Against a backdrop of chaotic organisation and tightly-controlled media, BRI forum saw Xi Jinping take centre stage. BRI’s main projects are the ports of Piraeus (Greece) and Gwadar (Pakistan) and railway lines to Europe and South East Asia. However, pollution and corruption have cast their shadow over the initiative.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – The Second Belt and Road Initiative Forum for International Cooperation, which ended on Saturday, left many participants unhappy.
One major issue was the lack of a clear schedule, leaving attendees either waiting for hours on end or scrambling to catch up after an event started suddenly.
Another issue was tight media control and the inability of Chinese officials to speak to any media organisation about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) itself or the trade war between China and the United States. Only Xi Jinping's speech received broad coverage.
At the end of the Forum, a joint statement was issued, signed by China and 37 other countries in which a certain number of infrastructural projects (ports and railways) were touted as symbols of what the BRI can do.
Beijing hoped to use the Forum to counter world mistrust vis-à-vis its plans and show that BRI can meet the expectations of local populations and investors.
BRI’s highlights include the Port of Piraeus (Greece) and that of Gwadar (Pakistan). According to several experts, the Greek port has the possibility of becoming China’s "gateway to Europe".
State-owned shipping firm Cosco Holdings took a 67 per cent stake in the port in 2016. Greece’s largest seaport is now ranked 36th of the world’s 100 biggest ports, up from 93rd in 2008.
Gwadar's port is another flagship BRI project, but its funding by China is under investigation for graft. Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, who was elected last year, wants to review the project.
Railways are BRI’s other main area. Topping the list is the China Railway Express, which is expected to connect Chongqing, in central China, to London.
Launched in 2011, the railway will eventually link 60 Chinese cities with 50 cities across Central Asia and Europe. More than 14,000 freight trains are expected to use it every week. However, its environmental impact is one of the reasons it is disliked by some European countries.
Other railway projects mentioned include the China-Laos Railway, the China-Thailand Railway, the Hungary-Serbia Railway, and the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway.
There was no mention of the East Coast Rail link in Malaysia. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who earlier threatened to cancel the deal because of its high cost, this month signed a new agreement for the project with China after Beijing cut the price by 30 per cent.