16th Nov 2018


China to revive ancient Silk Road

  • The initiative intends to improve connectivity of transport infrastructure, and form a network connecting sub-regions in Asia, and step-by-step between Asia, Europe and Africa. (Photo: Trey Ratcliff)

Lately, the initiative of "Belt and Road" – short for the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road has attracted worldwide attention.

This initiative was put forth by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Central Asia and Southeast Asia in September and October of 2013.

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  • Ambassador Yang Yanyi, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU: 'We believe that the two sides need to conduct feasibility study of a China-EU FTA (Free Trade Agreement).' (Photo: Chinese Mission to the EU)

With a view to sharing this vision and turning it into reality, the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China, with the authorisation of the State Council, jointly issued last March "Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road".

To enable our European partners to better appreciate this initiative and its relevance to China-EU cooperation, I wish to shed some lights on the rationale behind this initiative and its main thrust, and also offer some preliminary thoughts on its implementation in the context of China-EU Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

China's independent foreign policy of peace has been an open book, so is the "Belt and Road" initiative. For one thing, it is launched in the interest of comprehensive reform and opening up of China.

In the past three decades since reform and opening-up, China has undergone enormous changes, and grown into one of world's major economies. Yet, China remains a huge developing country. Its economic growth model is comparatively inefficient and there is still imbalance in the development of rural and urban areas and among regions.

To narrow development gaps within and amongst different regions in an integrated manner, the "Belt and Road" initiative, coupled with the development strategy of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Yangtze Economic Belt, will promote development of the western region, revitalise the northeast region and boost the rise of the central region through greater physical and institutional connectivity.

Secondly, the initiative is launched in the interest of promoting regional development and integration of Asia.

Asia has come a long way to become a fastest growing and dynamic region. Yet, there remains much to be done to achieve greater regional integration and common prosperity. Among others, infrastructure building calls for greater input, strategically, financially and institutionally.

As a Chinese saying goes, "To get well and rich, first build road and bridge."

In this connection, the "Belt and Road" initiative will contribute to promoting infrastructure construction, free flow of economic factors, efficient allocation of resources, further integration of markets, broader and more in-depth regional cooperation of higher standards, and open, inclusive and balanced regional economic cooperation architectures.

Thirdly, the initiative is launched in the interest of advancing common development and shared prosperity of all the countries along the routes.

Drawing on the historical heritage, the "Belt and Road" initiative covers more than 60 countries with a population of 4.4 billion and US$21 trillion GDP. Prudently and with confidence, many countries are embracing this initiative.

That they made such choice is because they strongly believe that Eurasia should not become an area for strategic competition and Byzantine schemes to outstrip each other but a shared space for peace, prosperity and progress.

It is strongly hoped that the "Belt and Road" initiative evolve a new paradigm of peaceful co-existence and all-dimensional, multi-tiered and composite connectivity networks for diversified, independent, balanced and sustainable development that benefits all.

Connecting Asia, Europe and Africa

If the above said is about why the "Belt and Road" initiative is proposed, I wish to turn to what the initiative is really about.

Broadly speaking, this initiative is aimed at instilling vigor and vitality into the ancient Silk Road and connecting Asian, European and African countries more closely and promoting mutually beneficial cooperation to a new high and in new forms; and embracing the trend towards a multi-polar world, economic globalisation, cultural diversity and greater IT application and upholding the global free trade regime and the open world economy in the spirit of open regional cooperation.

Specifically speaking, the "Belt and Road" initiative takes the following as its major goals, namely promoting policy coordination, facilitating connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds.

On policy coordination, the initiative puts emphasis on building multi-level intergovernmental macro policy communication mechanism to coordinate economic development strategies and policies and plans for regional cooperation, and provide policy support for implementation of practical cooperation and large-scale projects.

On facilitation of connectivity, the initiative intends to improve connectivity of transport infrastructure, and form a network connecting sub-regions in Asia, and step-by-step between Asia, Europe and Africa; promote connectivity of energy infrastructure; and advance the construction of communications networks to expand information exchanges and cooperation.

On unimpeded trade, the initiative will improve investment facilitation, trade facilitation and liberalisation, expand mutual investment areas, advance cooperation in emerging industries, improve division of labour and distribution of industrial chains and explore new models of investment cooperation.

On financial integration, the initiative pushes for deepening financial cooperation to build a currency stability system, investment and financing system and credit information system; strengthen financial regulation system and establish an efficient regulation coordination mechanism in the region.

On people-to-people bond, the initiative works to promote extensive cultural, academic and personnel exchanges; expand tourism, strengthen cooperation on education, media, youth and women, public health as well as science, technology and innovation, just to name a few.

The "Belt and Road" initiative is guided by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. It is characterised by openness, harmony and inclusiveness, market operation, and mutual benefit; as well as wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits.

Programs of development will be open and inclusive, not exclusive.

Contrary to some speculations, the initiative will not replace existing mechanisms or initiatives for regional cooperation. Rather it will be built on the existing basis to help countries align their development strategies and form complementarities.

