China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is often denounced by Western media outlets as a Chinese "debt trap," but bustling ports from Southeast Asia to Europe provide good examples of how BRI projects can bring tangible benefits to the economies involved.
Chinese companies have participated in the construction and operation of more than 40 ports under the BRI, one of which is Greece's biggest port in Piraeus. China's major shipping operator COSCO has been managing some of the port's cargo piers since 2010, when the country's debt crisis scared global investors away.
Now Piraeus has shot up world rankings of container ports, standing at 36 now compared with 93 in 2010 in terms of container handling capacity. According to official data, the port's direct economic contribution to the Greek economy has exceeded 600 million euros ($706 million), with more than 10,000 jobs created. COSCO has helped boost the port's container traffic under its plan to turn Greece into a transshipment hub for rapidly growing trade between Europe and East Asia.
Piraeus is a symbol of BRI projects that bring tangible benefits to local economies. China is witnessing a boom in outbound investment, which has injected new impetus into the EU economy. While Washington's confusion about the BRI stands in the way of China-US economic cooperation, European countries are playing an active role in the initiative.
The EU Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Center has issued a report that said "it is being observed that smaller projects and market opportunities, which are more suited to EU SMEs, are increasingly an element of the BRI as it evolves from its beginnings a few years ago."
At a time when US trade protectionism threatens the global economy, China's BRI is providing opportunities for European companies in areas such as infrastructure, logistics and energy, serving as a bright spot in China-EU economic cooperation.
The potential for economic cooperation between China and the EU under the BRI is huge, and the next step may be infrastructure investment in third-party markets to open up new trade routes in areas such as Central Asia.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times.
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