Today the world is rife with daunting challenges involving economic sustainability, high-tech growth, trade, infrastructure, finance, global connectivity, people-to-people connections, climate, social order and most urgently, the COVID-19 pandemic. No one can neutralise these problems individually. All global players from big economies to small economies require the pooling and sharing of knowledge across institutions, across disciplines and across continents.

At this juncture, indeed BRI has emerged as the best model for unity to lay down a foundation of openness, connectivity and inclusive progress. The recently-held BRI international conference gave clear vision to the world as to why a united front on the world landscape matters a lot to achieve global success.

The Chinese President Xi Jingping, an architect of BRI, in a written message to the high-level BRI conference, threw all his weight behind the indispensability of BRI, terming it a model of cooperation, unity, health and growth.

The video conference is “a highly important meeting that gives Belt and Road cooperation partners an opportunity to discuss a collective response to COVID-19, advance Belt and Road cooperation, and strengthen international solidarity and cooperation,” said Xi.

He said that the sudden attack of COVID-19 has posed a grave threat to the lives and health of people across the globe. It has dealt a heavy blow to the world economy, and caused tough economic and social challenges for some countries, developing ones in particular.

“To contain the virus, countries have taken robust and effective measures, specific to their national context. On top of that, many countries are striving to resume economic and social development,” Xi said, noting that in China’s case, the people’s lives and wellbeing have always been put front and centre.

According to international organisations, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) development strategy is a dire need of the hour as it has capacity to fill massive development gaps.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental economic organisation, has given full support to BRI due to its global appeal and mutual workability.

It says that world has a large infrastructure gap constraining trade, openness and future prosperity. Multilateral development banks (MDBs) are working hard to help close this gap. Most recently, China has commenced a major global effort to bolster this trend, a plan known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China and economies that have signed co-operation agreements with China on the BRI (henceforth BRI-participating economies) have been rising as a share of the world economy.

Established in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the source of significant academic and policy debate, in terms of how it is defined and how far it can contribute to the achievement of the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development (Global Goals) by 2030.

On September 25, 2015, on the basis of the valuable lessons learned from eight MDGs, 193 member states adopted the 2030 Agenda called “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and 17 SDGs at the UN Sustainable Development Summit. The 17 SDGs are SDG1: No poverty, SDG2: Zero hunger, SDG3: Good health and well-being, SDG4: Quality education, SDG5: Gender equality, SDG6: Clean water and sanitation, SDG7: Adorable and clean energy, SDG8: Decent work and economic growth, SDG9: Industry, innovation, and infrastructure, SDG10: Reduced inequalities, SDG11: Sustainable cities and communities, SDG12: Responsible consumption and production: SDG13: Climate action, SDG14: Life below water, SDG15: Life on land, SDG16: Peace, justice and strong institutions and SDG17: Partnerships for the goals. To achieve sustainable development, China has come up with BRI, which has been clearly outlined by President Xi Jingping.

Globally, by sector, the largest investment needs lie in transport and energy infrastructure. In particular, road transport and energy supply infrastructure are expected to comprise around 60 percent of global investment needs. They are followed by rail transport, telecommunications and water infrastructure. The highest rates of underinvestment are expected in the road and energy infrastructure sectors. For instance, it is expected that global investments in road infrastructure in the coming decades may fall short by almost USD 0.4 trillion annually, along with an annual investment deficit in energy infrastructure of around USD 0.15 trillion. Looking in particular at transport connectivity, around USD 0.44 trillion of expected annual investment needs will not be met.

To increase trade and investment in the BRI, China is improving the bilateral and multilateral co-operation mechanisms of the Belt and Road Initiative focusing on policy communication, infrastructure connectivity, trade facilitation, capital flow, and people-to-people exchanges.

With regards to Free Trade zones along the Silk Road, China has sped up efforts to implement the free trade area strategy, gradually establishing a network of high-standard free trade areas.

In spite of the COVID-19 crisis, Chinese investment in Belt and Road countries and regions increased by 11.7 percent year on year in the first quarter of 2020, along with a 3.2 percent growth in trade.

Chinese Premier Li said in his government work report, released during China’s “two sessions”, that the BRI would uphold market principles and international rules, give enterprises a leading role, lead to mutually beneficial outcomes, and boost outbound investment from China.