A faint train whistle sound from the Belt HAN WOO-DUK The author is a senior reporter of the China Lab. Even at this time, trains fully loaded with containers must be running through the meadow in Central Asia. They are the China-Europe freight trains connecting China and major European cities. The trains run along the Silk Road, where camels used to travel. According to Chinese train authorities, the trains traveled 8,641 times in the first half of this year alone. They carried 936,000 containers, up 29 percent from last year. Despite the war in Ukraine, the 21st-century Silk Road is lively. The trains span 216 European cities in 25 countries. Thanks to the freight trains, China emerged as the biggest trade partner of the European Union in 2020, outpacing the United States. Chinese media praise the China-Europe freight trains as the biggest accomplishment of the Belt and Road Initiative spearheaded by Chinese President Xi Jinping. To mark the 10th anniversary of the initiative, China is hosting the third Belt and Road Forum on Tuesday in Beijing. Xi will preside over Beijing’s biggest diplomatic event this year. But no EU representative will be attending. Western European countries that sent their delegation to the second forum in 2019 are pulling out this time. Why has the political exchange been severed when trains are running actively? The answer can be found in China’s intention behind the Belt and Road Initiative. China often finds solutions to future problems from the past. The Silk Road was created during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). It was during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) when exchanges between the East and the West were most active through the path. The Han Dynasty was powerful, and the Tang Dynasty flourished. Xi’s “Chinese Dream” is to make China the world’s strongest today, as it used to be in the past. The Belt and Road Initiative is a way to realize that dream. Western countries regard the Chinese Dream as a challenge to the global order, as the Belt and Road Initiative is perceived as just a means to realize the dream. Many raised concerns that the project only increased the debt of underdeveloped countries. This is why the third forum gets less attention than the second one. President Xi stressed a “win-win cooperation” through the Belt and Road Initiative 10 years ago. However, the initiative is being criticized for the disappearance of win-win cooperation and the pursuit of only China’s economic interests and geopolitical goals. The whistle sound of the trains running across the grasslands of Central Asia is becoming empty.

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