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The Silk Road - From Past to the Future

2014/03/04
 

In his separate visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia in September and October 2013, President Xi Jinping of China called for joint development of an "Economic Belt along the Silk Road" and a "Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century". The "Belt" and the "Road" are two major initiatives that China has made to deepen reform and opening-up and advance its neighborhood diplomacy. They have been written into the documents of the Third Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee, the Meeting on Neighborhood Diplomacy and the Central Economic Work Conference, and have been enthusiastically received both at home and abroad.

1. The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives are the continuation and development of the spirit of the ancient Silk Road.

Over 2,000 years ago, the industrious and brave people on the Eurasian continent opened several trade routes connecting major civilizations across Asia, Europe and Africa. Together, they were referred to as the "Silk Road" by succeeding generations. Despite repeated strifes and wars in Eurasia, traffic on the Silk Road, with sound of camel bells and endless flows of caravans and ships, never stopped completely. Transportation and technologies were so backward back then, yet nothing would keep merchants, the wise, the learned and envoys from travelling across mountains and rivers amid untold difficulties, and exploring the Silk Road with utmost resilience and courage. Countries large and small along the routes had all reaped considerable benefits from the Silk Road. China learnt a lot from other countries, and so did these countries from China. Such links of mutual emulation via the Silk Road made exchanges of goods, know-how, people and ideas possible, promoted the economic, cultural and social progress in the various countries, facilitated dialogue and integration of different civilizations, and left behind brilliant pages in human history.

Moving into the 21st century, an era that is dominated by the themes of peace, development and cooperation but continues to feature a complex international and regional landscape, the Silk Road has become all the more important and precious as a symbol of peace, cooperation, openness, inclusiveness, mutual learning and resilience. If our ancestors could treat each other with respect as equals, work for mutual benefit and rise above occasional hostility 2,000 years ago, it is all the more pressing for us today to carry this invaluable legacy forward. It is all the more crucial for the international community to embrace the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, bring it up to date, instill greater dynamism, and realize its value in this new age, thus creating a new material and cultural wealth for humanity.

2. Working jointly for the "Belt" and "Road" initiatives meets the trend of the times for regional cooperation.

Asia, known as the engine of global growth and a key driver for world multipolarization and economic globalization, plays a critical and increasing role in the shaping of international landscape. Meanwhile, Asia faces multiple challenges, old and new, including mounting pressures to stay vibrant. It will be the common tasks of all Asian countries to consolidate and maintain the favorable situation of peace and development in Asia, build stronger consensus and capacity of Asian countries, enhance the awareness of a community of shared interest and shared destiny for a harmonious Asia and achieve a comprehensive rejuvenation of all Asian countries. The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives linking the past with the present and covering China and other countries, have a highly inclusive scope that bears witness to the history of great glory in Asia, provide an important source from which Asians draw confidence and pride for their history and cultures, and stand as a banner of Asian unity and commitment to cooperation.

Regional integration is an unavoidable phase towards economic globalization. The flourishing cooperation in Asia has boosted peace and development in the region. However, compared with those in Europe and North America, regional cooperation in Asia remains inadequate, as evidenced in particular by the uneven development and poor connectivity among Asia's sub-regions, posing a considerable obstacle to deeper regional cooperation. The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives, by linking Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and West Asia, will contribute to greater connectivity and complementarity across the sub-regions, and help the establishment and improvement of Asia's supply chain, industrial chain and value chain, thus bringing Pan-Asian and Eurasian regional cooperation to a new level.

Profound changes are taking place with respect to global growth, trade, investment and capital flows. Eurasian countries, all in a critical state of transition and upgrading, desperately need to unleash their potential demand and that of the region, create still more growth points and make their economies more dynamic and more resilient to fend off risks. The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives foresee infrastructure development and systemic innovation, which conduces to an improved business environment in relevant countries and the region as a whole, to an orderly and unimpeded flow of production factors and their improved distribution, to the development of landlocked countries and the remote areas of various countries, to lowering costs and trade and investment barriers, and to providing greater drive for reform and opening-up in the various countries.

With obvious differences in history, culture, religion and level of development, Eurasian countries need to give scope to their advantages of diversity, follow a path of diversified development, build harmony to bridge differences while constantly seeking common ground. Personnel exchanges, cultural interactions and inter-civilization dialogues are therefore of vital importance. The ancient Silk Road is paved with timeless jewels of country-to-country and people-to-people exchanges. The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives will bring out the profound cultural achievements of ancient times, strengthen people-to-people exchanges among all countries across a spectrum of areas, strata and faiths, give scope to the potential of "soft" exchanges geared to expanding the groundwork of friendship among peoples and contribute a positive energy to peace and development in Asia.

3. Working jointly for the "Belt" and "Road" initiatives meets China's needs for its own development and its cooperation with the outside world.

