China cities special report: Milestones along the New Silk Road
China has turned the concept of a New Silk Road from rhetoric to practical reality in the two years since the initiative was revealed by Xi Jinping. Here are some of the key dates along the journey so far.
by Simon Parry
September 2013: Chinese President Xi Jinping announces the concept of a Silk Road Economic Belt covering China and Central Asia for the first time during a visit to neighbouring Kazakhstan. Speaking at the Nazarbayev University in Astana, he says the area covered is the biggest market in the world and describes the New Silk Road initiative as “a great undertaking benefitting the people of all countries along the route”. This is the first public mention by a Chinese official of the strategic vision.
October 2013: In his maiden Southeast Asian tour, President Xi proposes a new Maritime Silk Road in a speech to the Indonesian parliament, and also proposes the establishment of an Asian Infrastructure Bank to finance infrastructure construction and promote regional economic integration.
November 2013: The Central Committee of the Communist Party endorses the New Silk Road initiative and calls for the accelerating of infrastructure links among neighbouring countries to make it possible.
December 2013: President Xi, speaking at the Communist Party’s Central Economic Work Conference, calls for strategic planning for the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative and speaks of building a “community of common interests” along the route.
February 2014: President Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to work together on the New Silk Road project and to connect the routes to Russia’s railway network stretching from Asia to Europe.
March 2014: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers a government work report in which he calls for a speeding up of construction work on the New Silk Road routes. The report also cites the need for balanced development of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
May 2014: The Marine Silk Road begins to take shape as the first phase of a $98 million logistics terminal in the port of Lianyungang in China’s Jiangsu province goes into operation. The terminal is designed to be a base for goods travelling along the New Silk Road from Central Asia to travel on to overseas markets.
October 2014: Twenty-one Asian countries sign up as founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and, in a memorandum of understanding, agree that Beijing will be the base for the bank’s headquarters when it is formally established at the end of 2015.
November 2014: President Xi announces a Silk Road Fund to pay for infrastructure and other projects targeting industrial and financial cooperation between countries along the route of the New Silk Road and pledges $40 billion to the fund from China.
December 2014: The ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative is singled out as a priority for the year ahead by the Central Economic Work Conference. In the same month, China and Thailand agree a draft memorandum of understanding on cooperation over railways between the two countries.
January 2015: New Zealand, the Maldives, Tajikistan and Saudi Arabia add their support to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. By August, the number of regional and non-regional founding members of the bank will climb to 57.
February 2015: The Silk Road Fund goes into operation. In the same month, China sets out a detailed vision of the New Silk Road, spelling out its priorities as transport infrastructure, increased trade and investment between countries along the route along with cultural exchange and financial cooperation.
March 2015: In a keynote address at the opening of the Boao Forum on Hainan Island in China, President Xi outlines the ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy to an international audience. He says: “The programmes will be open and inclusive, not exclusive. They will be a real chorus comprising all countries along the routes.”
March 2015: Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi says China will focus its international diplomatic efforts in 2015 on the New Silk Road initiative and dismissed comparisons between the ‘One Belt, One Road’ policy and the US Marshall Plan which saw the US funding post-war economic recovery in Europe.
May 2015: President Xi returns to Kazakhstan, where he first announced the ‘One Belt, One Road’ policy, and also visits Russia and Belarus to discuss cooperation over the New Silk Road.
June 2015: A study by a London-based investment bank finds that the majority of 67 overseas loan commitments since late 2013 made by China’s largest policy lenders – the China Development Bank and the China Ex-Im Bank – have been in areas that fall under the ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy. The bank calculates that infrastructure project loans accounted for 52% of the loans and trade finance for 30% with the value of the 67 loans totalling $49.9 billion.
September 2015: A major international auditing firm estimates that more than $250 billion worth of infrastructure projects have been contracted since the launch of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy two years earlier.