Data & Info

The following article by Martin Jacques appeared in Gulf News, 27th February 2018. 

The Belt and Road Initiative marks a new stage in China’s rise. Launched in 2013, it built on China’s going out strategy which took shape around the turn of the century. If the lines of continuity are clear, the differences are even starker. The going out strategy saw China developing closer relations with Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America, to name the most prominent. In contrast, the BRI is an overarching project designed to transform the Eurasian land mass, presently home to around two-thirds of the world’s population.

We have never seen the like of it before, a project on the grandest of scales and in that sense consonant with China’s own traditions.

Although Europe is part of the Eurasian land mass, the central aim is the transformation of the developing countries that comprise most of the continent. The developmental logic runs roughly as follows. China transformed itself — the most remarkable transformation in human history, one never likely to be repeated — by massive investment, in which the state was instrumental and which was largely directed towards infrastructure.

The result was spectacular economic growth and a massive reduction in poverty. If it worked for China, then why could it not for other developing countries? China doesn’t see itself as a model, but it does believe that these lessons are of more general application.

Spectacular though Belt and Road maybe, it would be wrong to underestimate or dismiss its chances of success. After almost four decades of continuous growth, China has a formidable record of delivery. Belt and Road should not only be taken seriously, it should be assumed that it in the long run it is likely to be largely successful.

By 2050, Eurasia will surely look very different, growth will have taken root in many countries and Eurasia will have moved to the centre of the global economy and geopolitics. For the more sceptical, it should be born in mind that by 2030 the Chinese economy is projected to be twice the size of America’s.

For various reasons, most importantly the closeness of the US’s relationship with the Middle East, China has moved relatively cautiously in expanding its ties with the Middle East. But the pace has quickened since the Western financial crisis.

The most important single aspect of China’s relationship has been its dependence on the Middle East for half its oil imports. But the Chinese approach has consistently focused on the need to establish a much broader economic relationship. In this context, the Middle East countries have shown great interest in the Belt and Road Initiative.

All the Middle Eastern states, bar five, are members of the Asian Infrastructure Bank, and three of the 12 directors are from the region.

Apart from the obvious economic importance of China to the Middle East, there are two key reasons why the latter is showing such interest in Belt and Road. Firstly, these countries — and perhaps most notably the Gulf states — occupy a key strategic position with regard to both the land and maritime routes.

This lends their ports an obvious significance and enhances the potential of their accompanying economic zones. The second is that with the decline of fossil fuels now firmly on the agenda, they need to diversify their economies with some alacrity, Saudi Arabia being the most compelling example.

The UAE has been well to the fore in broadening its relationship with China. China is the UAE’s second largest trading partner while the UAE is China’s second largest partner in the Gulf region.

The Khalifa port is one of the fastest growing in the world and, with Cosco’s decision to establish its own container terminal, is set to almost double in size. The Kamsil industrial zone is expanding rapidly with major Chinese investments.

A UAE-China investment fund was established in 2015 and the UAE sees itself as becoming a major financial hub. Lying on the key trading routes to Africa, Europe and the Indian subcontinent, the UAE is well-placed to be a major beneficiary of the BRI.

China’s biggest single investment so far under the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

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The next infographics are also taken from a Financial Times article: “China’s Belt and Road Initiative” by Gabriel Wildau and Nan Ma. 

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The data contained here is derived from this article authored by ChinaPower and published by the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Click to enlarge any of the images.

The first graph compares the regions based on educational index, a figure calculated from mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling. Rated from 0 (no educational attainment) to 1 (perfect educational attainment). Source: UNDP.


The following graph provides a provincial breakdown of literacy, and provides the percentage of the population 15+ years with the ability to read and write (Source: China Statistical Yearbook, World Bank).

Next, a graph demonstrating the ratio of students who attend a primary educational institution divided by the number of teachers in the institution (Source: China Statistical Yearbook, UNESCO).

And finally, for secondary education:


This map graphically illustrates how Asia is the demographic centre of the world. And Danny Quah’s accompanying map below demonstrates how the epicentre of the global economy is relentlessly moving from its location in the western Atlantic in 1980 to its present location north of the Red Sea, and to the Indo-Chinese border by 2050.

Source: Danny Quah

Over the last decade China has become the biggest trading partner of a multitude of countries around the world. All those coloured in red count as their biggest trading partner; for those coloured orange China is the second biggest trading partner. In 1990, China was the biggest trading partner of hardly any countries in the world; and even a decade ago it was still a phenomenon overwhelmingly confined to East Asia.


According to the International Comparison Programme of the World Bank, later this year the Chinese economy will become larger than that of the United States measured by purchasing power parity. Already, by the end of 2011 it was 87% of the size of the US economy. The United States has been the world’s largest economy since 1872 when it overtook the UK. The Chinese economy had previously been expected to overtake the US economy in 2019, in other words five years later. Despite the bearish sentiments of many western commentators over the years, the Chinese economy has consistently outperformed the predictions about its rise.

China Overtakes the US as the World's Largest EconomySource: FT, IMF Statistics, World Bank ICP 2011 Estimates

Recent Western commentary on the Chinese economy has been decidedly negative, emphasising the problems and downbeat about the prospects. This, of course, is hardly new: indeed it is absolutely par for the course. In fact, as the figures below show, the Chinese economy has done extraordinarily well in the five years since 2008 and the Western financial crisis. The contrast with the performance of Western economies over the same period is sobering to say the least.

  1. China’s GDP nearly doubled from Rmb26.6tn ($4.3tn) in 2007 to Rmb51.9tn ($9.49tn) in 2012
  2. Government revenue more than doubled from Rmb5.1tn to Rmb11.7tn
  3. Urban incomes rose by an annual average of 8.8%; rural income increased by an annual average of 9.9%
  4. 58.7m jobs were created in cities; 84.6m rural residents migrated to cities
  5. 19,700 km of new rail lines were built; 8,951 km of those were high-speed rail
  6. 609,000 km of new roads were built; 42,000 km were expressways
  7. 31 airports were built; 602 shipping berths for 10,000-ton ships were built
  8. The non-performing loan ratio of banks fell from 6.1% to 0.95%; their capital adequacy ratio rose from 8.4% to 13.3%
  9. Government spending on education increased at an average annual rate of 21.6%; spending on science and technology increased 18% a year
  10. Chinese investment overseas more than tripled from $24.8bn to $77.2bn

There has been much exaggerated talk about the rise of Chinese military expenditure. The first graph below gives an historical perspective. In 2012, Chinese military expenditure was less than a quarter of US military expenditure. As a proportion of GDP, China’s military expenditure was 2.0% compared with 4.4% for the US. The striking fact remains the US’s huge military expenditure. The second graph below gives the per capita military expenditure of a range of countries. As is clear, in per capita terms, China’s military expenditure remains still extremely low.

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The above figures are taken from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Military Expenditure Database. For more information, refer to Xiao Tiefeng’s article at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, Misconceptions About China’s Growth in Military Spending.