Many foreigners have benefited from China's Belt and Road Initiative
Local Chinese governments helped these people find venues, waive rent and had preferential policies
Customers dine in a Redfort restaurant in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. Photo: Courtesy of Dev Raturi
For Dev Raturi, an entrepreneur from India, the launching of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (the Belt and Road) Initiative in 2013 transformed his life.
Drawn by higher earnings in China, the then 29-year-old came to Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province in 2005, where he worked as a restaurant waiter. Seeing the huge profits in the catering industry, Raturi later decided to start his own business.
But all his efforts to find a proper restaurant location came to nothing until 2013, when Chinese top leaders implemented the B&R initiative, which covers more than 60 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa.
The Xi'an government in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province reached out to Raturi at that time and offered him a venue to open his restaurant.
Xi'an, an ancient imperial capital and the starting point on the east end of the Silk Road, is one of the first cities that responded to the B&R initiative. The city started building a Silk Road Culture Street to introduce foreign businesses.
Raturi isn't alone. Under the initiative, now more and more foreigners along the Belt and Road routes are joining him to pursue a new beginning in China.
On January 12, National Development and Reform Commission spokesperson Zhao Chenxin said at a press conference that Chinese enterprises have invested more than $18 billion, created more than $1 billion of tax income and more than 160,000 jobs in the countries along the Belt and Road routes.
In 2005, Raturi's job as a restaurant waiter earned him approximately 3,000 yuan ($437) a month, three times of what he earned in New Delhi.
Then he came to Beijing where he worked in Chinese and Western restaurants and was promoted to manager. Before quitting that job to start up his own business, his monthly salary was 30,000 yuan.
In 2011, he started to search for a location to establish a restaurant of his own. But the search in several cities at the beginning had been in vain. Echoing the B&R initiative, the Xi'an government approached him with an offer, a site of 600 square meters and waived rent for the first year.
"The location is at the heart of the street. We got good deal from the mall management with very nominal rent and license support. The local government also supported us with the visa and tax cuts," Raturi told the Global Times.
The restaurant named Redfort quickly gained popularity, and Raturi opened another Redfort in the city in April 2015, before expanding the chain to other cities around the country.
Guests in his restaurants not only experience Indian cuisine but also Indian culture, with activities like yoga, handicrafts, celebration of Indian festivals and Bollywood dances.
Like Raturi, Vishal Bahekar, a doctoral student of medicine in Xi'an, also grasped the golden age of entrepreneurship. He established a 400-square-meter health center in the city, providing Indian-style therapy to Chinese customers with illness like rheumatism and rhinitis. He also offers yoga courses to help recuperate the body and mind.
Last year, with the help of the local government, he obtained an office that was seven times larger. And he is ambitious in bringing more Indian doctors to China and expanding his business.
The initiative had benefited Xi'an in return. Shangguan Jiqing, mayor of Xi'an, pledged in September last year to build the city into the most energetic and innovative place along the Silk Road, and achieve an import and export value of $50 billion by 2020, nearly double that of 2015.
Kheshti Mostafa from Iran, a PhD student of Electrical Engineering of the Xi'an Jiaotong University (Jiaoda), also felt the changes the B&R initiative has brought.
"The initiative is not only for the business sector, but also for science and technology," Mostafa told the Global Times, citing that Jiaoda has cooperated with more than 100 universities along the Belt and Road routes and invited scientists to travel around to discuss the latest academic findings.
While studying in Jiaoda, he had opportunities to meet companies relevant to his major and got to know what China's capabilities in technology are, especially in renewable technology.
"I will introduce this technology to other countries, especially to my own country, to begin some projects. We need renewable technology to build power plants, wind farms or solar plants," he said.
In recent years, he felt that more Iranians are coming to study in China, and he thinks the trend was partly because of the B&R initiative. "They either continue to study here or return homeland to work, and become cultural bridge of the two countries," he said.
Mostafa was recently appointed Jiaoda's Honorary International Student Ambassador and the university also offered him a job to teach in the international school after he graduates in July.
He believes the initiative is a win-win game. "It is an initiative to bring countries closer to each other and that is what I understand. And this is a good opportunity to make our countries as a family to help each other. It's a perfect partnership, just like developing yourself while developing others," he said.
Raturi agrees. He has hired many Chinese employees. In addition, he insists to use 30 percent of his earnings into charity work both back in his hometown and in China. He donated to poor people, subsidized students and visited welfare houses.
"With the B&R initiative, there will be a boost in culture, exchanges, trade, employment and economy among the silk road countries," Raturi said. "We would like to contribute towards creating opportunities and cultural exchanges among both nations."
Bahekar also told the Global Times that in return for what he gained in China, he's planning to open a health center in India, promoting Traditional Chinese Medicine and culture to Indian people.
Calling for more actions
Mostafa said he will continue to improve his understanding of Chinese culture and language. Raturi has asked his wife and two children to move to China.
But they still hope the Chinese government can do more, such as relaxing visa policies.
"We have many employees from India whose visa applications are getting delayed. The Chinese government should be more flexible and simply the process. They should also issue long-term visas, like three or more years, such as the ones Japan and Korea are issuing," Raturi suggested.
Out of more than 100 employees in his restaurants, 38 are Indians.
Mostafa hopes that Chinese government can make it easier for them to renew visa and provide different visa packages to people who would like to do long-term business or long-term work in China.
While people like Raturi has gained from the initiative, many still said it hasn't brought them any benefits.
"Not all participants will feel the change. The entrepreneurs will enjoy the benefits first. Besides, some businessmen and workers are still unaware that their products are actually exported through the channels built under the B&R initiative," said Chen Fengying, an expert at the Institute of World Economics Studies under the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
She told the Global Times that China is actually building a platform and the country which makes better use of it can get more benefits.
So far, China has signed more than 40 contracts with countries and international organizations to jointly build the Belt and Road.
Chen said besides cooperative contracts, the construction of Chinese-built railways and ports in countries like Indonesia, Laos and Greece is also smoothly progressing. "Besides, China steps up trade parks buildings along the road. So far, more than 50 foreign trade parks have been built," Chen revealed.
"We stress that the Belt and Road is not a strategy, but a public products. We are the initial investors. With supplements of China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Silk Road Fund, the B&R initiative will become a new model for global management."