During 2013, the Chinese government launched an ambitious program of international investments and partnerships, the New Silk Roads. The historic reference was obvious. More than 1000 years ago, the Middle Empire had created inside the country the necessary transportation modes to dispatch towards Central Asia and then towards Europe the silk and the objects made with porcelain which were prized by local aristocracies. These connections were then extended through maritime links towards the Africa Eastern coasts, mainly dedicated to the raw materials trades. So were born the Silk Roads. That year, in order to well showing how the new project was in the line with the country history, had been organized at the National Museum located in Beijing on Tien-an-men Square an exhibition of paintings, drawings and sculptures showing how, along centuries, the transportation of these goods had been made possible.
Ten years after its launch, is going to be organized in Beijing an international Forum to celebrate the anniversary of the New Silk Roads, whose denomination had been changed in 2017 after criticisms by the Western leaders, into the Belt and Road Initiative. More than 90 countries have already announced they will participate at this forum which has, as an objective, to show to advantage the cooperation agreements concluded with at least 150 countries and 32 international organizations. The China Foreign Affairs department has said that more than 3 000 cooperation agreements had been concluded in ten years, representing investments of near 1000 billion dollars.
The first projects, in line with their historical origin, had as their objectives the creation of “corridors” to connect China with Russia, with Central Asia and beyond with Europe. After, the program turned towards Southern Asia with links towards Pakistan, Bangladesh, Laos and Vietnam. These infrastructures were making easier the Chinese exportations but constituted for these countries an advantage for their own transportation modes because, deprived of enterprises, qualified workforces and financings, they never would have been able to realized them alone. With the increase of the raw materials needs, the geographic scope, as in the Middle Age, was then extended to Africa.
Beijing has also taken a geopolitical advantage with an increase of its influence in the world. At the origin, the New Silk Roads had generated some indifference in the Western countries. The situation has changed with the election of Donald Trump at the White House and the tensions with Beijing which have resulted from it, and at last with the growing importance of the projects in Africa. The financial difficulties of several countries have been used as a pretext to denounce the excesses of the Chinese policy, which, coming from former colonializing countries, was at least a paradox. If they need the support of China, it is also because, in Europe, their economic development and their modernization had not been considered as a priority and enough appropriated resources had not been put into place.
China has so progressively used the Belt and Road Initiative to increase its influence on the international scene through the constitution of a network of countries, if not allied but at least ready to support its positions. It has been possible to notice it with the enlargement of the BRICS group and the incapacity at the last G20 to pronounce a clear condemnation of Russia, regarding its invasion of Ukraine.
The nature of the projects has also evolved and they are not exclusively dedicated to international transportation infrastructures. In a few weeks will be inaugurated the high-speed-train line joining the Indonesia capital, Djakarta and the Java province, realized with the support of the B.R.I. and we can expect the attendance of high Chinese leaders at the ceremony. For the same reasons, the Golfe leaders, the Saudi Arabia and the Emirates in first position with Egypt are congratulating themselves about the achievement of projects which have contributed to their country modernization.
Europe, at much lower levels, but nevertheless in a significant way, has also directly taken profit from it. The day after the Greek crisis, the country has decided to privatize the Pyrée harbor. The Chinese group Cosco has taken a 51% participation in its installations and since then, traffic has not ceased to grow thanks to heavy investments to improve the containers management capacities. Other European countries, which have signed Agreements with the B.R.I., as Hungry, will attend the Beijing Forum.
But the major transformation could come from the freight transportation. Lines have been built inside the country going until its borders and which have been extended thanks to the B.R.I. financings until the heart of Europe and now go to Poland and arrive into Germany. In ten years, the line which goes through Interior Mongolia, has alone registered 13 000 freight trains carrying more than 12 million of tons of goods for a value estimated by the Customs Authorities of 30 billion dollars.
The technological evolutions as the policies fighting against climate warming have all the chances to increase again the investments needs which can enter into the scope of the B.R.I. and it will definitely be the message sent by Beijing to participants. The electrification and the growing digitalization of the societies will need investments in power production and in networks construction along with a growing need of strategic raw materials, whose deposits are very far from the places where they are utilized. Maritime transportation infrastructures in producing countries are frequently insufficient. China, which has prepared itself to that situation, will so continue to bring its know-how and its financings.
The sector which is considered as the most hurt in the future is the car industry. There too, the Chinese leadership is undisputable and its competitiveness, thanks to the size of its internal market doesn’t need to be proved; exports to Europe will continue to accelerate. Nothing is so more simple and less costly than the rail to transport the models. We can so expect a strong increase of the traffic in the coming years with unlimited freight trains on which will be put the models of the new electric vehicle Chinese giants as BYD and Great Wall. There too, criticisms formulated by Europe are difficult to understand because these lines can be used in both directions and the exporting countries to China have no reasons to criticize their existence and would do better to use them.
The Belt and Road Initiative is permanently the purpose of criticisms in the Western countries and especially in France. The weakening of the financial situation of African countries which would unwisely have put them in a dangerous cooperation is denounced; but even if in certain cases, these critics are founded, they are without any relation with the magnitude of the already realized investments which have contributed the world growth and to the development of countries which needed it. These critics have distorted attention of the essential points and have dissuaded the French enterprises to look for taking profit of these opportunities through the utilization of the new logistic tools made available by these programs.
The analysis which, in Africa as in many other countries, pretends that the Chinese initiative will go to failure is a deep mistake. The strong adhesion, notably of the Southern Asia countries, and the increase of the traffic which will result from it make us thinking that in the future these infrastructures will look rather like new highways.