The China-proposed Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative looks to gain traction in France, politicians and experts have said.
Proposed by China in 2013, the B&R Initiative aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa based on ancient land and maritime trade routes.
It comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
When the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) opened online accreditations for the first edition of the Paris Forum on the Initiative in November, there were so many requests that IRIS had to close registrations earlier than expected.
So why is this initiative interesting more and more French? This initiative "is an opportunity to work very concretely on projects of common interest", former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin told Xinhua.
The B&R Initiative has allowed different countries to sit down around a table to discuss cooperation, and multilateral dialogue is a good model for cooperation, especially for today's world, noted Jean-Pierre Raffarin, president of the Prospective and Innovation Foundation.
This initiative is also one of the responses to multilateralism, which "can bring closer Franco-Chinese collaboration", said IRIS director Pascal Boniface.
The second reason is that the initiative obviously benefits more "Made in France" products and French companies, experts said.
One example is the Lyon-Wuhan freight rail line, which was launched in April 2016. Since then, thousands of bottles of Bordeaux wine, auto parts and French agricultural products have been exported to China.
Decathlon, one of France's leading sports goods retailers, is developing a direct freight line between Wuhan and its facilities at Dourges (Pas-de-Calais), which is considered "more economical, faster and more ecological".
After having passed a first transport test between Wuhan and Dourges in November, Decathlon plans a monthly link from early 2018, then weekly links starting in the first half of 2019.
In addition, communication between Chinese and French communities is becoming increasingly open and transparent, they said.
During the forum in Paris on the Belt and Road Initiative, there are questions such as: What benefits can this initiative really bring to France? Does the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have enough capital to finance the programs concerned?
The answers from French and Chinese experts and entrepreneurs were frank. There are obstacles yet to be overcome and there are also the visible benefits ahead.
"The dialogue is sincere and it is very important in France. This forum has well-presented points that the French have not yet understood about the Belt and Road; as well as those that attracts them to this initiative. This is good progress," said Joel Ruet, a French expert in emerging economies who chairs the think tank The Bridge.
While French people gain understanding about the Belt and Road Initiative, cooperation between China and France is set to be strengthened in the coming years.
(ASIA PACIFIC DAILY)