Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative” has always been about common development and prosperity through improving connectivity between nations. Any scheme on such a massive scale is bound to require reassessment from time to time and that is what has taken place with a rail project on Malaysia’s east coast. A revised deal has been negotiated, lowering the cost and offering other benefits. A positive message has been sent as dozens of government and business leaders prepare to meet later this month for the second belt and road forum. It is a far cry from claims in the West that Chinese aims are less than they seem and the initiative is about power projection and influence and a likely “debt trap” for some of the 125 countries that have signed cooperation agreements. Malaysia’s prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, had long expressed concerns about the rail project, approved by his predecessor Najib Razak, who faces a slew of corruption charges. After winning the election a year ago, Mahathir made good with a vow to review the agreement and the Chinese contractor, China Communications Construction Company, has been receptive to his wishes. The track linking the east coast to the busy waterway of the Malacca Strait at Klang in the west has been reduced by more than 30 per cent through the length being shortened 40km to 648km, the firm agreeing to bear some of the maintenance and operating risks and the percentage of local participation in civil works being raised from 30 to 40 per cent. Malaysia to ‘take advantage’ of rail link deal to sell China palm oil Mahathir now hopes the new contract will be grounds for China to buy more Malaysian palm oil. Work on the rail line, suspended while talks took place, is expected to resume next month and it is scheduled to open in 2026. Such a positive outcome is not in line with the claims of the doomsayers, who had pointed to the construction of a port in Sri Lanka taken over by a Chinese firm on a 99-year lease due to non-payment of loans as evidence of Beijing’s real intentions. They had similar predictions for a host of other belt and road schemes and United States President Donald Trump’s administration had seized on the issue of debt to try to dissuade governments from joining. But the renegotiated rail deal negates such positions. Beijing and Chinese firms have learned much about the challenges of implementing the initiative since it was announced by President Xi Jinping almost six years ago. They better understand the difficulties faced by developing countries and the complexities of democracies. Belt and road goals have not changed and governments in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere remain dedicated to the initiative; the shared commitment and infrastructure that is being built and the resultant trade and investment are proof enough.