The Belt and Road Initiative (“BRI”) Big Data and Innovation Lab (“the Lab”), co-founded by PKU School of International Studies and Tencent, recently published its BRI monitoring results for the timeframe from April 1 to 30, 2020. As is shown, across China, pandemic control gained positive momentum, and the country supported the response efforts of other countries through governmental and non-governmental channels. Many provinces have set their BRI priorities of this years. At the international level, China’s trade with BRI countries exhibited strong resilience. The number of China-Europe freight trains leapt despite the pandemic headwinds. President Xi Jinping carried out telephone diplomacy during COVID-19, leading the effort of central ministries and commissions, enterprises and social organizations in the international anti-pandemic combat and making China’s contribution to BRI cooperation.
The international community has shown growing interests in BRI in the wake of COVID-19, as related projects restarted amidst a transition of the international economic order. Altogether 873,000 pieces of BRI-related information were found in public scenarios across all platforms, up 3.8% over the previous month. China's trade activities, multilateral cooperation efforts, infrastructure projects, and medical assistance under the BRI framework have received attention.
China’s imports and exports with BRI countries, and with ASEAN in particular, exhibited rock-solid resilience to shore up the country’s foreign trade. In the first four months of 2020, China’s trade with BRI countries rose 0.9% year-on-year to RMB 2.76 trillion, accounting for 30.4% - up 1.7 percentage points - of the country’s total foreign trade.
The international community has recognized China’s strong policy commitment and its dividends of opening-up as key drivers for the export rebound in April. On April 7, Premier Li Keqiang chaired a State Council executive meeting which decided to set up new integrated pilot zones for cross-border e-commerce, support processing trade, and hold the Canton Fair online in order to keep foreign trade and investment broadly stable under the outbreak impact. On April 17, President Xi Jinping chaired a meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, stressing efforts to push forward reform and firmly promote wider opening-up, and jointly advance high-quality development under the BRI. In addition, all ministries and commissions have introduced policies to facilitate cross-border trade and investment, ensure unimpeded and stable international logistics, and intensify BRI intellectual property protection. Local governments have also issued new policies on expanding opening-up and promoting resumed growth of foreign trade.
Exports of pandemic prevention supplies surged in April, lending new impetus to the “Silk Road of Health”. According to data from the General Administration of Customs, China's daily export of epidemic prevention supplies increased to over RMB 3 billion recently, more than tripling from the RMB one-billion export in early April.
“The BRI has gradually shifted its orientation from expanding scale to pursuing quality. COVID-19 will only strengthen and reenergize BRI cooperation and open up new possibilities. The progress of BRI projects in April spoke volumes for the resilience of BRI cooperation”. As stressed by Zhai Kun, Member of the Lab and Deputy Director of PKU Institute of Area Studies, we must remain on high alert against the risks of BRI development caused by the rapid spread of pandemic in some parts of the world, by China-U.S. disagreements, and by the interwoven traditional and non-traditional security threats, etc.