Xiao Weiming, director general of the Department of General Affairs at the Office of the Leading Group for Promoting the Belt and Road Initiative;
Song Lihong, director general of the Comprehensive Department at the Ministry of Commerce
Hu Kaihong, spokesperson for the State Council Information Office of China
April 22, 2019
Hu Kaihong: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and welcome to this press conference. Today, the Office of the Leading Group for Promoting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) issued "The Belt and Road Initiative: Progress, Contributions and Prospects," and its text has been published by the Xinhua News Agency. To offer more information about the document, we are delighted to welcome two of the officials involved to update you on the development of the BRI and to answer your questions. They are Mr. Xiao Weiming, director general of the Department of General Affairs at the Office of the Leading Group for Promoting the Belt and Road Initiative; and Mr. Song Lihong, director general of the Comprehensive Department at the Ministry of Commerce. Now, I'll give the floor to Mr. Xiao.
Xiao Weiming: Ladies and gentlemen, friends from the press, when General Secretary Xi Jinping visited Central Asia and Southeast Asia in 2013, he proposed the initiative of jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, known for the Belt and Road. This has received a positive response and widespread support, and has been followed with great interest by the international community. To promote the implementation of this major initiative, the Chinese government has set up a leading group and established the Office of the Leading Group for Promoting the Belt and Road Initiative within the National Development and Reform Commission.
Ahead of the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF), being approved by the Leading Group for Promoting the Belt and Road Initiative, the Office of the Leading Group has released the book "The Belt and Road Initiative: Progress, Contributions and Prospects." This is the third time for the Chinese government to publish the progress of BRI project construction, which is also one of the major achievements of the second BRF. From an objective, rational and fair perspective, the report has summarized the experience of building the BRI over more than five years as a way to further enhance the international community's understanding of this joint building initiative, and to promote mutual political trust, economic integration and people-to-people connectivity among different countries. The BRI also aims to work together with the international community to cope with the challenges facing the global economy, to create new development opportunities, to seek new driving forces for development, to realize advantageous complementarities and mutual benefits, and to work together toward the jointly building of the community with shared future for mankind — so that a new journey of BRI construction can soon be embarked upon.
The report contains around 18,000 words and consists of four parts: Preface, Progress, Contributions, and Prospects. It will be published in Chinese, English, French, Russian, German, Spanish, Arabic, and Japanese. Today, I will present the Chinese and English versions to you. The other six versions will be issued soon.
The report pointed out that the BRI adheres to the principle of joint construction through consultation to bring benefits to all, and has achieved remarkable results in the past five years. All participants have benefited from the BRI and have a growing sense of identity and engagement with the initiative. This corresponds with an old Chinese saying: the peach and the plum do not speak, yet a path is born beneath them (a sincere man attracts admiration).
In terms of policy coordination, the Belt and Road Initiative and its core concepts have been written into relevant documents of organizations including the United Nations, the G20, APEC and other regional organizations. So far, China has signed more than 170 cooperation documents with more than 150 countries and international organizations, including the China-Mongolia-Russia cooperation plan, and bilateral cooperation plans with Kazakhstan, Cambodia, Laos, Czech Republic, Hungary and Brunei.
In terms of facilities connectivity, the construction of six international economic cooperation corridors has been steadily advanced, playing an important role in establishing and strengthening interconnected partnerships among countries and building an efficient and smooth market for Asia and Europe. The China-Laos Railway, the Sino-Thai Railway, the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, and the Hungary-Serbia high-speed railway have all solidly advanced. Projects such as Gwadar Port, Port of Hambantota, Port of Piraeus and Port of Halifa are progressing smoothly. Significant progress has been made in energy cooperation ¬– electricity, oil and gas, nuclear power, new energy, coal, etc. – and the construction of cross-border optical cable information channels. As of the end of March, the China-Europe freight rail service network has exceeded 14,000 trips.
In terms of smooth trade, China launched the Initiative on Promoting Unimpeded Trade Cooperation along the Belt and Road -- so far, 83 countries and international organizations have been actively involved. China has signed or upgraded the free trade agreements with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Singapore, Pakistan, Georgia and other countries and regions. Since the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, China has signed more than 100 customs inspection and quarantine cooperation documents with countries along the route, and has achieved food quarantine access for more than 50 kinds of agricultural products.
In terms of financial and monetary integration, China, together with 27 countries, has endorsed the Guiding Principles on Financing the Development of the Belt and Road. The People's Bank of China has worked with multilateral development institutions to finance over 100 projects stretching across more than 70 countries and regions. The China-IMF Capacity Development Center and the Belt and Road Financial Development Research Center have been inaugurated. So far, 11 Chinese banks have established 76 first-level institutions in 28 countries along the Road. The cross-border RMB payment services have expanded to cover nearly 40 countries and regions along the Road.
In terms of people-to-people ties, China established the Silk Road Chinese government scholarships, and signed agreements with 24 countries along the Belt and Road route granting mutual recognition of higher education degrees and diplomas. China also concluded visa abolition agreements with 57 countries along the Belt and Road covering different types of passports, and reached 19 agreements with 15 countries to simplify visa procedures. The country also established overseas traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) centers and 43 bases for international cooperation on TCM in 35 countries along the Belt and Road.
