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Interview: Belt & Road Initiative to create better trade routes, says U.S. expert

NEW YORK, June 29 (Xinhua) -- China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is bringing plenty of excitement to Southeast Asia, a U.S. expert told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Will Doig, an urban development journalist and author of High-Speed Empire: Chinese Expansion and the Future of Southeast Asia, made the remarks on the sideline of a recent event -- "Belt and Road: Why the Chinese Model Is Winning in South and Southeast Asia" held by the Chinese Institute in New York City.


The BRI is more than just an infrastructure plan, Doig said, it is a comprehensive strategy that includes "hardware" as well as "software."

The BRI is a development strategy including the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, focused on increasing development and connectivity between regions and proposed by the Chinese government in 2013.

"It's about making borders between countries more permeable, creating better trade routes and creating more efficient supply chains, etc.," he said.

Having travelled along the route of the Pan-Asia railway, a crucial part of regional connectivity in Southeast Asia, Doig admitted that he was skeptical at first about the effectiveness and the local acceptance of such a program.

"I was surprised about the amount of excitement in these countries in Southeast Asia that people had," he said. "For a major power suddenly paying a lot of attention to them and wanting to invest in them in a way that most other countries have not done in quite a while."

Doig also believed that "China, more than anything, wants to get the job done."

"It (China) is pursuing a range of mutually beneficial geostrategic partnerships buttressed by development and trade," Doig wrote in his book under the Chapter "Win-Win."


Doig praised the progress China has made in its BRI projects.

"It's easy to forget that China has been in the global development game in a serious way for less than 10 years," Doig said. "I think that they are learning fairly quickly."

He used the example of concerns raised by local village chiefs in a city in northern Laos where a railway will pass through. The chiefs were worried because the Chinese authorities had not consulted with them before building.

"You might cut a deal with the leaders of the country," Doig said, "but a lot of the time the people you're working with are provincial leaders or even local leaders."

"The longer they're in this game, the more they're going to learn and I think that we will see these projects accelerate rather than stall," he said.

This is a bilateral communication process, Doig said, and China is willing to work with countries who are open about their concerns, whether it be on resettling displaced populations or mitigating environmental effects, he added.


As a journalist, Doig observed that "reporting on BRI in the West is not all that positive."

However, he believed that "if there's going to be improvement in the dialogue and in the understanding, it will probably come through private interests."

As one of the largest creators of infrastructure, China has already been involved in many smaller scale projects in the United States, but he is looking forward to more Chinese involvement in large scale projects, Doig said.

"The idea that we could somehow partner with China to help us do a lot of the work that we need to do here (is amazing)," said Doig. "If we could find ways to sort of circumvent some of the politics, there is a lot of opportunity there at least on the city level."

For example, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) in Boston cooperated with the Chinese railcar manufacturer CRRC in an order of 284 subway cars. Cities including Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angles are following Boston lead in working with CRRC, said Doig.

"When you get more material outcomes that people can actually see are improving their real lives, I hope that would improve understanding between the two countries," Said Doig.


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