By Kiana Wilburg
China’s Belt Road and Initiative (BRI), which aims to bring infrastructural development to various regions, has developed a reputation among most nations as being a debt trap. Even though the world’s most populated country has formally denied such criticisms, the stain still remains. In light of this, China is now looking to embark on a serious rebranding campaign for the initiative.
This rebranding effort is outlined in a report that was prepared by the Advisory Council of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.
The first meeting of the Advisory Council was held on 16-17 December 2018 in Beijing, with its discussion focused on the Synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in promoting world economic growth; Priorities for the Belt and Road cooperation; and the ways forward in strengthening the architecture and capacity building for the Belt and Road cooperation.
It was noted by the Advisory Council that by the end of March 2019, 125 countries (of which Guyana is one) and 29 international organisations had signed instruments of cooperation with China to promote the Belt and Road cooperation. The Council wants these partners to help China rebrand the initiative to the world in order to garner more public support, boost confidence and address concerns of various stakeholders.
The Council said it will be important to ensure that the Belt and Road projects are consistently of high quality, sustainable, viable and inclusive so that project delivery matches the vision for the Belt and Road.
It further suggested that better branding could include efforts to accomplish a series of model projects, including both landmark projects that would fundamentally contribute to the socioeconomic development of the host countries and some quick-wins that allow people to feel the real benefits of the Belt and Road cooperation in the short run. It said that this would help to increase the sense of gaining for local communities, establish a good reputation of the Belt and Road projects in their host countries, and avoid the risk that the misperception may pose obstacles to the goal of maximising cooperation among countries.
Additionally, it was noted that better branding also needs improved publicity for the Belt and Road projects.
The Council said, “It is suggested that all partners, not only the governments, but also the private sector, civil society, non-governmental organisations and academia, should be engaged in improving understanding of the Belt and Road cooperation among the general public by raising the profile of success stories and model projects and sharing lessons learned.”
The Council said, too, that it will be important to elaborate on the full story line of the projects in order to cover the whole life cycle of the projects, so as to clear the “misunderstanding” and present clearly the full impact of outcomes of the Belt and Road cooperation. It said that research-based thematic papers on the Belt and Road cooperation are also encouraged.
But what the Council stayed clear of including in its rebranding campaign is acknowledgement of the fact that there are several countries which are left chained to years upon years of debt because of the Belt and Road Initiative.
For over a year now, Kaieteur News has been at the forefront of exposing how the debt burden from China’s BRI has been breaking the backs of nations which signed up for it.
Sri Lanka, for example, was forced to sign over its strategically important Hambantota port to a Chinese state-owned company on a 99-year lease in 2017. The transfer of the port was to lift some of the enormous billion-dollar debts Sri Lanka owed to Beijing, debts which came from loans that helped fund Hambantota in the first place.
Other countries which have landed in the same situation are Sri Lanka include Pakistan, Djibouti, the Maldives, Fiji and Malaysia. (See link for further details: https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/category/chinas-modus-operandi/).
In spite of the revelations made by this newspaper and the international reports warning countries about the BRI being nothing more than a debt trap, Guyana still signed onto it.
Other Caribbean nations, which have done the same include Jamaica, Barbados, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, and the Dominican Republic.
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