In terms of industrial cooperation, from 2013 to 2018, direct investment from Chinese enterprises to countries along the route hit US$90 billion and the turnover of foreign contracted projects surpassed US$400 billion. China has signed capacity cooperation agreements with more than 40 countries and signed third-party market cooperation agreements with France, Italy, Spain, Japan and Portugal, to name a few.
The report stresses the initiative is from China, but it belongs to the world. It is rooted in history, but oriented towards the future. It focuses on the Asian, European and African continents, but is open to all partners. In a world undergoing major development, transformation and adjustments; peace, development and cooperation still remain the trend of the times. While the BRI projects are currently being carried out in a steadily and meticulous manner, China stands ready to work with all the parties to promote the implementation of BRI, turning the Belt and Road into a route of peace, prosperity, openness, green, innovation, civilization and integrity. Thank you.
Hu Kaihong: Thank you, Mr. Xiao. Now, let's welcome Mr. Song to make an introduction.
Song Lihong: Friends from the media, good afternoon. Today, the Office of the Leading Group for Promoting the Belt and Road Initiative launched the book "The Belt and Road Initiative: Progress, Contributions and Prospects."I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce the trade cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, as the former is an important part of the latter.
Since the proposal of the Belt and Road Initiative, the Ministry of Commerce, guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and fully implementing the Party Central Committee's policy decisions on the initiative, has worked hard to promote trade cooperation between China and other countries along the routes, and made remarkable achievements. These are evident in five aspects.
First, two-way trades were increased continuously. We actively promoted the expansion of mutual market openness of countries along the routes of the Belt and Road Initiative, and continued to promote trade facilitation. We improved trade structure, and nurtured new areas of trade growth. We also strengthened trade promotion activities with countries along the routes through comprehensive and special exhibitions. We accelerated the innovation of trade forms, and nurtured new models of business, such as e-commerce.
Between 2013 and 2018, the imports and exports between China and other countries along the Belt and Road exceeded US$6 trillion, registering an annual increase of 4%, which is higher than the increase in China's total foreign trade. The volume accounted for 27.4% of China's total trade in goods.
Second, two-way investments are developing in an in-depth way. We continue to strengthen the necessary service guarantees and encourage enterprises to invest in relevant Belt and Road countries. While realizing their own development, they can also help the host countries to develop their economy and improve local people's livelihood. At the same time, we continue to relax the permission procedures for foreign investment as part of creating a high-standard business environment, set up 12 free trade pilot zones open to the world, and explore the construction of free trade ports to attract countries along the Belt and Road to invest in China. From 2013 to 2018, Chinese enterprises directly invested more than US$90 billion in countries along the Belt and Road, with an average annual growth rate of 5.2%. The turnover of foreign-contracted projects along the Belt and Road has exceeded US$400 billion, while direct investments in China from Belt and Road countries has exceeded US$40 billion.
Third, big projects have been carried out and are producing their intended results. We, along with relevant parties, have launched a series of cooperation projects to build infrastructure facilities and industrial investment. Some big projects have been carried out as planned, one after another. For example, the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway has come into operation; the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge has opened to traffic; the Gwadar Port in Pakistan has acquired the capacity necessary to ensure its complete operation. There are so many such infrastructure facility projects, which have effectively promoted the host countries' economic development and the improvement of local people's livelihoods, making them popular among locals.
We have also actively co-built some economic and trade cooperation zones, which have developed and improved over time. These zones play the following roles: they provide Chinese enterprises with platforms for their overseas investment and development; they provide the host countries with opportunities to learn more from China's experience in using industrial parks to boost economic growth; and they also prove to be effective carriers for industrial cooperation between China and these countries.
Fourth, the construction of free trade areas has sped up. We have expedited the construction of free trade areas with countries along the route of the Belt and Road, and signed or upgraded the free trade agreements with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Pakistan and other countries and regions. These agreements have provided effective institutional arrangements for the liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment between these countries and China.
It is fair to say that a free trade zone network has gradually taken shape along the route of the Belt and Road. In addition, we have also actively promoted regional economic cooperation. We have signed trade and economic cooperation agreements with the Eurasian Economic Union, and the negotiations on regional comprehensive economic partnerships have made positive progress.
Fifth, the cooperation mechanism has improved. The Ministry of Commerce has built bilateral economic and trade committee as well as joint committee mechanisms with all countries related to the Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile, we also have some regional and sub-regional cooperation platforms. We take advantage of these platforms to strengthen communication and coordination on important Belt and Road topics.
At the same time, to further strengthen the frequency and effects of coordination, we have built work groups on unimpeded economic and trade cooperation, and investment with relevant countries, under the bilateral committees and joint committees. We have created bilateral e-commerce business cooperation mechanisms with 17 countries, and service trade cooperation mechanisms with 14 countries, as well as signed third party market cooperation agreements with Japan, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, etc. All this can be seen in media reports.
