China has been pouring billions of dollars in large infrastructure projects in foreign countries for the last three years with the aim of building new Silk Road trade routes.
Under the "One Belt, One Road" initiative comprising the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the Asian giant is focusing on building a trade and infrastructure network for connecting at least 60 Asian countries with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes.
It aims to boost not only China's development but also that of other countries, according to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who came up with the idea, also known as "Belt and Road" initiative.
China, the world's largest exporter of goods since 2009, needs such a network to maintain its double digit growth by opening new markets for its consumer goods and to increase its dominance over the region in a peaceful manner in the name of trade, say analysts.
The move faces criticism that the revival of the ancient routes is a "geopolitical tool" aimed at extending China's influence in the region. Beijing, however, keeps dismissing such criticism, saying it is an open and inclusive initiative for regional cooperation, not a political tool.
Jinping announced the initiative in September 2013 during his visit to Kazakhstan, a major stop along the ancient Silk Road.
Only six months into assuming the office of president, he visited four Central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
In a speech on September 7, 2013 in Kazakhstan, he himself disclosed the visit's underlying significance by proposing to join hands to build a Silk Road Economic Belt. He promised billions of dollars of Chinese investment in Kazakhstan. The country agreed to the proposal.
Jinping again visited Kazakhstan in May last year to accelerate the pace of his Belt and Road Initiative.
In the last three years, he visited many countries along the ancient Silk Route, and China signed many deals with the countries concerned, promising to invest billions of dollars in different sectors, particularly for infrastructure development.
Beijing looks to garner international favour through a massive investment effort in Europe and Asia to surpass the US on the world stage, said Sputnik in a report on June 3 this year.
In recent years, China planned infrastructure projects involving over $200 billion for construction, and $1 trillion for other projects are on the horizon, dwarfing US foreign investment by several orders of magnitude, mentioned the online news and radio broadcast service established by the Russian government-controlled news agency Rossiya Segodnya.
The Chinese president also focused on South Asian region to keep China's growing footprint in the region by investing in large infrastructure projects. In the last two years, he visited India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. And during the visits, dozens of deals were signed between these countries and China that pledged investments involving billions of dollars.
In his upcoming Bangladesh visit, Jinping is expected to make a pledge of big investment in Bangladesh, and to focus on his "Belt and Road" initiative.
On Sunday, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed told The Daily Star that the amount of commitment from the Chinese president was yet to be decided, but it would not be less than $20 billion.
WHAT'S SILK ROAD
The original Silk Road came into being during the westward expansion of China's Han Dynasty more than 2,100 years ago. It forged trade networks throughout what are today the Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan, as well as modern-day Pakistan and India to the South. Those routes eventually extended over 4,000 miles to Europe.
Valuable Chinese silk, spices, jade, and other goods moved west while China received gold and other precious metals, ivory, and glass products. The route peaked during the first millennium.
As silk was the major trade product of China, German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen coined the term “Silk Road” in 1877.
The Silk Road ceased to be a shipping route for silk around 1453 with the rise of the Ottoman Empire, whose rulers opposed the West.
ONE BELT, ONE ROAD INITIATIVE
In his speech in Kazakhstan in 2013, Jinping said China wants to create a vast network of railways, energy pipelines, highways and streamlined border crossings, both westward -- through the mountainous former Soviet republics -- and southward, toward Pakistan, India, and the rest of Southeast Asia.
Under the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, China is now working to build an economic land belt that includes countries on the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East and Europe, as well as a maritime road that links China's port facilities with the African coast, pushing up through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean.
The project aims to redirect China's domestic overcapacity and capital for regional infrastructure development to improve trade and relations with ASEAN, Central Asian and European countries.
China has also announced investing in port development throughout the Indian Ocean, and in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Pakistan to accommodate expanding maritime trade traffic.
During his Sri Lanka visit in 2014, Jinping pledged to invest $1.4 billion to build a vast “port city” in the island's capital.
In Bangladesh, China is willing to build a deep seaport at Sonadia in Chittagong with an estimated investment of $14 billion.
WHY CHINA WANTS IT
China has multiple reasons for pursuing the New Silk Road, said Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based public policy think tank, in an article on May 25 last year.
Jinping has promoted a vision of a more assertive China, while the "new normal" of slowing growth puts pressure on the country's leadership to open new markets for its consumer goods and excess industrial capacity, it said.
PROGRESS OF THE INITIATIVE
The “Belt and Road” initiative has gathered substantial pace in the last three years.
"So far, up to 34 countries and international organisations have inked deals with China to build the Belt and Road Initiative, while over 70 countries and organisations have voiced support for and willingness to join the initiative," said China's official news agency Xinhua in a report on June 17 this year.
A network of regional inter-connectivity is gradually taking shape under the initiative, said the report on progress of "Belt and Road" initiative.
"The Hungary-Serbia railway and the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail [projects] in Indonesia have begun construction, while a pan-Asia railway network, including the China-Laos, China-Thailand railways, has been launched. A number of highway projects are being pressed for implementation."
Construction of Economic corridor has also seen substantial progress, the report said.
"Many major projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor have begun construction, while progress has been made on the China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor, the new Eurasia land bridge economic corridor, and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor," said Xinhua.
In November 2014, China announced the creation of a $40 billion Silk Road Fund.
Xinhua said the Fund has begun its operation.
"Under the initiative, trade and investment have boomed, with free trade agreements and regional cooperation taking quicker steps. Trade and investment growth in areas within the Belt and Road Initiative have witnessed more than twice the speed of global average," it added.
CREATION OF A BANK
Under China's leadership, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was set up by 21 countries with a registered capital of $100 billion in October last year for funding Asian energy, transport and infrastructure projects.
The countries are China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Laos, Myanmar, Mongolia, Nepal, Oman, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
The AIIB has unveiled its first investment projects, focusing on Pakistan, Tajikistan and Bangladesh, which maintain close relations with China.
February 15 of 2016 has become a milestone in Jinping's vision to build new Silk Road trade route as the first cargo train from China to Iran arrived in Tehran on that day.
The 32-container train passed through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to Iran taking 14 days to complete the 6,462-mile journey from China's eastern city of Wiyu. It took 30 days less than a typical sea voyage between Shanghai and the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
This development took place just a few weeks after Jinping visited Iran, becoming the first global leader to do so since the economic sanctions were lifted.
"Countries along the Silk Road are striving to revive the ancient network of trade routes," said Mohsen Pour Seyed, president of Iran Railways Company.
"The arrival in Tehran of the train in less than a fortnight has been an unprecedented achievement," added Seyed.