Centuries ago, on the backs of camels and by ship, through sun-scorched deserts and turbulent waves, merchants and explorers traveled back and forth along the ancient land and maritime Silk Road and galvanized trade and contact between East and West.
Today, China, inspired by the legacy of this historical commercial route, has proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), seeking to pool the efforts of the world to blaze a new path towards shared development and common prosperity.
The initiative has reaped tangible results in the six years since its birth in 2013. It has also accumulated worldwide support. So far, 126 countries and 29 international organizations have signed up to the initiative.
Flourishing BRI cooperation has over the years helped nurture faster trade and investment flows, allowed for easier financial access, and created more extensive people-to-people exchanges across Asia, Europe, Africa and beyond.
There are a few reasons behind the BRI's productivity and popularity. First of all, it stems from the spirit of openness, inclusiveness and mutual benefit.
Two years ago, when addressing the opening of the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF), Chinese President Xi Jinping said, "We are ready to share practices of development with other countries, but we have no intention to interfere in other countries' internal affairs, export our own social system and model of development, or impose our own will on others. In pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, we will not resort to outdated geopolitical maneuvering."
Within the BRI cooperation framework, China has advocated and practiced the principle of "extensive consultation, joint development and shared benefits," seeking self-development while at the same time bringing opportunities, experience and capital to its BRI partners and the broader world as well.
As testimony to the BRI's relevance and significance in today's world, its vision has been included in documents of major international institutions and cooperation platforms, including the United Nations, the Group of 20, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Second, the BRI provides a platform for fostering closer ties between countries.
Guided by the Silk Road spirit, the initiative aims to promote cooperation in five major areas -- policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, trade, finance and people-to-people exchanges.
Policy coordination is key to smooth cooperation. Beijing never tries to impose the BRI on others but pays close attention to aligning the initiative with the development strategies of its BRI partners. So far, it has signed policy agreements with other BRI participants on rules and standards, taxation, intellectual property protection and disputes settlement.
Infrastructure development has also made notable headway. In Greece, co-managed by China's COSCO SHIPPING, the Piraeus port has seen its container handling capacity increase fivefold since 2010 to 4.9 million TEUs last year. It now ranks 36th among the top 100 ports worldwide on the Lloyd's List, a major industry parameter, up from the 93rd when COSCO SHIPPING first joined. Other connectivity projects in areas including railways, roads, air transport, energy, and telecommunications have also made visible progress.
These projects have delivered business opportunities not just for Chinese companies, but also for enterprises around the world. For example, in building a wind corridor in Pakistan's Sindh province, U.S. multinational conglomerate General Electric is contracted to work with PowerChina and provide wind turbines. The U.S. company will also provide 10 years of operation and maintenance services.
Thanks to the China Railway Express freight trains shuttling between China and Europe, Chinese companies registered in the western German city of Duisburg have grown from about 40 in 2014 to over 100 now. Freight services there have increased from three trains per week to around 40, stimulating local economic growth and creating over 6,000 jobs.
On financial cooperation, China works with its BRI partners and major global financial institutions to ensure a diversified and strong flow of funds for key BRI-related projects.
Since its launch in 2016, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has become one of the key multilateral platforms for BRI construction, and has won growing global trust and recognition.
As of the end of 2018, the AIIB had 93 members, and had approved loans of 7.5 billion U.S. dollars on 35 projects in 13 countries including Indonesia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Oman, Turkey and Egypt.
Third, the BRI is trying to help lay down a new path to more prosperous global trade, a more open world economy, and more inclusive economic globalization.
Over the past six years, total trade between China and other countries participating in the BRI has exceeded 6 trillion dollars, and China's investment in these countries has surpassed 80 billion dollars. Also, the latest studies by the World Bank and other international institutions show that BRI cooperation will cut the costs of global trade by 1.1 to 2.2 percent and contribute at least 0.1 percent of global growth in 2019.
Also, the BRI is making a difference that ordinary people can feel. A recent World Bank report shows that BRI-related investments can help lift 8.7 million people from extreme poverty and 34 million from moderate poverty in a variety of countries.
The 82 cooperation parks jointly built by China and 24 participating countries have created more than 2 billion dollars in tax revenue and about 300,000 jobs for host countries.
At a seminar marking the BRI's fifth anniversary last August, Xi said the initiative has sketched out a "freehand brushwork" and now it is time to work out a "meticulous painting" and steer BRI cooperation towards quality-driven development.
The second BRF, which started on Thursday in Beijing, offers an opportunity for doubters to better understand why the initiative has drawn interest across the globe, and they are welcome to jump on board.