• Proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, China's Belt and Road Initiative seeks to create the largest economic market between Asia and Europe.

Proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, China's Belt and Road Initiative seeks to create the largest economic market between Asia and Europe. (Photo : Reuters)

China's Belt and Road initiative will provide opportunities for several countries along its routes, leading to the establishment of the large Asia-Europe economic zone that will integrate into a global economy, according to a former World Bank official in an interview with the Xinhua News Agency.

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The Silk Road Economic Belt will link China with Europe through central and western Asia by inland routes, while the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road will connect China with Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe by sea routes. The initiative was proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013.

"I think the main rationale (for such initiative) is to link Asia and Europe basically to one large economic zone," Simeon Djankov, visiting fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Peterson Institute for International Economics and former chief economist on finance and private sector affairs at the World Bank, told Xinhua in an interview.

Djankov said that the two mega-regional trade agreements that the U.S. is pushing has the United States as the economic center which could weaken links between Asia and Europe, even isolating central Asia.

The former WB official was referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal signed by the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries last month, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that it is negotiating with the European Union (EU) in recent months, which the U.S. was pushing to establish new trade rules and reshape the global trading system.

"So we think that the Belt and Road Initiative is helping Europe and Asia to come together," said Djankov, who served as former deputy prime minister and minister of finance of Bulgaria from 2009 to 2013.

"If it succeeds, the initiative will reestablish Eurasia as the largest economic market in the world and may affect a shift away from the dollar-based global financial system," he added.

Comparing it to the Marshall Plan, a U.S. initiative that helped Western Europe rebuild itself after World War II, Djankov said the Belt and Road initiative is different since it is "much more comprehensive" and it involves several countries with the goal to promote regional trade integration and make countries become part of a global economy.

"A big plus for the Belt and Road initiative that did not exist in the Marshall Plan is that a number of economies will benefit greatly from being integrated into the Eurasian economy and the global economy," Djankov said.

The Ministry of Commerce said that for more than 60 countries, which are in the process of industrialization and urbanization, the Belt and Road initiative has become popular.

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China has shifted its role from a mere participant to a provider of goods, and the initiative addressed the need of Asian and European countries for cooperation and development.

Since China has a track record in both constructing and financing infrastructure projects, and since huge infrastructure are needed along the Belt and Road routes, Djankov suggested it would be good to start with infrastructure under the Belt and Road Initiative.

"China has a large comparative advantage in infrastructure. It is also a way to link these economies together, later then you can go to other sectors," he said.

Djankov believed European countries that are not members of the EU have large infrastructure needs, but they lack sources of financing from the EU. At this stage, these countries would benefit more from the Belt and Road initiative.

"That's where we have seen some already successful Belt and Road infrastructure projects, Serbia, Macedonia," he said, adding that Greece, Bulgaria, Slovakia and other EU member states are also interested in becoming part of this initiative to better connect with high-growth Asian markets.

Djankov said European countries see the need to have "a potential stronger economic link" with China because of the significant trade volume between Europe and China and the expanded trade opportunities that the Belt and Road initiative present, compared with the TTIP trade talks which has controversial areas.

"This is a lot easier for European politicians to first understand and then tell to their electorates," Djankov said. "The TTIP is not easy to understand, I think that's the reason why support for the Transatlantic Partnership has been relatively small in Europe."

A new study by the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University released on Thursday, March 17, showed there is very little chance that the TTIP negotiations will be completed before the end of Obama's term.

"Some of the most intense transatlantic disagreements have arisen over differences in regulation policy. Issues such as food safety or environmental standards have strong public constituencies and are often extremely sensitive in the domestic political arena," the study said.

Djankov believed the Belt and Road initiative can be "a significant contributor to economic growth in all Europe" in the next three years, as European politicians and businessmen are also seeking new ways to attract investment and expand Europe's trade to boost its economic recovery.

A total of $14.82 billion into 49 countries has been directly invested by Chinese companies within the cooperation framework of the Belt and Road initiative last year, up 18.2 percent compared with the previous year, according to statistics released by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.