"Belt and Road" initiative is not meant as rhetoric. Thanks to the concerted efforts of relevant parties, substantive progress has been made in the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

The Silk Road Fund has been launched, and constructions of a number of infrastructure connectivity projects are moving forward. Quite a few Asian and European countries are stepping up port and infrastructure development, expanding shipping, fishing and fish processing industries and planning industrial parks, special zones, bonded areas and free trade zones near their ports.

These early harvests have pointed to the broad prospects the "Belt and Road" initiative will bring. Furthermore there are many such projects in the pipeline and with good market prospects.

EU-China relations

Now, let me turn to how relevant is the "Belt and Road" initiative to China-EU relations and how shall we tap the full potential of this Initiative to promote mutual prosperity.

More than 2000 years ago, China and Europe were bounded together by the ancient Silk Road, which opened up long-distance, political and economic interactions between civilizations of China, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, the Horn of Africa, Arabia and Europe.

Trade in silk and many other goods eventually turned the Silk Road into an extensive intercontinental network of exchange of culture, religion, philosophy, technology, language, science, architecture, and every other element of civilisation and eventually led to world-wide interaction and the beginnings of a global community.

The Silk Road left an enduring impact on relations between countries of Eurasia. Now, in a globalised village, China and the EU have been linked closer than ever before.

With complex and profound changes taking place across the global landscape, especially with the underlying impact of the international financial crisis keeping emerging, it is highly timely and significant for China and the EU to carry on the Silk Road spirit and take an active part in the ambitious and transformative "Belt and Road" endeavor to strengthen economic complementarity and connectivity and correspond to the new requirements of both sides in their respective new stages of development.

As implementation of the Belt and Road initiative is an evolving process, we wish to work together with the EU in an incremental manner on the following:

First, enhance policy coordination. We are ready to make full use of the existing mechanisms such as the China-EU summit, the High Level Strategic Dialogue, the High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue and the High Level People-to-People Dialogue to share information and enhance communication.

We will see to it that the "Belt and Road" initiative is aligned to our synergies and strategic orientations and that China and the EU will jointly provide policy support and identify and launch programs that accommodate bilateral and multilateral interests.

Second, build up synergies. Specific programs contained in the Belt and Road initiative, including improving connectivity, investment and trade, developing new-generation information technology, green economy and blue economy growth, as well as strengthening financial cooperation are commensurate with EU's Investment Plan to boost growth, jobs, competitiveness and such integration strategies like the Single Digital Market, Capital Markets Union and Energy Union.

We'd like to work with the EU to align both initiatives and tap the full potential of their complementarity.

Third, focus on priority. Facilitation of investment is an important underpinning for China-EU economic and trade ties and for implementing the "Belt and Road" initiative. With this in mind, we are committed to working closely with the EU to further implement China-EU 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, attaching particular importance to taking the negotiation of the Bilateral Investment Agreement onto the "fast track".

This endeavor is a testimony to our shared vision to put in place a single comprehensive legal framework to secure predictable long-term access to both our markets and provide for strong protection to investors and their investment.

As one of the success stories of both China and the EU is their greater integration into the global economies, we believe that the two sides need to conduct feasibility study of a China-EU FTA.

Though this FTA might be a longer term perspective, this arrangement will be a win-win deal for both sides since it will develop stronger and deeper trade links between major global economies and generate significant business, investment and market opportunities for all.

Forth, reinforce financial cooperation. Financial cooperation is an important part of either China-EU relationship or the "Belt and Road" initiative. We wish to further strengthen China-EU financial cooperation including in particular with the European Central Bank and the European Investment Bank.

We look forward to expanding exchanges and practical cooperation with the EU on macro economic policy, government procurement, mutual investment and cooperation, and international economic and financial issues.

China supports a stable financial market in both EU member states and the Euro Zone as well as measures of EU institutions and the European Central Bank to achieve financial stability. We are very much encouraged by the positive response of many EU member states to the AIIB and we are more than ready to work with them for the smooth and successful operation of the AIIB.

Last but not least, build bridges between our peoples.

In essence, the "Belt and Road" initiative is for the people and by the people. People-to-people bond were the strengths for the ancient Silk Road and constitute the sound foundation for the "Belt and Road" initiative.

We will try our very best to raise awareness and understanding of the benefits and advantages of the "Belt and Road" initiative. And to ensure inclusive and mutual learning among civilisations, we will, guided by our value and ideal of preserving harmony without uniformity and the EU's stress on unity in diversity, continue to promote extensive cultural exchanges and interaction among the youth, people's groups, local communities, academics and media to forge stronger ties of friendship and partnership, and make sure civilizations thrive and prosper by way of drawing on the strength of each other.

The above-mentioned are just some of our initial thoughts. We very much welcome views and proposals from our EU partners and business community and academic circle on how they see the "Belt and Road" initiative moving forward and how this initiative be an attractive destination for strategic investment for mutual prosperity.

For in the final analysis, the "Belt and Road" initiative is not a solo but a chorus. It calls for collective wisdom and contribution from all the interested parties.

For sure there will be uncertainties and challenges down the road, but emboldened by four decades of productive dialogue and cooperation, I am confident that China and the EU, with the support of their peoples and business communities, will continue to leverage from their strong partnership and build together a "Belt and Road" that is politically cohesive, economically integrated, socially harmonious with development gaps within and among its participating parties narrowed and foster greater physical, institutional and people-to-people connectivity.

Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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