The world’s spotlight was on Beijing again during May 14-15, when the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) was held for the first time since China put forward the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative in 2013.
The OBOR is based on the ancient Silk Road and officially it encompasses over 60 countries in Asia, Middle East, Africa and Europe. However, OBOR means more than that — and its significance was also echoed by countries as far away as those in Latin America.
After attending the high level meeting on May 14, I found the details in President Xi Jinping’s message at the opening session particularly interesting. President Xi’s key message was that OBOR has made significant progress over the past four years, and he pledged more resources to further advance the initiative, which include an additional US$14.5 billion for the Silk Road Fund, and a total of US$55 billion in specialized loans via the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China to support infrastructure, industrial and financial cooperation in the OBOR countries. These positive messages and the specific amounts announced will boost major infrastructure projects ahead.
On May 15, the BRF had a much more exclusive roundtable summit for the state leaders and their delegations in Yanqi Lake Convention Center. This venue was used for the APEC Summit back in 2014 as well, and I also took some pride in the fact that AECOM did the master-planning, architecture and landscape.
Most of the 29 state leaders who attended BRF are from Southeast Asia, the CIS countries and Africa, but I similarly noted the U.S., U.K. and Germany had high level delegations present at the forum. President Xi has announced that China will host the second BRF in 2019, and I think we can expect to see even more state leaders joining then as it keeps growing and becomes a summit with an increasingly wider global representation.
Also noteworthy, the U.S. elevated the level of delegation by sending Matthew Pottinger, senior advisor to President Trump, director for Asia at the White House National Security Council. Mr. Pottinger’s speech mentioned how The American OBOR Working Group (AOWG), formed as a partnership between the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and U.S. companies, will serve as one node for collaboration in the area of OBOR. I was there to represent AECOM, in my capacity as the global head of the Chinese Overseas Investment (COI) program.
In 2014, when OBOR was first launched, AECOM leadership — including APAC President Sean Chiao, and Global President and COO, Steve Kadenacy — instantly recognized its strategic importance and potential global implications, and supported the forming of the COI program.
Since then the COI has been steadily expanding its network and team members in strategic locations around the world, in anticipation of where our clients will be focusing, and we have taken the OBOR journey with them — literally! I have travelled to so many countries with our clients. AECOM’s role is more than just participating in the identification of great opportunities, but also — and as importantly — ensuring that those opportunities are set up well so they become great projects.