementary on a strategic level, and that the two sides have achieved consensus on aligning the two efforts.
"From Australia's point of view, the Belt and Road initiative is important because it enables our companies to partner with Chinese State-Owned Enterprises more easily and our ability to have Chinese companies involved in Australia is made much easier," said Malcolm Broomhead, chairman of Australian mining services company Orica.
During Li's visit to New Zealand in late March, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the initiative, making New Zealand the first western developed country to participate in the B&R.
The visit has prompted the establishment of organizations supporting the B&R. For example, the Oceania Silk Road Network (OSRN) is being forged by New Zealand business interests, headed by William Zhao, director and CEO of the China-owned Yashili New Zealand Dairy Company.
"There's a group of us exploring setting up this mechanism and it's in an environment where there's a growing interest among organizations focused on China to explore ways that New Zealand can engage more in China's very important initiative," said Martin Thomson, head of New Zealand-China Trade Association and one of the four OSRN initiators.
President of the ruling National Party Peter Goodfellow and National legislator Yang Jian have also announced the launch of the B&R promotion mechanism, a public service platform and network system to boost cooperation with China.
With the imminent B&R Forum for International Cooperation to be held from May 14 to May 15 in Beijing, development of the initiative has stepped into a golden period.
Thus far, 28 heads of state and government leaders have confirmed their attendance at the forum. Other delegates include officials, entrepreneurs, financiers and reporters from 110 countries, and representatives of 61 international organizations.
By hosting the forum, China hopes to discuss cooperation, promote strategic coordination and deepen partnerships in the next stage, so as to advance international cooperation and achieve a win-win result with the development and structural adjustment of Chinese economy and society, according to strategy group of GF Securities.
The B&R will be "the future engine" of globalization, said former World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy in Jakarta in March.
As many countries around the world are sliding toward protectionism, China "will probably be the stabilizing factor of the global trade," he said.
In 2017, mergers and acquisitions of infrastructure in the B&R region will rebound, while new projects will continue to be released and more green technologies will be applied in infrastructure, Lu Yao predicted.
Electric utility, medical treatment and railway construction are three hot fields with great potential in the next development stage, Lu said.
(Xinhua reporters Zhou Liang, Xu Haijing, Zhao Bo, Tian Ye, Qian Zheng, Xu Yuan, Zhou Wenqi, Cheng Qun, You Zhixin and Yu Qianliang contributed to the story)