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China has been having a hard time convincing the world of its noble intentions for the Belt and Road Initiative. So, for the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, it has enlisted an unlikely ally: an animated durian fruit called Little Thai.
For the unfamiliar, durian is considered a delicacy in Asia, but is not universally beloved, much like Belt and Road itself: its smell is so rank and potent that it is banned on Singapore public transport, for example, while it tastes – to Euromoney anyway – like antiseptic cheese-infused custard with an aftertaste of a burnt-out hairdryer motor.
Anyway, in a three-minute animation, Little Thai shows us around her durian orchard in Thailand and explains how the Belt and Road has helped to improve the ability for her to be sold in China and turned into durian hot pot and durian pizza. “How wonderful the life is in China!” says Little Thai. “We are hailed as the king of fruits by our Chinese friends.” Little Thai also helpfully points out that durian exports from Thailand to China went up 700% last year, “as flourishing as my durian home.”
Breaking somewhat from its children’s cartoon persona, our durian friend continues in a sing-song voice: “Little Thai heard that the government of Thailand is actively seeking greater complementarity between the Belt and Road and Thailand’s strategic planning.”
Beijing needs all the good PR it can get for the initiative which has attracted concerns of asset-grabbing in markets like Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Djibouti. That said, it seems a mothballed project emblematic of the problems, a high-speed rail link in Malaysia, may now be going ahead. Which will be good for durians.