It has been five years since China launched the "Belt and Road" initiative, a bold vision to link Europe, Asia and parts between. The project is the largest development program in history and aims to put China at the center of an emerging regional and global order. That grand ambition has also created great ambivalence, outside China at least. Yet for all its flaws — and they are significant — Beijing deserves praise for attempting to fill a yawning infrastructure gap that deprives many countries of the opportunity to develop. China should be encouraged to help less fortunate nations; other governments should partner with Beijing to ensure that the Belt and Road initiative solves more problems than it creates.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the first version in a Sept. 7, 2013, speech in Kazakhstan, where he touted a "Silk Road Economic Belt" that would spark development throughout Eurasia and bring Asia and Europe closer together. Soon the "Belt" was joined by a "Maritime Silk Road" — together they formed "One Belt, One Road" — and that evolved into the Belt and Road initiative that holds the world in its thrall.

Xi seeks to build "a community with a shared future for mankind." To do that, the initiative aims to fill an estimated $26 trillion infrastructure gap. The construction of roads, bridges, ports and airports would allow recipient countries to overcome critical bottlenecks and grow their economies. China claims that 70 countries have agreed to join the initiative. If that number is correct, then the project includes more than two-thirds of the world's population, could impact 33 percent of the global economy and could move a quarter of the world's goods and services.