China's cause of reform and opening-up has been a resounding success. Unbalanced development, however, remains a problem, especially between the country's eastern region and central and western regions. To solve this problem, we need to promote transfers of resources and industries among the different regions, giving greater scope to the resource and geographical advantages of the central and western regions and tapping their potential for exchanges and cooperation with neighboring countries. Building the Economic Belt along the Silk Road may be an important way to this end.

China's opening-up in the past 30-odd years has been more targetted to the east and the developed world. Today, as we turn around and set our eyes to the west direction, we see a big market on the Eurasian continent. This is a vast region calling for our vigorous efforts to explore, develop and manage. The Third Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee made the decision to expand and accelerate the opening of the inland and border regions so as to build an economic corridor criss-crossing the country. At the same time, coastal areas in China's east region should build on their existing strengths, open still wider to the outside, speed up FTA implementation aimed at neighboring countries and deepen the maritime economic cooperation scheme with the relevant countries. The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives, by covering multiple provinces, autonomous regions and major municipalities in China's central, western and east coastal regions and being consistent with the country's regional development strategy, the new urbanization strategy and the opening-up strategy, will serve as a big booster for the shaping of an all-directional opening China.

The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives also come as a highlight in China's diplomacy in the new era, especially its neighborhood diplomacy. Neighborhood diplomacy occupies the primary position in China's overall diplomacy. As a policy priority, China works hard to develop more friendly political relations, stronger economic ties, closer security cooperation and deeper cultural links with the neighboring countries. The state of China's relations with the rest of the world finds expression, first and foremost, in the changing relations between China and its neighbors. Whether or not China can continue to live harmoniously with its neighbors and help each other along the way will have an important bearing on the way China conducts its relations with the world. China has adhered to the policy of building friendship and partnership with the neighbors and abided by the principle of bringing harmony, security and prosperity to the neighborhood. We hope to participate more actively in international affairs including those in the neighborhood through the "Belt" and "Road" initiatives, highlighting the concept of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness, providing more public goods and playing a more effective role as a responsible major country. The initiatives will also help dovetail China, its neighbors and other Eurasian countries on the issue of development strategies, build an even closer network of common interests, and bring integration of respective interests to a higher level, whereby China and all countries in the neighborhood can benefit from each other's development and the common development of the whole continent.

4. The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives are ones for open and inclusive economic cooperation.

Both the Economic Belt along the Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century have been anchored on economic cooperation, and built on cultural and people-to-people exchanges. They foresee no interference in the internal affairs of the countries involved, nor do they seek to dominate regional affairs or secure spheres of influence in the region.

The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives look at ideas and suggestions for cooperation and development. They are not about building an entity or creating new mechanisms. The initiatives will rely on existing bilateral and multilateral mechanisms between China and other countries and use existing platforms of regional cooperation that have proven effective. They will not overlap or compete with existing cooperation mechanisms of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Eurasian Economic Community or ASEAN Plus China. If anything, they will enrich and enliven those mechanisms. We should open our mind and heart for the various cooperation initiatives and mechanisms, take a more pragmatic approach, and make them more effective and mutually reinforcing.

Inheriting the proud tradition of openness from the ancient Silk Road and adopting the "Open Regionalism" advocated by East Asian countries, the "Belt" and "Road" initiatives can only be more open and more inclusive, rather than becoming a secluded, ossified and exclusive mechanism. Instead of starting from scratch, the initiatives will be built on the continuation and upgrading of existing cooperation. The parties involved may consider linking their cooperation projects, both existing and planned, together into an integrated package for multiplied cost-effectiveness.

The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives foresee complete openness in geographical and country-specific reference. They may trace, but not be limited, to the past Silk Road, and all countries along the land and the maritime Silk Roads as well as all friendly neighbors of China can get involved. Central Asia, Russia, South Asia and Southeast Asia will be the priority direction. So will the Middle East and East Africa since they are where the "Belt" and "Road" join. Countries in Europe, CIS and Africa may also be included in the long run. What is more, the initiatives, as they make progress in the future, may involve a lot more projects, countries or entities, which can only ensure their increasing openness.

Some parts of the ancient Silk Road went through Russia, and the Tea Road as it was known strikes deep roots in the history of that country. Russia is a world power that spans across Eurasia, enjoying a major and traditional influence on the Continent and Central Asia in particular. To China, Russia is a good neighbor, good friend and good partner. In building the Economic Belt along the Silk Road, Russia is an indispensable partner. Around the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games not long ago, the presidents of the two countries met again to have a positive and in-depth discussion on the subject of the Economic Belt along the Silk Road. Some existing cooperation projects between the two countries, such as oil and gas pipelines, Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe railway, West China-West Europe highway, and China's participation in the development of Russia's Far East and Eastern Siberia, can very well be integrated with the building of the Economic Belt along the Silk Road. The Economic Belt along the Silk Road is in the shared interests of China and Russia and complementary to the ongoing process of the Eurasian Economic Community. It may therefore become a drive for the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination.