Generally speaking, the economic and trade cooperation between China and the countries involved in the BRI have improved greatly. Since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed six years ago, it has produced remarkable achievements, intensified economic ties, and deepened economic cooperation between China and its partner countries. The initiative has also helped China improve its development through opening-up, and also prompted relevant countries to integrate into regional or even global value chains. This has allowed it to make positive contributions toward the development of economic globalization and the open world economy. Thank you all.
Hu Kaihong: Thank you, Mr. Song. Now, we open the floor to questions. Please identify the news organization you represent before asking your question.
People's Daily: The Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) will be held in Beijing later this week. During the first BRF held in 2017, China and other involved parties reached a number of cooperation agreements and policy measures, resulting in more than 270 deliverables. Could you brief us on the implementation of those results in the past two years? Thank you.
Xiao Weiming: Thank you for your question and careful attention to the results of the first BRF. Indeed, the forum achieved a remarkable outcome. I'm delighted to announce that, through concerted efforts, all of the 76 items comprising 279 concrete results in five key areas have been completed as planned, and some have even become routine works for further implementation. The accomplishment satisfying to all the concerned parties lays a solid foundation for the second BRF.
I think the 279 concrete results can be summarized as follows:
First is the fresh progress made in policy consultation through closer cooperation and a broader consensus. The Belt and Road cooperation documents signed between China and more than 10 other countries or international organizations during the first BRF have been implemented, effectively enhancing policy connectivity, political trust and the convergence of interests. The BRF Advisory Council and Liaison Office have both been officially established. The Facilitation Center for Building the Belt and Road within the National Development and Reform Commission has begun operation. The ability of the official Belt and Road Internet portal to engage in international communications has been significantly improved.
The second aspect lies in promoting infrastructure connectivity focusing on key projects. We have implemented a large number of infrastructure cooperation projects in such fields as transport, energy and water resources, and gained financing support for the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, Colombo Port City, Hungary-Serbia railway and Line 2 of the Hanoi light rail network, etc. The agreements signed between China and Russia, Belarus, Germany, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Poland to deepen cooperation in promoting China-Europe regular railway cargo services is being implemented, with an international mechanism for the cooperation playing an important role.
Third is enhanced liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment through expanded industrial investment. China has signed production capacity cooperation agreements with 41 countries, set up platforms of investment and financing such as those linking China-Latin America and China-Africa, and successfully hosted the first China International Import Expo. We have deepened cooperation for connectivity in regard to standards, metrology, customs, inspection and quarantine. Six ports, including Khorgos have started to implement the Convention on International Transport of Goods Under Cover of TIR Carnets. Under the BRI framework, China has fostered agricultural cooperation with Serbia, Chile, Egypt and other countries.
Fourth involves the efforts being made in diversifying systems of financial connectivity through strengthened financing support. China has worked with other concerned parties to jointly formulate guidelines for financing Belt and Road-related development projects, in an effort to establish a stable and sustainable financial safeguard system controlling risk. The Asian Financial Cooperation Association now has more than 100 members, offering special lending schemes worth RMB 380 billion equivalent to support Belt and Road cooperation in infrastructure, industrial capacity expansion and financing. The Silk Road Fund has been expanded by RMB 100 billion.
Fifth is the enhancement of people-to-people exchanges through more interactions. We have deepened cooperation in culture, media, environmental protection with other Belt and Road countries, offered more than 800 short-term research visits to China for foreign scientists, and developed new people-to-people exchange platforms such as a network for cooperation among NGOs in countries along the Belt and Road, a music education alliance and think tank networks. Thank you.
Economic Daily: Mr. Song of the Ministry of Commerce just now introduced some achievements in the Belt and Road economic and trade cooperation. What measures does the ministry plan to take to promote the cooperation from now on? Thank you.
Song Lihong: Thank for your question. Last August, President Xi Jinping stressed at a symposium marking the fifth anniversary of Belt and Road construction that high-quality joint construction should be pursued with even more meticulous efforts. We will act strictly in accordance with the requirement by further deepening mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation with relevant countries in the economic and trade fields, and improve the quality of our cooperation to achieve more for the benefit of people all over the world. We will take five specific steps this year:
First is to build a high-level platform for cooperation. As you all know, last year, we successfully hosted the first China International Import Expo. This was an important decision made by the Communist Party of China Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core to promote a new round of high-level opening up, and is a major initiative by China to further open its market to the rest of the world. The successful convening of the first expo exerted wide influence worldwide, winning high praise and establishing an important milestone for high-level opening up in the new era. This year, while consolidating the achievements of the first expo and promoting the completion of deals and contracted projects achieved then, we will make careful preparations for the second expo in accordance with the important instructions of President Xi Jinping to ensure we can host a high-level, productive and increasingly improving event. I believe it will provide a platform for all countries to share the dividends of China's development and an effective promoter for high-quality construction of the Belt and Road.
