Only thing to fear about Belt and Road is fear itself

The Belt and Road Initiative aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes.

The first freight train of China Railway Express running from Weihai to Duisburg is pictured before departing from the Weihai port in Weihai city, east China's Shandong province, 15 September 2017.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, used to tell his countrymen at the height of the Great Depression that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

Roosevelt’s words can serve as an admonishment for some Europeans and Western media who portrayed as if a monster the Belt and Road initiative launched by China in 2013. While projects connected with the Initiative have benefited foreign countries, including those in Europe, some expressed their bias against China in the pretext of national security concerns.

The fear was amplified by a story in the New York Times in late August, which called China’s investment in Greece “a kind of neocolonialism without the gunboats.” Their accusation was refuted during the New Silk Road Forum in Greece’s second largest city of Thassaloniki in September, during which representatives of news agencies along the route pointed out that Chinese investment in Europe is mutually beneficial.

Organized by Greece’s national Athens News Agency (AMNA), the forum focused on the cooperation of countries as well as news media along the Belt and Road and looked at improving communication, facilitating trade and enhancing cultural ties. Responding to the New York Times’ story, Michalis Psylos, president of AMNA, told Xinhua that “nobody cares about the NYT report.”

“We think the relationship between China and Greece is of strategic and geopolitical importance, and the news agencies in both countries wish to continue the promotion of the cooperation for it is mutually beneficial for the two countries and the two peoples,” he told Xinhua.

Greece’s financial crisis which broke out in 2008 brought its major port, at Piraeus, to the brink of bankruptcy.

Fearing investment in the harbor by China’s COSCO SHIPPING would erase any prospect of revival, Yannis Lagoudakis, mayor of the Greek municipality of Perama, was one of the locals who did not warmly welcome the change of hands at Piraeus port at first. But he changed his mind sooner than expected.

When COSCO SHIPPING took over, Piraeus port was listed 93rd in the world ranking of cargo tonnage and now is 38th. COSCO SHIPPING, which also purchased a majority stake in the Piraeus Port Authority last year, will help create 125,000 jobs in the region.

Lagoudakis told Xinhua that he is convinced that Sino-Greek collaboration at Piraeus port is promising and beneficial, and the revival of the Silk Road in this era of globalization will offer Greece the opportunity to become “a key hub between China and the rest of Europe.”

Miguel Sanchez, director of the economic and financial section at Spain’s EFE news agency, told the Forum: “We are very happy to see in these days the growing number of Chinese companies in Spain because Chinese companies are offering more and more high-quality products.”

Why the smear campaign?

The economic ties between Spain and China have been facilitated by the China-Europe freight train from Yiwu city in east China’s Zhejiang province to Madrid. As one of the first outcomes of the Initiative, the important bridge of Eurasian connectivity would allow Spain to become a hub for connections with North Africa and Latin America, said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last May in China.

The Initiative also improves Spain’s trade balance with China, with record of exports worth over 5 billion euros (US$5.47 billion) in 2016 and an expected further growth, according to Rajoy.

Asked why smear campaign has been run against China’s investment, Sanchez said China is “growing and becoming more and more competitive each day. The best way to fight against you is to say that you are doing nothing or doing things in the wrong way.”

The Belt and Road Initiative aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes.

As of last May, over 60 countries and international organizations had signed agreements with China on Belt and Road cooperation. Total trade between China and other countries along the Belt and Road exceeded US$3 trillion between 2014 and 2016, and Chinese investment in these countries surpassed US$50 billion.

A multi-dimensional infrastructure networ underpinned by economic corridors featuring land-sea-air transportation routes and information expressways and supported by major rail, port and pipeline projects is taking shape.

Chinese investment is not focused on one country, but is a boon to the economic development of countries in southern Europe, said Nenad Babic, executive officer of Serbia’s TANJUG news agency.

“China invested in Serbia’s biggest iron producer under the framework of Belt and Road,” he told Xinhua. “The construction of the railway connecting Serbia and Hungary will be done also with the financial help of Chinese banks. The railway will connect southern Europe with the Piraeus port in Greece which will facilitate the big trade in the whole region.”

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