In October 1865, Sir Robert Hart, a former British diplomat and by then an official in the Qing Chinese Government, wrote to Empress Dowager Cixi expressing his opinion that China should desperately seek progress through investments in mining, the telegraph, the telephone and especially in railways. The reaction of Empress Cixi’s closest advisors was harsh. The words of Earl Li well describe the Chinese officials’ mood towards the measures Hart was advocating: “they deface our landscape, invade our fields and villages, spoil our feng-shui, and ruin the livelihood of our people.”
Who possibly could have imagined that 150 years later China would be the world’s most passionate advocate of the same progress it once criticized? With the Belt and Road Initiative (“BRI”) – also called “One Belt, One Road” – China unleashed a bold plan to invest between US$ 1 and 8 trillion in infrastructure and other means to connect over 65 different countries that collectively represent more than 60% of the global population and 30% of global GDP.
As of March 2020, 138 countries had joined the BRI: 3 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, 34 in Europe & Central Asia (including 18 countries in the European Union), 25 in East Asia & the Pacific, 17 in the Middle East & North Africa, 18 in Latin America & the Caribbean and 6 in South East Asia.