The second step is to make meticulous efforts for major economic and trade cooperation projects. We will focus on industrial investment and infrastructure connectivity, and promote the construction of a number of major projects with good comprehensive benefits and strong driving effects, so as to help developing countries consolidate their foundations for further economic development, better participate in the global division of labor, and benefit from the global value chain. We will continue putting people at the center of our efforts, delivering timely assistance to the needy, promoting more foreign aid projects concerning people's livelihood and immediate interests, and increase their sense of gain.
Third, we intend to carry out more activities to promote trade and investment. In my opinion, to construct a superior Belt and Road, the government should seek to play a role of higher quality. However, it is still the market that should play the decisive role in allocating resources. Thus, it is up to market players at large to strengthen their cooperation. Entrepreneurs need to meet, negotiate and discover business opportunities. Therefore, we will perform our duty in organizing various kinds of large-scale exhibitions, especially for the Belt and Road countries, and step up efforts in attracting investment and inviting exhibitors. We will also support regional efforts to build trade and investment promotion platforms with distinctive themes and features, creating more business opportunities from interactions among entrepreneurs.
Fourth, we intend to accelerate the development of "Silk Road E-commerce". The internet and the upcoming large-scale commercialization of 5G will create more favorable conditions for e-commerce development. At the beginning of the reform and opening up program, China's trade and investment cooperation with relevant countries proceeded through door-to-door marketing. Now, we do not need to follow that way any longer. With computers and mobile phones, we can select goods and services and have them delivered to us at the press of a button. Therefore, we will make full use of modern information technology to empower, add new impetus and boost the growth of China and relevant countries' foreign trade with e-commerce.
Fifth, we will promote the construction of free trade zones. We will work with willing countries to establish new free trade zones, and upgrade existing ones according to higher standards. In other words, we will reduce institutional and artificial barriers to trade and investment, and promote a grand market of the Belt and Road. Thank you.
AFP: I have a question on numbers. Could you tell us the total sum of investment and loans for the Belt and Road projects?
Xiao Weiming: Thanks for your question. Over the years since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed in 2013, we have invested a total of over US$90 billion in countries along the Belt and Road. The sources of loans for those Belt and Road projects are diverse, including commercial banks, policy banks and international monetary institutions. In doing so, we share both benefits and risks. Thank you.
CCTV: It is now more than five years since the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was first raised, and different views towards the initiative have emerged. How does the BRI contribute to the world? I would like to know your point of view.
Xiao Weiming: Thank you for the question. After fully grasping the guiding principles from General Secretary Xi Jinping's important addresses and instructions, and studying the documents on the decisions and plans of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, I would like to sum up the great significance of the BRI in the following aspects:
For China itself, it is the master plan to promote opening-up and international economic cooperation.
For the world, it provides an important platform for promoting common development and prosperity, and building a community featuring a shared future for humanity.
Domestically, the BRI has further promoted the reform and opening of our country, with the focus on the overall plan for promoting all-round economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological progress, as well as the Four-Pronged Comprehensive Strategy. It has become a distinct symbol of China's reform and opening in the new era. Driven by the BRI in recent years, we have increased the openness of the service sector; made the manufacturing sector basically open to all; widened access to the agriculture, energy and resources sectors; deepened reform of the investment and financing, fiscal and tax systems and the financial sector overall; reduced the negative lists for the access of foreign investment for both nationwide implementation and pilot free trade zones (FTZs); and, it has significantly improved the overall business environment. According to the 2019 World Bank Doing Business Report, China ranks 46th globally, 32 places higher than last year.
We have promoted the opening-up of areas along the coastline and the Yangtze River, as well as in border and inland regions, moving toward nationwide opening-up that connects the eastern and western regions, and attaching equal importance to the "bring in" and "go global" strategies. We have cooperated with some developed countries to jointly explore third-party markets, while constantly raising the quality and standard of opening-up. What I want to emphasize here is that, as they have fully engaged in the Belt and Road development, China's central and western regions, especially the latter, have moved from forming the background to the forefront of China's reform and opening up, and are filled with great vitality.
The contributions to the international political and economic landscapes lie in the following two aspects:
First, the BRI's firm support in building multilateralism and the multilateral trading system, as well as enhancing free trade and investment have provided a robust driving force for the recovery of global economy. China has contributed over 30% of global economic growth, which has made us the strongest driving force globally. In addition, the annual rate of contribution of China's final consumption expenditure to global consumption growth in recent years places China as the top contributor. Therefore, due to the BRI, Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked country in the world, is able to establish a corridor to the sea; Belarus is able to develop its own automotive industry; Maldives' dream to build bridges is coming true; Pakistan's electricity shortage is solved because of several new power plants; and Laos will change from being a landlocked country to one that is land-connected once the China-Laos railway opens. These examples show the contributions of the BRI to economic growth and improvement of the wellbeing of people living in the countries along its route.
Second, the BRI helps to improve global governance. Within the BRI, the principles of consultation, collaboration and benefit for all, as well as "the connectivity of policy, transportation, trade, currency and the heart of the people" show the initiative's endorsement of multilateralism, free trade, and a multilateral trade system. We firmly believe in dialogue and consultation, and work collaboratively to promote communication. This is in order to build a community with a shared future for mankind through political and mutual trust, economic globalization as well as people-to-people exchanges. The initiative has been widely recognized worldwide and as I've mentioned before, the BRI has been included into many documents of international organizations like the U.N., G20, APEC, and SCO. It is clear that the BRI fulfills the internal requirements of a global governance system reform, demonstrating the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind and providing Chinese wisdom toward the improvement of the global governance system. Thank you.
