Banners are displayed along a street ahead of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on April 22, 2019. Image Credit: AFP


As global leaders gather in Beijing this week for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s second Belt and Road forum, here are some numbers that illustrate where the ambitious initiative is six years after its conception.

Eight more top politicians will attend the forum this year than the first one in 2017, bringing the total to 37, including two European Union members — Austria and Portugal. With the addition of Singapore and Thailand, all the leaders of ASEAN’s 10 countries are expected to be in the Chinese capital.

Countries who are sitting out the conference after attending previously include Poland, Spain, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Turkey, and Argentina, according to consultancy Eurasia Group.

‘None of these countries have had a falling out with Beijing over BRI, but geopolitical concerns may have been a factor: Turkey and China have sparred over China’s policy toward Uighurs and Poland arrested two Huawei employees for spying in January,’ Eurasia said.

At least seven countries who’ve agreed to Belt and Road projects have suspended, scaled back, terminated or experienced backlash for their involvement in the programme. Earlier this month, China struck a deal with Malaysia to resume the East Coast Rail Link project for 44 billion ringgit ($10.7 billion) — down from 65.5 billion ringgit — after deciding to terminate it in January as the Southeast Asian country struggled to narrow its budget deficit.

To address some of the concerns, Beijing is taking a range of steps to exert more control over the programme, including a more muted publicity drive, clearer rules for state-owned-enterprises, restricting use of the BRI brand, and building overseas auditing and anti-corruption mechanisms.

China has signed 173 cooperation documents on BRI with 125 countries and 29 international organisations as of April 18, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

In March, Italy became the first Group of 7 country to sign up for the BRI, a big win for Beijing that also raised alarm bells in the region. Britain, Switzerland, Austria, France, Spain and Australia are among the developed countries that could sign some type of documents with China without politically endorsing the BRI, a person familiar with the matter said earlier.

Chinese enterprises invested over $90 billion in BRI countries between 2013 and 2018, with average annual growth of 5.2 per cent, according to data released at an official press conference. BRI countries invested over $40 billion in China over the same period, the data showed.

Meanwhile, total trade between China and BRI countries has surpassed $6 trillion, with annual growth of 4 per cent on average and making up 27.4 per cent of China’s overall trade in the period, according to the statistics.