Guest Opinion: The 3rd Belt and Road Forum: win-win or win-lose?

2023-10-21 12:32:08 | Author:by Xin Ping |

More than 4,000 world dignitaries gathered in Beijing this week for the 3rd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation and were greeted by the capital's ring roads decorated by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) logo, slogans and galleries depicting flagship projects.

There's no better occasion than the 10-year celebration for stocktaking and future planning. During the three high-level forums covering connectivity, green development and the digital economy, BRI partner countries discussed how this grand project contributed to global development. They reaffirmed their commitment to more high-quality BRI cooperation and inked more mutually beneficial deals.

Despite being hailed as a "global game-changer" that delivered tangible benefits to people worldwide, the BRI has long been targeted by some who wrongfully label it as a geopolitical scheme "crippling developing countries with heavy debt" and "pushing lucrative projects at high environmental costs." But is the BRI losing steam? Why does the West criticize it? How do Chinese authorities respond to such criticism? Out of curiosity, I analyzed the transcripts of the Foreign Ministry press conferences over the past decade. Let me share some interesting findings.

Over the past 10 years, the foreign ministry spokespeople gave 2,056 briefings and took questions from over 105 Chinese and foreign media, among which 646 were about the BRI, covering its motives, projects, goals and external doubts. The two key words of this all-encompassing corpus are "win-win" and "win-lose," reflecting the very nature of the ideological divide over the BRI between different countries.


Even those skeptical know that the BRI is not an empty slogan but a slew of concrete actions. As the fastest-growing economy for decades, China has the know-how to achieve leapfrog growth through connectivity. For many developing countries especially, this is precisely what they need to get through the biggest bottleneck for development. In Africa, one of the major destinations of BRI investment, this abbreviation has become a household word because it connects closely with people's daily lives.

For example, suburban road construction in Madagascar, also known as the "egg road" project, transformed the bumpy sand roads into wide, smooth asphalt that links egg-producing rural areas and Antananarivo, the capital city. The road considerably shortened the driving time and secured the transportation of 150,000 eggs per day for local poultry farmers. One broken egg less, one more dime in farmers' pockets.

All the new roads, railways, and airlines built under the BRI are like blood vessels that have greatly improved local transportation, enabling a more efficient trade network and slashing the cost for Africa to access the global market. If this doesn't improve living standards in Africa, what will?

Contrary to the predictions of some "fortune-tellers," the BRI didn't turn out to be a one-off deal but a sustainable solution. Dovetailed with the development strategies of countries participating in the initiative, the BRI is not a one-sided transaction. It identifies common interests and grounds for cooperation in light of local needs and strives to address the real concerns of the local people.

According to the latest BRI white paper released a week before the Forum, over 2,000 Chinese agricultural experts and technicians have been sent to over 70 countries and regions to help build a "Food Silk Road." The food road reconnects global food supply chains and delivers Juncao and hybrid rice technology to impoverished populations to better respond to food crises, making an incredible contribution to global poverty reduction.

Evolving with time, the BRI today is not only about "building big" but "building smart." Harnessing mushroom-growing technologies involving AI and clean energy, the BRI is gaining strategic relevance by spearheading the Global South's progress towards a greener and smarter growth paradigm.

Research shows that the 28 power plant projects, both wind and solar, invested by China potentially provided nearly 9,000 jobs and generated around 40 million U.S. dollars worth of production value in Pakistan's green sector.

At the forum's opening ceremony, China announced the Global Artificial Intelligence Governance Initiative, expounding China's proposal for hard-to-predict risks and challenges surrounding technologies that require a global response.


Getting back to my analysis of the foreign ministry spokespersons' transcripts from the ministry's official website, negativity surrounding the BRI involves plunging partners into a "debt trap," imposing "nontransparent terms" and "damaging the environment." These assertions are all underpinned by a "win-lose" or "zero-sum" approach: Competition is where one side wins and the other loses.

Alarmed by the expanding global influence of the BRI, the United States is attempting to orchestrate geopolitical contests to compete for attention, with the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment and the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor as the latest examples. However, such "alternatives" to the BRI still have much to prove.

Although promising to marshall 600 billion U.S. dollars by the end of 2027, the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment has delivered little investment for participating countries and failed to identify precise methods of protecting poor countries from crippling debt. Observers have questioned the India-Middle East-Europe plan launched by the club of the wealthy as a fanciful ambition to connect India and Europe, amounting to nothing more than a castle in the air.

Such plans pursued by Western powers, who are less inclined to set aside differences and strive for the common good, seem to share the same geopolitical logic of dividing the world into blocs and out-compete China. This idea of division hampers the world's every effort to seek common development through cooperation and makes the projects forged from Western plans bear a "colonialist flavor."

In his centerpiece speech at the forum's opening ceremony, Chinese President Xi Jinping cited the story of Zheng He, a famous navigator in the Ming Dynasty who made seven voyages to the Western Seas. Zheng is one of the pioneers of the Silk Road who "won their place in history not as conquerors with warships, guns or swords" but as "friendly emissary leading camel caravans and sailing treasure-loaded ships." China is acting from its belief that factional friction and differences aside, we are living in a global community with a shared future defined by borderless challenges and opportunities.

Today, the statue of Zheng He stands at Kenya's bustling railway station, greeting passengers boarding the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway and witnessing how the major BRI transport project on the African continent shortened distances and brought people closer.

In a turbulent world facing mounting global challenges, solidarity and cooperation is the only viable option for the world to better meet the challenges. With the 3rd Belt and Road Forum, we have every reason to believe that the BRI's next decade will present the world with a more certain and win-win future.

Editor's note: The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News, Global Times, China Daily, CGTN, etc. He can be reached at

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Xinhua News Agency.