Reuters: China has promised to develop the Belt and Road into a sustainable and green path, and refuted claims of a so-called "debt trap." Do you have any details or concrete measures to share with us on this? In addition, does China have plans to introduce new laws and regulations on company investments to regulate future investments under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative?
Xiao Weiming: Thank you for your concern. Promoting the building of a green Silk Road is an important part of jointly building the Belt and Road Initiative. Over the past few years, Chinese companies that are "going global" have been adhering to the idea of green and environmentally friendly development, both in infrastructure investment and manufacturing investment. We have conducted strict environmental assessments in the building of hydroelectricity power plants, coal-fired power plants, roads and ports. We have even hired third-party independent organizations to do some preparatory research. In fact, due diligence is always performed in China by companies to produce a feasibility report. So we are upholding to the idea of green and environment-friendly development as we push forward in our projects.
We are willing to work with all parties concerned to follow through on our commitments to green development. We will strengthen international cooperation on eco-environmental protection to address climate change. We will improve the protection and restoration of the eco-system and develop "green finance." As to the platitudes on the "debt trap," I can say responsibly that since the initiative was proposed, no country has fallen into the so-called "debt trap" for participating in the building of the Belt and Road. On the contrary, all the participating countries have witnessed rapid development. Therefore, the so-called "debt trap" is a false proposition. Thank you.
Song Lihong: Please allow me to share with you some of my thoughts and what I've learned. Recently, there were many stories about the so-called "debt traps." If a country, a family or an enterprise wants to make progress, the correct way is through self-accumulation before anything else. However, I want to emphasize that if you discover great potential of development, or if you are very confident of achieving development, you need to make extra efforts to realize it. In this situation, you need to use financial leverage tools. In other words, you need to borrow money to achieve development. How to judge if the timing is right for such a move? You must be able to obtain the loan. You must borrow money without doing harm to your reputation. On a country-level, especially those relatively less developed, or are under rather heavy debt burdens, I still don't think they should be deprived of the right of seeking development. Or, to put it another way, they should enjoy the right of seeking development by increasing their leverage ratio a little bit.
In this case, no matter who is involved — the country that lends the money, the country that borrows the money, or the enterprise that take a part in the cooperation, all face certain requirements. The borrower needs to pay close attention to its financial situation. It must focus on economic growth. In particular, it must intensify the efforts in infrastructure construction and industrial investment, so as to accelerate the industrialization process. Meanwhile, countries that lend the money, whether developed or emerging countries like China, are obliged to help the comparatively less developed countries improve their financing conditions. Regarding enterprises that take a part in the cooperation, as Mr. Xiao just said, they need to carry out feasibility studies to manage risks. What is the return of foreign investment? We should understand this concept from two perspectives: One is the time value of the funding, the other is the risk premium of the investment. If you cannot manage the risks, how can you make profits?
Solving the debt issue needs the efforts of all parties involved. We can follow the principle of "consultation, collaboration and benefit for all" to gradually tackle the problem. Although some countries are under high debt pressures, their debts will gradually fall when their industrialization, urbanization and modernization are accelerated. One thing for sure is that without development, without hard work, there will be no hope at all. Thank you.
Phoenix Satellite TV: Could you please introduce the progress being made in the construction of overseas economic and trade cooperation zones, and what kind of expectation do you have for the next stage in their development? Thank you.
Song Lihong: The overseas economic and trade cooperation zones, as I said at the beginning of the briefing, are an important platform for Chinese enterprises to invest abroad. They are also an "effective carrier" for China to conduct industrial cooperation with countries along the Belt and Road. Since the BRI was first proposed, overseas economic and trade cooperation zones have witnessed fast development. However, it should be noted that these zones were already being established before the BRI was proposed, so they are actually not an emerging phenomenon. However, they have kept expanding ever since the BRI was proposed. You can tell that they have become a major focus of BRI construction and a glorious part of a beautiful landscape. Such examples can be found in many countries, and I believe most of you present may have already witnessed their development, so I will not go into details here. According to the statistics of the Ministry of Commerce, the accumulated Chinese investment in overseas economic and trade zones has reached nearly US$40 billion, while contributing over US$3 billion in taxes and fees to the host countries, and creating more than 300,000 jobs. Over 70% of those economic and trade cooperation zones have been jointly established with countries along the Belt and Road.
Next, we will enhance the integration of plans, industries and mechanisms with our partner countries through jointly building the Belt and Road Initiative. We strongly advocate openness and cooperation, adhere to the concept of green and sustainable development as well as promote practical cooperation in the construction of cooperation zones. We want to make cooperation zones the effective medium of industrial cooperation between China and the host countries and pilot zones for promoting industrialization by host countries. We should strive to cultivate some cooperation zones with geographical advantages, distinct industrial positioning, advanced management and outstanding construction achievements. We want to let cooperation zones become important international cooperation platforms based on mutual benefit and creating a win for all.
