The Belt and Road

Infrastructure construction should match with the development of the industry, Director General of the BRI Centre

On May 30, African and Chinese officials spoke highly of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a positive impetus to further drive the momentum in China-Africa cooperation.

They made the joint remarks during the Belt and Road Dialogue for China-Africa Cooperation, which was jointly organized by the African Union (AU) and the Chinese Mission to the AU in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.

Zhai Dongsheng, Director General of the Belt and Road Initiative Centre, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of China, made four proposals for China-Africa cooperation during the dialogue.

He said that the infrastructure construction should be moderately advanced, but it should not be too pre-mature as it needs to match closely with the development of the industry.

The following is the full text of the keynote address of Zhai Dongsheng at the Belt and Road Dialogue for China-Africa Cooperation.

Keynote address at the Belt and Road Dialogue for China-Africa Cooperation

By Zhai Dongsheng, Director General of the Belt and Road Initiative Centre, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) of China

May 30, 2019 Addis Ababa

Dear Ambassador Liu Yuxi, Commissioner Amani, Political dignities, Distinguished guests, Good Afternoon!

First of all, Let me congratulate for the opening of the Belt and Road Dialogue for China-Africa Cooperation today, and I also congratulate for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement  (AfCFTA) to come into force today, which is a great thing for China and Africa joint cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative.

In April this year, China successfully held the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. This forum focuses on the joint development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and emphasizes that the BRI cooperation should be open, green and clean, following a high-standard, people-centered, and sustainable approach. These are the basic requirements for China’s next phase of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, pursuing high quality in both cooperation results and cooperation processes. This is not only a response to the international community’s concerns on Belt and Road cooperation, but also a higher requirement to the Chinese overseas companies. China is actively adding higher pressure on itself and has firm confidence, determination and capability to fulfill its commitments, and we welcome the international community, including the AU to inspect, and we also hope to work together for practical implementation.  For the past two days, during my discussions with AU officials and Think-Tank experts, they all expressed the hope for China-Africa cooperation to bring benefits to SME growth and youth employment; I think this is both compulsory and viable.

This forum further identified the key focus for Belt and Road cooperation, that is, full scale comprehensive connectivity. It includes both hard infrastructural connectivity such as transportation, energy, telecommunication, water conservancy, municipal construction, and soft connectivity related to strategy, policy, rules and standards. Just like the hard disk and software in a computer, infrastructural connectivity and soft connectivity are equally important.

The forum also proposed that we should strengthen the cooperation mechanism for the Belt and Road Initiative, and build a global interconnected partnership. Chinese traditional medical science clearly indicates that physical health requires a free flowing circulatory system and pleasant emotions. Similarly, we believe that if both the hard connectivity between various geographical regions and the soft connectivity between the mankind’s thoughts and civilizations are to be realized, then the challenges faced by mankind, such as poverty, hunger and conflicts will be addressed accordingly.

Many African countries’ development paths, national and natural conditions are similar to those of China. Therefore, we are on the same wavelength and should learn from each other, assist each other and benefit from each other for even better win-win results.

After more than 40 years of rapid growth through reform and opening up, only China has formed the  industry system with complete categories in the world. The agricultural production capacity is so strong to the extent that we have completely met the basic needs like food and clothing for 1.4 billion people. The industrial production capacity is also very strong with manufacturing capacity ranking number one in the world in terms of many products. Furthermore, industrial technologies such as aerospace, high-speed rail, clean energy, supercomputer, are world leading; the new digital economy featured with e-commerce and mobile payment that emerged in recent years is at leading position; China’s desertification governance, disaster prevention and reduction, prevention and control of infectious diseases are also in the forefront of the world. At the initial stage of the reform and opening up, China gave priority to the development of infrastructure, which effectively guaranteed the tremendous development of the economy and society. In the process of construction, it also cultivated a large-scale and capable construction team. More importantly, in the 41 years of reform and opening up, China has accumulated effective experience and ideas for developing the economy and improving people’s livelihood and well-being, which have aroused the interest of many African friends.  Many African countries are in the early stages of industrialization and urbanization, and many industries are waiting for prosperity with huge market demands. China is very aware of the urgency and fully appreciates the grand ideals of AU and African countries in building infrastructure, developing industry and agriculture, and improving people’s living standards. China’s supply capacity is particularly suitable for Africa’s needs in this regard.

I’d like to make four proposals for China-Africa cooperation as follows:

Firstly, we should strengthen the two sides’ strategic planning coordination, and implement them one by one with strong determination. China has proposed that the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative has basically completed its blueprint design stage and entered into a new stage of intensive implementation and detailed execution. China’s next step is to implement various plans and policies thoroughly, including strategic cooperation plans, infrastructure construction plans, capacity cooperation plans, which have been signed by African Union and African countries with the Chinese government and its various departments including the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). These plans should be transformed into investment cooperation projects, and become visible, tangible, and enjoyable results with benefits to be shared by ordinary people.

Secondly, against surging trade unilateralism and protectionism, China is accelerating the transformation of foreign trade investment structure. Under the BRI framework for international cooperation, China will strengthen trade and investment cooperation with infrastructure construction, industries investment and industrial park construction in Southeast Asian and African countries to reduce dependence on certain individual country markets. China also actively advocates the expansion of imports:  On the one hand, this is the demand for China’s own development; on the other hand, it also serves the purpose to balance the import and export between China and its partner countries. China’s foreign exchange reserves are very large but too much foreign exchange is neither economic nor scientific. At the same time, those partner countries also need to expand exports to earn foreign exchange for further import and repayment of the debts arising from infrastructure construction and, consequently China will also gain benefits. I hope that China and Africa will strengthen and accelerate cooperation in trade and investment.

Thirdly, we should promote more synergistic, deeper and more detailed cooperation between China and Africa. This is the conclusion I made after discussions yesterday with AU officials and some local political dignities, as well as talks with HESPI (The Horn Economic and Social Policy Institute) think tank experts today. For example, we agreed that the infrastructure construction should be moderately advanced, but it should not be too pre-mature as it needs to match closely with the development of the industry. In order to develop digital economy, we must first build telecommunication network facilities, improve network coverage and network speed, reduce information costs, and improve the penetration rate of computers and mobile phones. It is necessary for us not only to cooperate in the development of manufacturing, but also to cooperate in the development of logistics, finance, tourism and other service industries. The development of all industries requires talents to support. The common difficulty faced by Chinese companies for cooperation in Africa is that it is difficult to recruit suitable talents locally. Therefore, China and Africa should also strengthen cooperation in higher education and vocational education, and train more engineering and technical talents, management talents and skilled workers that are suitable for their own development needs. Chinese companies must involve local technical management talents during the engineering design stage and train them. It is necessary not only to get the project constructed well, but also to operate and maintain it well after the completion of the project so that we can really do good deeds in good ways.

Fourthly, China welcomes all countries with cooperation will to participate in the BRI actively, including enterprises from the project destination countries and developed countries in Europe and America. China also welcomes all large multinational corporations and international financial institutions to get involved in this great initiative.  China has signed third-party market cooperation documents with more than 10 countries including France, Japan and Singapore. We welcome these countries to join China and participate in African construction.

Finally, I wish this dialogue a complete success. Thank you!

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