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West picks up interest in Belt and Road coverage

FOREIGN VIEWS

While China’s One Belt, One Road initiative has now taken its rightful place in Western media coverage, that was not the case until very recently.

Its newfound acknowledgement by the West emerged suddenly, prompted by corporations seeking potential profits, trade collaboration between two world powers and a credibility-boosting news article.

Until this May, less than 100 stories combined on the topic of Belt and Road had appeared since January 1, 2015 in four of the largest and most influential US and UK publications: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian (London) and The Daily Telegraph.

In most cases, the focus in stories was on politics and the impact on trade with other countries, rather than explaining what this ambitious project actually entailed or the logic behind it. That made it difficult for readers to fully grasp its context.

A search of Internet trends using the US and UK as examples also indicates very little trending on the topic during that period.

“While the Financial Times, which is international in scope, covered One Belt One Road extensively, the other papers for educated readers provided little coverage and I don’t know that I ever heard it mentioned in TV,” Martin Jacques, British journalist and expert on current affairs, told me in an April interview.

Charles Freeman, a long-time US diplomat and spokesman in favor of strong Asia-Western relations, added: “The mood in Washington began with indifference, then turned to denial and then those in the military establishment began opposing it on military concerns.”

Jacques acknowledged that infrastructure development in developing countries is “not what the West does and infrastructure in any place can be difficult.” But while America is a long way from the project’s primary land mass and Europe is closer, what’s needed by all is “vision for the future,” he said.

Meanwhile, Freeman acknowledged that from a business standpoint some Belt and Road projects will have an acceptable rate of return and some may not, but they are “definitely not military in nature.”

However, in the Western media times have now suddenly changed. Today as I write this, I am viewing a BBC roundtable on the potential of One Belt One Road while reading through several significant stories about it in various western publications and wire services. The tide of western media coverage about Belt and Road has turned.

News of Belt and Road gained further credibility in the West with The New York Times May 14, 2017 article “US Firms Want in on China’s Global ‘One Belt, One Road’ Spending.” This much-quoted article represented the serious mainstream arrival of the topic to a portion of the world that hadn’t previously been told all that much about it.

The article told of US corporate giant General Electric receiving product orders in the Belt and Road region totaling US$2.3 billion last year and noted its plans to bid for an additional US$7 billion in natural gas turbines and power equipment this year.

The US has also formed the American Belt and Road Working Group to serve as “one node” for cooperation on the initiative.

The relevance of the Belt and Road is now firmly in play in the West. There is still much to be observed, discussed and decided about One Belt, One Road in this and coming years. But at least now a greater portion of the world is being kept up to date on its progress.

Andrew Leckey, president of the Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism in the US and a tenured chair in business journalism at Arizona State University, is currently a visiting scholar at Fudan Development Institute.


 

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