There will be 12 sub-forums in the upcoming Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. I hope to draw attention to the Overseas Economic and Trade Cooperation Sub-Forum which is sponsored by China's Ministry of Commerce. The preparatory work is now coming to an end. We will invite relevant countries, intermediaries and enterprises to discuss how to develop high-quality overseas economic and trade cooperation zones at the sub-forum. Thank you.
China News Service: Just like what you said, Mr. Xiao, the Belt and Road Initiative will become the road of peace, prosperity, opening up, green development and innovation, the road connecting different civilizations and the road with high ethical standards. May I ask you to elaborate on the specific plans and designs that China has endeavored to achieve in the aforementioned goals.
Xiao Weiming: Thank you. First, please allow me to help review the origins of the seven aspects of the abovementioned "road." In May 2017, Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), pointed out at the opening ceremony of the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation that the Belt and Road Initiative should become the road of peace, prosperity, opening up and innovation as well as a road connecting different civilizations. This set the tone and outlined the initiative's five functions. At the same time, he also stressed that we should strengthen international counter-corruption cooperation so that the Belt and Road will be a road with high ethical standards. During last year's Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, General Secretary Xi proposed to adopt the principle of green development when executing the Belt and Road Initiative. Those are the seven principles of the "road," around which our prospects and preliminary plans have formed.
In view of the road being one that leads to peace, we are willing to pursue common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security with the rest of the world, while adhering to the global governance principle of sharing growth through discussions and collaboration. We hope that we can jointly establish dispute settlement, risk early-warning and prevention and control mechanisms, all be resolved to combating terrorism, secessionism and extremism. We want to also promote a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation, forge partnerships of dialogue with no confrontation and of friendship rather than alliance.
In view of the road being one that leads to prosperity, we hope that we can press ahead with interconnectivity whether on land, at sea, in the air or through the internet, with the rest of the world. We will expand bilateral and multilateral investment and trade, deepen industrial cooperation, cultivate new driving forces and new business models. We also want to establish a stable and sustainable financial service system that keeps risks under control, and achieve economic integration and interconnected development to the benefit of all participants.
In view of the road being one that leads to further opening-up, China upholds and strengthens the multilateral trade system which is rule-based, open, transparent, inclusive and non-discriminative. China promotes liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment by building high-standard free trade areas jointly with other countries. We'll follow the rules of the market as well as internationally applicable standards and rules to build a global economy that is fully open.
In view of the construction of the Green Silk Road, we are willing to work with countries around the world to implement the overall concept of green development, deepen international cooperation, jointly address various challenges, strengthen ecosystem protection and restoration, as well as exploring the development of green finance. We are committed to creating a way of life and work that is green, low-carbon, circular and sustainable, so as to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.
In view of building a road of innovation, we want to develop a national-level joint scientific research platform with various countries around the world, thus forming a multi-level and diversified scientific and cultural exchange mechanism. We are also willing to strengthen cooperation in frontier, cutting-edge sectors such as the artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and quantum computers, as well as promoting intellectual property protection.
In terms of building a road that brings together different civilizations, we seek to deepen cooperation with many countries around the world in regard to education, science and technology, culture, health, sports, media, tourism and other fields. We will also strengthen our exchanges between political parties, think tanks and non-governmental organizations, as well as promoting exchanges between women and youth. In fulfilling these goals, we are willing to continue providing assistance within our capacity to developing countries along the Belt and Road routes.
In terms of building a road reflecting the high ethical standards, we wish to work with various countries to strengthen supervision, management, and risk prevention and control of the construction projects emerging along the routes. We will make efforts to create a clean and efficient modern business environment, promote international anti-corruption exchanges and cooperation, improve the anti-corruption law system, and continue to crack down on commercial bribery, etc. Thank you.
Kyodo News: Yesterday, explosions rocked Sri Lanka. Will this incident be mentioned in theis forum? Also, please tell us about the specific discussions on peace building and security aspects.? Thank you.
Xiao Weiming: Thank you for your question. Regarding the security issue you mentioned, China pays great attention to safety and security in Belt and Road construction. The relevant Chinese government departments have strengthened cooperation with the security authorities of countries along the Belt and Road and conducted institutional dialogues and exchanges. In general, the results of cooperation are extensive and in-depth. We have established an institutionalized security dialogue mechanism with countries in Central Asia and South Asia. The overall goal is to jointly fight against terrorism and various violent crimes through cooperation between the relevant Chinese authorities and those in countries along the Belt and Road, in order to create a good security environment, and provide guarantees for safe and smooth development of Belt and Road projects. We also hope countries along the Belt and Road will continue to strengthen cooperation with the Chinese government, further improve dialogue, and enhance mutual exchange of information and mutual assistance in law enforcement during expanded collaboration in the future. Thank you.
