China Has Signed 197 Belt and Road Deals with 137 Countries

Gwadar Port
Gwadar Port

Published Nov 21, 2019 8:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

China has signed 197 Belt and Road cooperation documents with 137 countries and 30 international organizations as at the end of October, says China's National Development and Reform Commission.

From January to September, China's trade with Belt and Road countries totaled about $950 billion, and its non-financial direct investment in these countries reached $10 billion dollars. China has established bilateral currency swap arrangements with 20 countries and established RMB clearing arrangements with seven countries.

The construction of the China-Laos railway, China-Thailand railway, Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway and Hungary-Serbia railway are making solid headway while projects including the Gwadar Port, Hambantota Port, Piraeus Port and Khalifa Port have gone smoothly, the Commission said, and the building of the China-Belarus industrial park, the China-UAE Industrial Capacity Cooperation Demonstration Zone and the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone is underway.

Gwadar Port is a deep-sea port situated on the Arabian Sea in Pakistan. The port features prominently in the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor plan, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said this week that the Belt and Road initiative has emerged as the single most effective instrument of globalism and international development cooperation in the world. Qureshi said that no other global initiative can boast of involving more than four billion people living in Asia, Europe and Africa. He cited a study by the World Bank, saying that transport projects alone could reduce travel time along economic corridors by 12 percent, increase trade by up to 9.7 percent and income by up to 3.4 percent, thus lifting millions of people from extreme poverty.

However, concerns were raised as Pakistan handed over management of the port to China this week. Some analysts have raised concerns that the port could be used as a base for the Chinese Navy. Also, the Economic Times of India reports that COSCO recently cancelled container services between Gwadar and Karachi due to the slow development of the Gwadar Free Trade Zone.

Despite such concerns, Chinese expansion continues, and this week, Wuhan, the capital of central China's Hubei Province, announced the launch of a direct container shipping service to Japan starting on November 28. Currently, local goods are shipped via Shanghai in a logistics chain that can take up to three days. Wu Shiquan, general manager of COSCO Shipping Lines (Wuhan), said that based on Wuhan's multi-model joint transport and Sino-Europe cargo trains, the opening of the direct container shipping service to Japan can optimize the railway-waterway transport channels from near-sea countries to Europe through Wuhan.

Earlier this week, after a personal visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis agreed to reopen talks on a fourth Chinese-operated container terminal at the Port of Piraeus. Greece’s Port Planning and Development Committee recently granted approval for almost all of a port-wide investment plan submitted by the Chinese-controlled Piraeus Port Authority (PPA). The committee did not approve a fourth container terminal, which would have increased Piraeus' total TEU capacity from the current seven million TEUs to 10 million TEUs. In a statement announcing its decision, the committee asserted that "the conditions at this stage are not ripe for the implementation" of another container facility. 

China COSCO Shipping acquired a 51 percent stake in PPA in 2016. Under Chinese management, the port's container volumes and profitability have both grown, and it is now the third-busiest container port in the Mediterranean.