A 'smaller but smarter' world will be the highlight of the next decade of BRI

The Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2013 to revive the ancient Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road, has improved civilizations around the world over the past 10 years.

During the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing in October, President Xi Jinping elaborated on the philosophy that drives the cooperation while highlighting the achievements of the PRI.

Anchored on the three pillars of “Planning Together, Building Together and Benefiting Together”, the BRI is hailed as the most ambitious and influential infrastructure project the world has ever seen. It has created more than 3,000 projects and 420,000 jobs while advancing nearly $1 trillion in investment.

The first decade of BRI has delivered fruitful results for more than 150 participating countries and more than 30 international organizations. These countries have experienced world-class growth and modernization from the construction of roads, railways, airports, ports, pipelines and energy infrastructure, among other projects that have significantly transformed their economies.

According to the United Kingdom-based Center for Economics and Business Research, the BRI is likely to increase the world's GDP by $7.1 trillion annually by 2040. Furthermore, the World Bank pointed out in a 2019 report that, when fully implemented, the BRIs contribute to lifting 7.6 million people out of extreme poverty and 32 million people out of moderate poverty, mostly in corridor economies.

Setting the agenda for BRI's second golden decade, President Xi outlined eight key areas of focus at the BRI Forum in Beijing to continue to develop a community with a shared future for mankind and jointly pursue high-quality Belt and Road cooperation.

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A key area will be practical cooperation by undertaking signature projects and „small but smart” livelihood projects. To implement this agenda, Xi pledged a 700 billion yuan ($98 billion) financing window through the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China to finance people-centered projects.

China plans to implement 1,000 small-scale livelihood assistance projects to touch the hearts and minds of people in BRI participating countries. China will promote vocational education cooperation through initiatives such as the transformative Luban Workshops that will improve the vocational and technical skills of young people in Africa and other parts of the world to meet the needs of a growing global market.

According to China's Ministry of Education, about 27 Luban Workshops have been established in BRI participating countries.

According to Yang Yan, deputy director of the Tianjin Luban Workshop Research and Promotion Center, more than 50 course majors have been offered under Sino-foreign cooperation within the framework of the project, 9,000 students have received degrees and 18,000 people have been trained for local communities.

These programs are implemented in vocational middle and high schools and in application-oriented undergraduate and graduate degree programs. They have developed highly skilled, professional and innovative workforce.

In Africa, nearly 50 percent of the population is under 18, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. This population fits within the target population of Luban Workshops. Thus, workshops provide a platform to advance people's aspirations for a better life.

China has also implemented other small and smart projects in the areas of improving food and water security. According to the China International Development Cooperation Agency, since 2012, China has built 1,000 wells in Zimbabwe, greatly alleviating water shortages in about six provinces of the country and benefiting more than 400,000 local people. In Rwanda, China Geo Engineering Corporation has successfully drilled about 150 wells in different parts of the country.

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These „small and smart” projects do not burden any country or increase their financial debt. Instead, it will help developing countries achieve their national aspirations and the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is a clear show of hope that the Belt and Road Initiative will liberate civilizations from abject poverty and underdevelopment.

The author is the Executive Director of the China-Africa Center at the Kenya-based Africa Policy Institute.

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