Xinhua News Agency: It has just been mentioned that, during the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, the Ministry of Commerce will take the lead to organize two sub-forums, namely the Unimpeded Trade Sub-Forum and the Overseas Economic and Trade Cooperation Zones Sub-Forum. Can you tell us more about these two sub-forums? Thank you.
Song Lihong: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has held a briefing regarding the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. Since you are concerned about the two sub-forums hosted by the Ministry of Commerce, I will give you a brief introduction about them.
The Unimpeded Trade Sub-Forum will be held at the National Convention Center on the afternoon of April 25. The sub-forum is organized by the Ministry of Commerce, and is co-organized by the General Administration of Customs, the State Taxation Administration, the Export-Import Bank of China and the China Export and Credit Insurance Corporation. The theme is "Openness, Inclusiveness, and Innovation, Deepening Belt and Road Unimpeded Trade Cooperation." Discussions will focus on "deepening multilateral and bilateral economic and trade cooperation, and promoting openness and integration," "developing new trade forms and promoting innovation-driven development," and "optimizing the business environment, and promoting sustainable development." Judging from the number of sign-ups, the sub-forum has drawn a lot of attention. We estimate that there are about 300 Chinese and foreign participants, including more than 200 of the latter, many of whom are ministerial level and above.
The Overseas Economic and Trade Cooperation Zones Sub-Forum will be held at the National Convention Center on the morning of April 25. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce are co-organizers. The theme is "Jointly building overseas economic and trade cooperation zones and promoting Belt and Road international investment cooperation." Participants will discuss the topics of "building overseas economic and trade cooperation zones through discussion and collaboration" and "promoting high-quality development of overseas cooperation zones." There will be about 200 participants, more than half being foreigners.
In addition to the guest speaker session, these two sub-forums also have a discussion session. We believe that all parties will make full use of these opportunities to create a greater consensus on economic and trade cooperation, and make new efforts and contributions to promote the high-quality development of the Belt and Road. Thank you.
Beijing Youth Daily: According to the report, China has signed cooperation documents with more than 150 countries and international organizations as well as standardization cooperation agreements with more than 40 countries and regions. My question is, what else should China consider when trying to promote the connectivity of policies, standards and regulations with these parties in addition to the implementation of the agreements and documents?
Xiao Weiming: Thank you for your question. With the further development of the plan to jointly build the Belt and Road Initiative, the aspect of connectivity has transformed from a "hard" concept in the past five years that mainly involves infrastructure construction, to a "soft" one that now involves standards and regulations. Or, at least equal stress has been placed on both aspects. In my opinion, the integration of the "soft" aspect of the BRI is more important and lasts longer than that of the "hard" aspect, to some extent. This is because all the physical connectivity will depend on the connectivity of standards and regulations eventually. So we are keenly aware of the heavy responsibilities we bear and have already launched an effort to specifically work on the integration of standards and regulations which are already included in the key points of our work in 2019. Related departments have also been instructed to carry out work in this aspect. Here, I would like to emphasize a few points:
First, on the connectivity of policies, I believe that more is better and this is a process that is always underway. The Belt and Road Initiative is an open and inclusive one. We welcome any country that wants to build the Belt and Road Initiative with us. In addition to the more than 150 countries and international organizations you have mentioned before, we welcome and are waiting for other countries to join us.
Second, as for the connectivity of standards and regulations, this is a long and arduous task. It's easy for us to speak in general terms about this issue but, in reality, it's very complicated when you sit down to negotiate about integration. Since the beginning of last century or the end of the 19th century, people have started to draw up international standards and regulations. Among those standards and regulations, there are some related to the Belt and Road Initiative and can be roughly classified into three categories, namely international law, international private law and international economic law. As for the standards of international economic law, those of investment and trade are the top priorities. Aspects like trade, investment, transportation, finance, insurance, intellectual property protection and labor are already included in investment and trade standards. Furthermore, each aspect includes many international treaties, conventions and agreements. So you have to negotiate them individually when you plan to integrate a specific standard or regulation.
Third, the Chinese government firmly supports the multilateral trading system and free trade based on rules, and upholds the UN Charter. It also observes the international law and the basic norms governing international relations and adheres to international treaties, conventions and agreements China has entered into and participated in. China has always been willing to make her own contributions to the improvement of international standards and regulations based on international treaties, conventions and agreements.
So I think the connectivity of standards and regulations will become the key point of our work in the next phase as we hold the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation and implement its outcomes. Thank you.
China Daily: Dubbed the "caravans of steel camels", the China-Europe Railway Express has been gradually increasing the number of its freight train runs and expanding its coverage and influence. Could you give us an introduction of its development, the main work and future plans?
Xiao Weiming: Thanks for your attention to the China-Europe Railway Express, which has been growing along with the Belt and Road Initiative. So far, the cumulative total of shipments has reached 14,691. The freight trains have created a link between 62 cities in China and 51 cities in 15 European countries. A total of 68 rail routes have been developed. All Chinese cities can be linked with any European country via three rail channels -- a western route through the Alataw Pass, an eastern route through Manzhouli, and a middle line through Erenhot -- and then on through central Asia, Belarus and Russia. Goods are flowing continuously via these "caravans of steel camels" as you say. The progress made in China-Europe Railway Express project can be described through several features.