5. The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives feature "five links" and focus on result-oriented and project-based cooperation, all aimed at bringing tangible benefits to the people in the region.

The first of the "five links" is policy. Countries can discuss strategies and policies on economic development and in the spirit of seeking common ground while shelving differences, harmonizing their positions through consultation, formulate corresponding plans and measures for cooperation and give regional economic integration their policy and legal "green light".

The second "link" is road. We have a saying in China that goes "if you want to get rich, get started by building roads." Many countries share this view. There is need for China and its neighboring countries to improve on their cross-border transportation infrastructure, put in place a transportation network linking Asia's sub-regions and connecting Asia with Europe and Africa and effectively address the existing inadequacies of connectivity and transportation in regions targeted by the project.

The third "link" is trade. We should study issues of trade and investment facilitation while making proper arrangements accordingly, remove trade and investment barriers, promote economic circulation and improvement in the region, unleash still greater trade and investment potential of participating countries and make the regional cooperation "pie" still bigger.

The fourth "link" is currency. We should promote greater trade settlement in local currencies and more currency swap schemes, strengthen bilateral and multilateral financial cooperation, set up financial arms for regional development, bring down transaction costs, enhance capacity to fend off financial risks through regional arrangement and make the region's economy more competitive globally.

The fifth "link" is people. Amity between peoples holds the key to sound relations between states. China and the neighboring countries need to shore up popular support for their state-to-state relations, promote inter-civilization dialogue, enhance exchanges, understanding and friendship among different peoples, especially those at the grassroots level.

The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives are a long-term systematic engineering that cannot be done overnight. They can only be advanced in a step-by-step manner, moving from easier tasks to more difficult ones, and from scattered spots to wider areas and finally to the whole region. The ancient Silk Road was mainly about trade in goods, while the "Belt" and "Road" cooperation envisaged now can have a much wider scope. Priority areas and early-harvest projects may include infrastructural connectivity, trade and investment facilitation, industrial cooperation and cultural and people-to-people exchanges. In the area of industrial cooperation, we can think of agriculture, fishery, science and technology, manufacturing and the service sector. We can also think of traditional and high-end manufacturing. When it comes to projects that parties have common understanding and common interests, such as road, railway, aviation, river and maritime shipping, energy, resources, pipeline, electricity and telecommunication, as well as FTA negotiations, policies and measures serving personnel exchanges, we must move quickly in consultation and implement them as soon as conditions are ripe. The key pilot zones for development and opening-up as well as the selected border ports and harbors can serve as testing grounds for cooperation. All the projects and modalities of cooperation are designed to translate advantages of political relations, geographical proximity and economic complementarity into strengths of practical cooperation and sustained growth, with the aim of achieving uninterrupted flow of goods, sound governance, social harmony, mutual benefit and common development.

Throughout this process, China will follow the right approach of upholding justice first and pursuing justice and interests simultaneously, provide developing countries and friendly neighbors with assistance as its abilities permit, and earnestly help them to achieve speedier growth. China will step up its input in the neighborhood, actively enhance connectivity there, explore the establishment of a regional infrastructure investment and financing platform, and strive to turn the neighboring land and sea area into those of peace, friendship and harmony. Not only will China upgrade its own economy, it will go for an upgraded version of opening-up through such schemes as the "Belt" and "Road" initiatives and expand its mutually-beneficial cooperation with all countries, neighboring countries in particular.

6. The proposed "Belt" and "Road" initiatives have been well received in the various quarters, but they require further consultation and concerted efforts of implementation.

When President Xi Jinping proposed the "Economic Belt along the Silk Road", Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev expressed welcome and support right away and suggested that an information Silk Road be given priority. Leaders or senior officials from other Central Asian countries, Russia, Afghanistan, Ukraine and some West Asian countries called the Economic Belt along the Silk Road an important, constructive and timely initiative that meets the trend of the times and suits needs of all sides. They expressed readiness for active participation. Foreign Minister Davutoglu of Turkey told the media that the "Economic Belt" initiative would benefit countries along the ancient Silk Road and bring about new opportunities for regional and global economic development. India, Pakistan and other South Asian countries as well as Southeast Asian countries gave their support to the "Belt" and "Road" initiatives. Business communities in many countries followed the development with great interest.

The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives are not a private matter for China alone. They are a cause shared by all countries. China will not be the sole beneficiary. The participating countries are. The "Belt" and "Road" initiatives, along with their preliminary studies, are open to constructive opinions and suggestions by other countries with a view to enriching and improving the concept, vision and planning of the initiatives. Let us pool our wisdom and resources, work together to write a new chapter of the Silk Road and build a happy life for all of us.

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