Xi Jinping: the chief architect of the Belt and Road Initiative

Xi Jinping visits Liangjiahe Village, Wen'anyi Township of Yanchuan County, Yan'an, northwest China's Shaanxi Province, Feb. 13, 2015. [Xinhua/Lan Hongguang]

That young man was Xi.

"There was no meat in our diet for months," Xi recalled decades later during a visit to the U.S. city of Seattle as Chinese president. "One thing I wished most at the time was to make it possible for the villagers to eat meat to their heart's content."

The bitter taste of poverty reinforced Xi's conviction: Development holds the master key to solving poverty problems. But how?

Xi has chosen to put China's development on wheels. "Roads first, then prosperity." Xi often cites this popular Chinese saying to elaborate on how infrastructure construction can stimulate development. In his understanding, changing a cableway or repairing a section of road, in some impoverished areas in particular, can open the door to poverty alleviation and prosperity of the masses.

A villager from Liangjiahe, Wang Xianping, recollected how Xi, who then served as a village leader, repaired the road connecting the village with the outside. "It used to be a narrow and winding path that couldn't even accommodate a wheelbarrow and was then transformed into a broad road," Wang said. The road helped the village kickstart its development.

When Xi took over the helm of China, the country had just risen to become the world's second-largest economy and faced numerous challenges. Opening up has been considered an essential engine for China's miraculous economic rise over the past four decades. Xi has reaffirmed the nation's dedication to further opening up.

File photo taken in 1972 shows Xi Jinping, then an "educated youth" in countryside, returning to Beijing to visit his relatives. [Xinhua]

As Xi put it, pursuing the BRI "is not meant to reinvent the wheel." Instead, it aims to complement the development strategies of the countries involved by leveraging their comparative strengths. "The BRI I put forward aims to achieve win-win and shared development," Xi said.

Reinvigorate communication between civilizations

Villagers in Liangjiahe still remember that Xi brought two suitcases full of books when he arrived in the village in 1969.

Xi loves reading -- a fixture in his daily life. He once walked 15 kilometers to borrow a copy of Faust, a masterpiece of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

"Reading invigorates my mind, inspires me and cultivates my moral force," Xi said. Even after assuming the top leadership post, he still keeps reading despite a busy schedule and has also encouraged government officials to read.

The reading habit has given Xi a rich knowledge of the histories and cultures of both the East and the West and a source of inspiration for his thinking about global development.

On Sept. 9, 2013, while visiting the Amir Timur Museum in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, during his first Central Asia tour as Chinese president, Xi was attracted by a map of the ancient Silk Road.

Xi pointed to a location on the map, identifying it as Xi'an, his hometown and the starting point of the Silk Road. The city, formerly known as Chang'an, is a significant birthplace of Chinese civilization and the Chinese nation.

More than 2,100 years ago, Zhang Qian, a royal emissary of the Han Dynasty, made a brave journey westward from Chang'an. His adventures pushed open the door to commercial and cultural exchanges between China and Central Asia and helped blaze the Silk Road linking the East and the West.

Sharing the story with the audience at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan in 2013, Xi said, "Today, as I stand here and look back at history, I seem to hear the camel bells echoing in the mountains and see the wisps of smoke rising from the desert."

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks with representatives of local staff members as he visits the Piraeus Port in Greece, November 11, 2019. [Xinhua/Xie Huanchi]

Xi's vision of civilization has been shared by many.

"The BRI has revived the Silk Road spirit. By activating the spirit, different civilizations can return to a harmonious state of mutual learning. That is how civilizations should get along," said Wang Yiwei.

Former Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said, "Chinese President Xi Jinping is a great leader who knows well about civilizations, about the essence and mission of civilizations."

Inspire building of a better world

"Mankind, by living in the same global village in the same era where history and reality meet, has increasingly emerged as a community of shared future in which everyone has in himself a little bit of others," Xi told a rapt, packed audience at Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 2013.

It was Xi's first overseas visit after he became Chinese president. During that trip, Xi first proposed building a community with a shared future for mankind. The idea has become a fundamental principle of China's foreign policy. Several months later, Xi introduced the Belt and Road Initiative, widely seen as a significant step towards realizing his vision of a better world.

Over the past decade, the world has witnessed rising anti-globalization sentiments, lackluster global economic growth, and widening wealth gaps between the rich world and the least-developed countries.

When some countries in the West are blustering about de-coupling in the name of so-called "de-risking," China, under Xi's leadership, insists on win-win cooperation and genuine multilateralism. He fully understands that "only when people all over the world live better lives can prosperity be sustained, security safeguarded and human rights solidly grounded."

Xi has made personal efforts to ensure that countries benefit from the opportunities the BRI provides. One example is the revival of Greece's Piraeus Port, which was once on the verge of bankruptcy but has now become one of the busiest shipping hubs in the world.

This aerial photo taken on Oct. 5, 2023, shows China's Goldwind wind turbines in Chaiyaphum, Thailand. [Xinhua/Wang Teng]

"Attention should be paid to some urgent projects that benefit local people." That is Xi's clear-cut demands for all BRI projects. European opinion-maker Modern Diplomacy commented in a recent opinion piece that the BRI has contributed significantly to transforming developing economies in Africa through developing infrastructure, reducing unemployment and improving trade, among other things.

"China does not aim to exploit Africa as the Western world imagines, because along with developing African infrastructure, the Belt and Road Initiative is helping Africa transform itself," it noted.

And the initiative's benefits are believed to reach even more corners of the world in the years ahead. According to a World Bank report, increased trade via Belt and Road cooperation "is expected to increase global real income by 0.7 to 2.9 percent," and BRI projects "could help lift 7.6 million people out of extreme poverty." Another report by global economic consultants Cebr estimated that the BRI, whose benefits "are widespread," "is likely to boost world GDP by 7.1 trillion U.S. dollars per annum by 2040."

For former Thai Deputy Prime Minister Phinij Jarusombat, the BRI "is a farsighted, world-class initiative," as it "brings peace, cooperation, development and sharing to the world. It reduces contradictions and conflicts, making people turn to seek exchanges and cooperation in the fields of culture, trade and travel."

"I have met leaders of many countries. In my eyes, Chinese President Xi Jinping is a broad-minded leader with poise and unswerving determination," he commented.

Panamanian economist Eddie Tapiero, author of the first systematic study of the BRI in Latin America, said, "The BRI inherits the spirit and essence of the ancient Silk Road, advocating peace and emphasizing seeking common development through dialogue and cooperation."

"My friends once asked me, 'What's the point of studying this?'" he said. "I told them: 'It's for a better world.'"