First, the transport quality has improved significantly. The ratio of departing trains to returning trains has gone from 2:1 to 3:2 and to 99% now. A balance in two-way communications has been basically achieved. Currently, 88% of the containers are full of goods, an increase of 4 percentage points compared with last year. We have also beefed up security measures along the routes.
Second, the goods transported have gradually become more diversified. The goods items have expanded from IT products like smartphones and computers to clothing, shoes and hats, automobiles and auto parts, grain, grape wine, coffee beans and logs. Car exports form a new growth pillar. It is worth noting that China-Europe Railway postal services have also become regularized.
Third, the railway has significantly spurred the growth of surrounding areas. With the development of the railway, a safe, convenient and efficient "trade passageway" has opened for countries along the route, and most certainly for China's landlocked regions. Multimodal connectivity projects have appeared and have basically achieved rail-inland water and rail-maritime transportation, contributing greatly to regional economic and employment growth. The total cargo value of China-Europe freight trains reached US$ 3.3 billion in 2018, up 106% from the year before.
Fourth, significant progress has been made in institutional construction. An agreement for further cooperation covering China-Europe Railway has been signed by seven countries, including China, Belarus and Russia. A joint working group has been established, with the addition of three national observers, namely the rail administrations of Lithuania, Latvia and Austria. The joint working group has cooperated to improve the capacity in regard to transport organizing, marketing and information-sharing. Domestically, a coordinating board for China-Europe Railway has been established as a self-coordinating mechanism between enterprises.
Therefore, we are confident that with the further implementation of the BRI, the China-Europe Railway will enhance international cooperation and interaction between industries, win a higher reputation for itself, further address railway traffic congestion, improve the efficiency of customs clearance, and provide better services for people of countries under the BRI. Thank you.
China Business News: While trying to meet the challenges from the complicated geopolitical and international trade landscape of China, the United States and Europe, our country is also undergoing domestic economic restructuring. How can we ensure a sustainable development and effective implementation of the BRI in this context? Thank you.
Xiao Weiming: That's a fairly broad question. I will have to answer it briefly. The China-U.S. trade friction has drawn worldwide attention, and the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be convened soon. Guided by the principles of openness, inclusiveness, and mutual benefit, we welcome all countries, including the United States, to participate in the BRI and the upcoming forum.
China and the United States are the biggest developing country and developed country in the world. We have huge potential for cooperation with complementary strengths. Last year, the GDP of the United States surpassed US$20 trillion, reaching US$20.5 trillion, while the GDP of China totaled US$13.6 trillion, about 66% of the U.S. figure. However, the per capita GDP of China is only about 15% of the U.S. level. Thus, there is still a big gap between us. We need to learn from the United States, and promote development through economic cooperation. There is enormous room for cooperation between the two countries.
In addition, China is a large market for American agricultural and high-tech products. Therefore, we have good reason to believe cooperation outweighs friction in the China-U.S. relationship. As for trade friction, it's normal for the two countries to have some disputes and differences in trade and opinion. I believe that more countries, including the United States, will gradually embrace the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, as well as "a five-pronged approach" [policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure and facilities, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and closer people-to-people ties] to jointly build the BRI.
When it comes to the European Union, China and it have long cooperation, and many of EU member states have become important partners to jointly build the Belt and Road. In particular, the EU strategy on Connecting Europe and Asia proposed by the EU dovetails neatly with the BRI, and the two sides are working to enhance the policy coordination. We welcome closer cooperation with the EU and its member states to produce more substantial benefits. Thank you.
Song Lihong: Please allow me to add something. You asked just now what China's consideration is under the circumstance of facing a very complicated geopolitical situation when promoting Belt and Road construction. I would like to ask you when the geopolitical situation was not complex from World War II until now. And do you know how much the world economy has developed since then?
Therefore, I do not think that is a problem. As long as countries uphold openness and cooperation rather than working behind closed doors, the general trend of cooperation will be unstoppable. The leaders of all countries have the ability and wisdom to solve these problems, and our people are more than capable of solving these problems with their collective wisdom. Our entrepreneurs are also able to continue strengthening cooperation even though facing complex conditions and various risks.
Your second question concerns China's economic restructuring. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the central government has held a view that China has entered a new normal in economic development. This means that we have shifted from a high to a medium-high growth rate, our economic structure have moved from low-to-medium level to medium-to-high level, and the driving force of our growth has changed from resource consumption to innovation. China's economy cannot achieve stable, sustainable and quality development without accelerating restructuring. Therefore, we must deepen the reform and open wider.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has reiterated several times that China's door will never be closed, and it will only open still wider. Regional economy and global economy will make further progress and create more benefits only through continuous openness and cooperation, free flow of elements, better distribution of resources, and deepening integration of markets.
Of course, when profits grow, we need to distribute them appropriately. But undoubtedly, they are beneficial to both the Chinese and global economies. Thank you.
Hu Kaihong: That's all for today's press conference. Thank you all.