By Amor A. Lopez
Dunhuang, China – What other nations dream of, China, which has the second largest economy in the world, has already achieved at home – infrastructure, technology, stable economy and flourishing trade.
While the Trump administration modified its strategy towards making America great again with its “America First” policy, China embarked on a “socialist with a Communist character” policy patterned after the ancient Silk Road. It has opened its “highway of friendship and cooperation” to the world, to include as many countries in the road to progress through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
And China says it is right on schedule, and all set to boost international economic and social progress under the Silk Road spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit with over 100 countries and counting.
The BRI was unveiled by President Xi Jinping in 2013 to improve global economic cooperation with countries across Asia, Europe and Africa “in the face of the weak recovery of the global economy, and complex international and regional situations” triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
Vice Premiere Zhang Gaoli describes the BRI as the “Chinese solution to the world’s challenges.” And four years after, countries along the Belt and Road have undergone rapid transformation after reaping the benefits of an idea that has become “one of the important events” in the economic world today.
“The first direct train from China arrived in the UK this year loaded with Chinese goods, taking 16 days, instead of the usual 32 days at sea. The train returned to China filled with British merchandise. There is nothing better than promoting trade as it brings prosperity,” Guy Zitter, senior advisor, Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT) from the United Kingdom, said to illustrate the bright prospects of the Belt and Road.
There are now direct flights from Hongkong to Dublin, Ireland. Hainan, an economic zone now has 52 connecting flights to Belt and Road countries. It has also opened island-wide speed rails, inked sister-city agreements with 11 countries and gave scholarships to Chinese students to enhance people exchanges.
Under the concept of BRI, China is “committed to shoulder more responsibilities and obligations within its capabilities, and make greater contributions to the peace and development of mankind.
China will likewise “take full advantage of the existing bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanisms to push forward the building of the Belt and Road and to promote the development of regional cooperation.”
With focus on infrastructure building, China has set up a $40-billion Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in 2014 to fund BRI projects – bridges, roads, highways, railways, dams, reservoirs, toll roads, tunnels, shipyards – and provide credit lines for projects to boost connectivity for mutual benefit.
Reuters reported that the China Construction Bank Corp (CCB), the country’s second-biggest bank by assets, is raising at least 100 billion yuan ($15 billion) to finance Belt and Road investments. Citing sources privy to the matter, Reuters said CCB was raising cash onshore and offshore and has already been running roadshows with investors. Three other banks – the Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd and the Agricultural Bank of China Ltd are considering similar fundraising plans.
President Xi pledged last May a $124-billion funding to build a modern Silk Road.
Reports show that the initiative has already created $1.1 billion in tax revenue and more than 180,000 jobs for participating countries.
Li Chenggang, assistant Minister of Commerce, said in the next five years, investments would amount to $150 billion that would see an increase in employment and improved lives in countries along the Belt and Road.
Two weeks ago, a state-owned investment firm provided Iranian banks a $10-billion credit line that would finance water, energy and transport projects aside from a $10-billion pledge in loans for infrastructure and production projects. China is already Iran’s biggest oil customer.
On the Philippine side, the AIIB for the first time agreed to extend $207.63 million this week to co-finance the $500-million Metro Manila Flood Management project. The remaining cost will be shouldered by the World Bank and the Philippine government.
The warming of Philippine-China relations has translated to economic benefits. Chinese Ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua noted that China is now the largest trading partner, largest import market and fourth largest export destination of the Philippines.
To assess the impact of the BRI and enhance the role of media in promoting the initiative, the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, and the government of Gansu province gathered over 300 media practitioners from various platforms to exchange views on how the world sees China with this new scheme. Also participating in the forum were analysts, members of the academe, government officials and representatives from the business community.
At the recently concluded 2017 Media Cooperation Forum, the People’s Daily also launched an International Studies Center for Belt and Road and welcomed 14 experts on international studies from 12 countries as the first batch of foreign expert committee members. Lu Xinning, deputy editor-in-chief of the People’s Daily, said the center would conduct in-depth analysis on major international events and China-related topics concerning policies, economy, security and strategic interests.
Professor Emeritus Colin Mackerras of Griffith University of Australia agrees that the modern Silk Road plays a very important function and “because of the growing influence of China, it is important we hear China’s point of view internationally. Some are pessimistic. Some say it won’t work but after years of study, the BRI will have far-reaching influence, a tremendous positive impact. Looking at the big picture of history, China is getting stronger.”
One of the panelists in the forum, Alistair Michie, vice chairman of The 48 Group in the United Kingdom, said “the gap between China and the world is massive and this is why media cooperation is necessary. China has to make important steps to make the world understand it better.”
Michie said China’s message is not getting across because it still uses the directive message. “The only way you can get across is to persuade, so China has a huge journey to go of moving from the directive message to learning how to persuade,” Michie added.
To do this, Michie said, “China has to energetically embrace big data to find out what people think about their products and optimize it through advertising. Politicians in the US and Europe have used big data … as a way to find out what the voter thinks and how to design the message. China hasn’t used this because China is still using the directive message…What Pakistan thinks about Belt and Road is different from what Poland thinks about Belt and Road. Use big data to analyze what people think about the Belt and Road in all individual countries and then construct direct messages and these are specific to move opinion in these areas and that could then be used.”
“China has to use the Internet more successfully to influence people outside… Collaborate with forums. Create optimal websites that have messages directed at specific target audiences. That way you are going to shift opinion in a very dramatic way. I don’t think you can do this through print media because print media is in a ruthlessly competitive position… So solution is big data and collaboration,” Michie urged China.
Christophe Ayad, editor-in-chief (international) of Le Monde, France said Chinese audience has limited access to news because China has blocked news websites. The websites of Le Monde, Google, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, New York Times, Bloomberg, BBC, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Economist, Financial Times and Netflix, to name a few, have been blocked by China. But despite the ban, media representatives from Reuters, The Financial Times, Le Monde and Bloomberg were invited to the forum.
The speakers lament the rise of fake news in the Internet instead of the true story with social media aiding its proliferation. The speakers urged media to make sure that it disseminates the truth and not fake news.
Chenggang said: “Media is the bridge for China to understand the world and for the world to understand China and enhance understanding of other peoples. So media will play a very important role in interpreting policy and enhance cooperation.”
John Liu, executive editor of Bloomberg, Greater China said: “There needs to be a better explanation about the objective of the BRI. There is a lot of suspicion. There is a need for a more detailed explanation so that suspicion will subside and this is where media should play a role.”