BRI's openness, inclusiveness help build an open world economy that benefits all
Initiative offers inclusive platform for global cooperation that transcends ideological differences
Published: Oct 16, 2023 05:40 PM
A view of the Piraeus Port in Greece Photo: VCG

A view of the Piraeus Port in Greece Photo: VCG

On a summer afternoon this year, bridge cranes were in constant movement, loading and unloading massive cargo ships at the container terminal of the Port of Piraeus, about 10 kilometers southwest of Athens. A seemingly endless stream of ferries was arriving or departing the port. Rows of new cars were parked on the dock waiting to be shipped. 

With a glorious history dating back to ancient Greece, the port has seen such hustle and bustle before. But due to various factors, the port was in a downtrend for years. The 2008 global financial crisis further brought the port into serious trouble. But then at the toughest moment, came help. In 2008, China's COSCO Shipping Group signed a contract to run the port. 

After COSCO Shipping invested more than 1 billion euros ($1.05 billion) in the construction and upgrade of the port, the port saw a remarkable comeback. Its ranking in terms of container throughput surged from 93rd in 2010 to 29th in 2021, becoming a leading port in the Mediterranean region. 

"COSCO's investment in Piraeus Port proved to be a successful move for the benefit of both countries," Evangelos Kyriazopoulos, Greek Secretary General for Maritime Affairs and Ports, told the Global Times in a recent interview. 

"Today, cooperation with China in the upgrading of Piraeus Port and its connection with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a significant element for the future projections of the Greek economy."

Symbol of openness

The revival of one of the world's oldest ports has become a vivid display of how the BRI, also based on ancient glory, has boosted economic activity across the world over the past decade. That's not all. For many, cooperation between China and Greece on reviving the port and other projects also shows the openness and inclusiveness of the BRI, which offers a major international platform for all countries and regions to cooperate based on mutual respect and win-win results, regardless of differences in their ideologies, politics and development stages.

"Our partner through the BRI is officially committed to an open global economy. The vision behind this is to move economic globalization toward win-win results and inclusiveness," said Kyriazopoulos.

Greece is a Western country with membership in the EU, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. However, such a status did not stop the country from deepening cooperation with China under the BRI. At the Port of Piraeus, commercial vessels from all over the world come and go, in stark contrast to claims made by some Western officials and media outlets about the port being used by China for "non-commercial" purposes.

Chinese Ambassador to Greece Xiao Junzheng said that such claims are baseless and many countries, not just China and Greece, have benefited from the revival of the Port of Piraeus, which has become a transshipment hub to Europe for cargo from many countries. 

"China's promotion of the joint construction of the BRI is not driven by geopolitical maneuvering, nor does it pursue self-interest for hegemonic purposes," Xiao told the Global Times during a recent interview, noting that over the past decade, the BRI has evolved into a widely embraced international public good and a platform for international cooperation.

As of June 2023, China had signed more than 200 BRI cooperation agreements with more than 150 countries and 30 international organizations across five continents, according to an official white paper on the BRI released ahead of the third Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation, which is scheduled for October 17-18. Also highlighting the growing popularity and diversity of the BRI, this year's BRF will welcome guests from more than 130 countries and over 30 international organizations. 

"The BRI involves countries in different regions, at different development stages, and with different cultures. It transcends differences in ideologies and social systems," the white paper read. 

Inclusiveness in practice 

The openness and inclusiveness of the BRI is reflected in the diversity of the countries participating in the joint construction. Apart from Greece, some Western countries such as Italy have also participated in and benefited from BRI cooperation. 

While some Western officials and media outlets have claimed that Italy's BRI cooperation is "futile," Chinese Ambassador to Italy Jia Guide told the Global Times that such claims are "baseless," and the facts speak for themselves as China-Italy cooperation has yielded fruitful results in many fields from trade to tourism to people-to-people exchanges.

New Zealand was the first developed Western economy to sign a memorandum of understanding on BRI cooperation. Since the signing of relevant cooperation documents, China and New Zealand have been cooperating more closely in advancing policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity, Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wang Xiaolong told the Global Times in an interview. 

All the BRI projects also adhere to the principles of openness and inclusiveness. Just as the Port of Piraeus welcomes commercial vessels from all over the world, the China-Europe Railway Express trains also carry products to and from not just China but other countries along the routes, and the China-Laos railway has carried passengers from more than 60 countries on six continents.

Passenger cars are waiting to be uploaded onto trains for the China-Europe Railway Express at Xi'anguojigang Railway Station in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on September 21, 2023.

Passenger cars are waiting to be uploaded onto trains for the China-Europe Railway Express at Xi'anguojigang Railway Station in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, on September 21, 2023.

Moreover, while some Western countries have not officially signed up to the BRI, their companies have benefited from participating in many BRI projects. As early as 2018, German conglomerate Siemens said that it had signed more than 10 cooperation agreements with Chinese firms to cooperate in BRI projects in areas such as power generation and energy management. US companies such as General Electric also benefited greatly by selling equipment to BRI projects, according to media reports. 

"The China-proposed BRI is open to all. We encourage more countries and enterprises to participate in depth and form synergies for development," Song Wei, a professor at the School of International Relations and Diplomacy at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Sunday, noting that it is a win-win for Chinese and Western companies to cooperate in carrying out BRI projects in countries and regions that have huge demand for infrastructure and other development needs.

One model of cooperation for Chinese and Western companies is third-party market cooperation. China has signed bilateral investment agreements with 135 countries and regions, and third-party market cooperation documents with 14 countries, according to the official white paper on the BRI. 

"The BRI is a public road open to all, not a private path owned by any single party. It is free from geopolitical calculations. It does not aim to create an exclusive club, nor does it target any party. It does not form cliques based on specific ideological standards. It has no intention of establishing military alliances," the white paper read.

Another crucial significance of the BRI is the continuous opening-up of China's economy, which in itself brings tremendous opportunities for countries participating in the initiative as well as the global economy as a whole, experts noted. 

"The BRI has great significance in China's high-level opening-up," Song said, adding that China's sustained development and continuous opening-up offer great impetus for not just global economic stability and growth but also for the development of an open world economy.