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China’s new Silk Road is transforming the world

MORE THAN 22 CENTURIES AGO, the Silk Road connected east and west in a global trade route that changed the world. Today, the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, is repeating that miracle on a much bigger scale.

The BRI is already the biggest infrastructure project in world history, and it is only 10 years old.  It was launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping and was originally intended to physically link East Asia with Europe.

But then it rose above the limitations of the original map and now includes Latin America, Africa, and even island nations in the Pacific Ocean.


It is estimated that it has grown with “an aggregate of US$1 trillion being invested in the past ten years,” says Nicholas Ho, Commissioner of the BRI in Hong Kong.

More than 150 countries (out of the world’s 200-odd) have some involvement with it, he says. “And we’re seeing the result of these projects. For example, the Jakarta-Bandung high speed rail: with these high-speed rails, it helps unlock regional potential,” he told Nicholas Chan Hiu-fung in an interview on Friday Beyond Spotlights.

Yet many people still don’t understand the scale of it. The project is not just about physical infrastructure links, though, Ho says. There are five “connectivity” focuses: policy, infrastructure, trade, finance, and people.

In other words, rich relationships are built among partners in the network at multiple levels.


“Hong Kong has a key role to play,” Ho says. Projects need to be useful, but each one also needs to make sense financially on its own.

“It should be commercial and bankable, and that is exactly where Hong Kong can add value, because Hong Kong is the PPP hub, Public Private Partnership. 

[Watch the interview below, or scroll down to read more of this feature.]

“Hong Kong is all about allocating and arranging international resources, whether it’s fund-raising services or finding partners,” he said.


The BRI Commissioner trained as an architect and was very successful in that field before taking up his current role.

Like architecture, the BRI is focused on building, but also has a crucial human element—at all times you have to think about the potential positive effects a construction has on the people who use it.


Nicholas Ho said that as an architect, and in his public service projects, these elements were involved. At his company in 2015, he established a unit called hpa SOCIAL. It provides free professional help, volunteering and mentorship programs, in Hong Kong and internationally.

Referring to corporate social responsibility programs, he said: “As a private company back then, we’re not required to do any CSR or any ESG-related work, but then I just felt like it’s important for not just myself, but for young architects, young professionals to get out of their heads, not just focus on the project and work at the desk, but to really connect with the people that you are ultimately serving, whether it is in a community center or in schools with students.”

His social group ended up connected to China’s infrastructure outreach. “We’re very lucky that we’ve worked with a charity in Mainland China that built a community center in rural villages,” he said. “We’re also very lucky to be able to design a Chinese school in Laos as well, part of the Belt and Road initiative.”


Coming from a classic Chinese family, Ho said that his prized possession was a handwritten letter that his father wrote to him.

During his youth, Ho found himself deeply unhappy with the academic challenges he was facing—until one day he found, on his desk, a letter from his father.

It didn’t follow the stereotype of the achievement-obsessed Asian parent: his father pointed out that there was more to life than passing exams.

The letter said that success in exams doesn’t mean your career will be successful. Success in your career doesn’t mean your life will be successful. And success in life doesn’t mean you’ll find happiness.

In other words, the important things in life were not dependent on each other in the way that young people often assumed.

“So these words really stuck with me,” Ho said. “And I think that’s also part of the Hong Kong spirit, because this is resilience.”

Hong Kong has been through some tough times, and they are continuing—but with his insider’s view of the growth of the BRI, Nicholas Ho has seen the future of this region, and it is looking bright.

All images from Friday Beyond Spotlights.

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