international organisations in Europe, Asia, Middle East, Latin America and Africa. The paramount leader of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping, originally announced the strategy during official visits to Indonesia and Kazakhstan in 2013. ‘Belt’ refers to the overland routes for road and rail transportation, called ‘the Silk Road Economic Belt’ whereas ‘road’ refers to the sea routes, or the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Until 2016 the initiative was officially known in English as the One Belt and One Road initiative but the official name was changed as the Chinese government considered the emphasis on the word ‘one’ as being prone to misinterpretation.
The Chinese government calls the initiative ‘a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future’. Some observers see it as a push for Chinese dominance in global affairs with a China-centered trading network.
The initiative was unveiled by Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping in September and October 2013 during visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia, and was thereafter promoted by Premier Li Keqiang during state visits to Asia and Europe.
The initiative was quickly given intensive coverage by Chinese state media and became the most frequently mentioned concept in the official newspaper People's Daily by 2016. ‘Indeed, B&R is a connectivity of system and mechanism (Kuik 2016). To construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets, through cultural exchange and integration, to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, ending up in an innovative pattern with capital inflows, talent pool, and technology database.
The initial focus has been infrastructure investment, education, construction materials, railway and highway, automobile, real estate, power grid, and iron and steel. Already, some estimates list the Belt and Road Initiative as one of the largest infrastructure and investment projects in history, covering more than 68 countries, including 65 per cent of the world's population and 40 per cent of the global gross domestic product as of 2017.
The Belt and Road Initiative addresses an ‘infrastructure gap’ and thus has potential to accelerate economic growth across the Asia Pacific area and Central and Eastern Europe: a report from the World Pensions Council (WPC) estimates that Asia, excluding China, requires up to US$900 billion of infrastructure investments per year over the next decade, mostly in debt instruments, 50 per cent above current infrastructure spending rates. The gaping need for long term capital explains why many Asian and Eastern European heads of state ‘gladly expressed their interest to join this new international financial institution focusing solely on 'real assets' and infrastructure-driven economic growth’. In late March 2019 China's paramount leader Xi Jinping signed an infrastructure plan with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Italy became the first European power to join the Belt and Road Initiative, which Western Europe sees as a push not just for more business but for greater geopolitical influence. Rome has reassured its allies that the agreement is not fully binding and does not undermine Italy’s commitment to its Western political and security alliances.