Late last year (2013), President Xi Jinping launched the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road to deepen reform and further open up China to the rest of the world. The initiative sounded interesting and timely and many of the countries in the neighborhood of China soon extended their support to it. However, they needed to have more in-depth knowledge about the initiative, its different aspects, and its purposes. The countries needed to weigh carefully the geopolitical, economic, financial and other implications of this Chinese initiative for them.
As diplomats in different missions in Beijing, we also needed to have full comprehension of the initiative. So, the trip organised by the Foreign Ministry of China for us to revisit the Silk Road was considered very timely and an opportunity for us to acquire first-hand knowledge and insight into the initiative. And indeed our 10-day visit to the central and western regions of China, through Shaanxi & Gansu Provinces and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, our participation in seminars and symposium, our trips to different enterprises, industrial development zones and parks, companies and markets, listening to and discussion with academics, experts, officials and leadership of those provinces and region, have indeed helped us gain useful insight into and comprehension of the philosophy, concept and spirit of the great Chinese initiative.
Views & comments on the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative & benefits out of it
To me the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative of China embodies China’s vision for itself and the rest of the world for the 21st Century. The initiative symbolizes China’s vision for global peace and development through establishment of intensive physical and other forms of connectivity as well as cooperative ties between China and the countries across Eurasia, Africa and beyond, as expressed through this initiative and through President Xi Jinping’s Major Power Relationship Model launched last year during his visit to the USA. I believe China took these major initiatives of global reach from a deep realization and conviction that understanding and peace between countries cannot be achieved without connectivity and cooperation between them and that continued peace and stability in relations are sine qua non or prerequisites for all round development of every country of the world.
China is currently the second largest economy of the world and on the way to soon become arguably its largest economy. I discern that China as a major power of the 21st century with global clout is fast assuming its global responsibility in an era labeled as “the China-led Asian Century”. China has a dream of rejuvenating the great Chinese nation and to pull its entire population above the poverty line and to ensure a fairly high level of socioeconomic development soonest possible. However, no country can develop in isolation in the present world. No country alone can ensure peace and stability in and around it. The present era is the era of collective development through collective and concerted efforts of nations. Hence is China’s above initiative of global reach.
China’s bid to assume global responsibility is amply clear from its endeavours to ensure peace, stability and development of China and the rest of the world. This is evident in China’s efforts and roles in the proposed establishment of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, BRICS Bank, SCO, Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), etc.
‘Connectivity’ and ‘Cooperation’ are the key words. China’s opening up for the last three decades was targeted more to the country’s eastern and coastal regions. Resultantly, there has occurred a considerable prosperity gap between its eastern and western regions. The socioeconomic development and prosperity have largely bypassed China’s central and western regions. Now, it badly needs to target its opening-up policies to its western regions. This is possible through the materialization of the New Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB). Once materialized, the SREB will connect China’s central and western regions to the huge markets of Eurasia and East Africa and help close the prosperity gap between the eastern and western regions of China, while the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will further boost the economic prosperity in the eastern and coastal regions of the country by further enhancement of understanding and cooperation between nations and countries along the new Maritime Silk Road. The initiative is expected to usher in an unprecedented era of China’s integration and cooperation in diverse areas not only with the countries in China’s neighbourhood, but also with all the countries along the SREB and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in Asia, Europe and eastern region of Africa to the mutual benefit of all those countries.
As in the times of the ancient Silk Road, provinces like Shaanxi and Gansu and Ningxia region will play their due roles in forging cooperative and fruitful relations with the countries along the new Silk Road Economic Belt and in developing the central and western regions of China. Xian, Tianshui, Dingxi, Gu Yuan and Yinchuan cities were important points on the ancient Silk Road and these will again be important node cities on the new SREB. Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region with its long and glorious history and Islamic tradition will be able to help China forge win-win relationship with all the Muslim Countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt, with special focus on the Arab countries. It has, meanwhile, initiated their efforts in this regard by successfully holding China-Arab States Fairs or Expos since 2010.
As for Bangladesh, it has deeply appreciated the Chinese initiative. During her recent visit to China, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, expressed Bangladesh’s support and appreciation of these great initiative that the Chinese leadership had launched. Bangladesh looks forward to cooperating with China in the implementation of these mega-projects and benefiting from them. And in that context, Bangladesh is currently working with China, India and Myanmar for early implementation of the BCIM EC (Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Economic Corridor) along a route which in ancient times constituted a branch of the ancient Silk Road. The first Joint Study Group Meeting of the BCIM EC was held in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan Province in December last year (2013) and the second is scheduled to be held in Bangladesh before the close of the current calendar year (2014). Under the purview of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, China is expected to participate in the establishment of the planned Deep Sea Port at Sonadia in Cox’s Bazaar in the southeast of Bangladesh on the Bay of Bengal.
Some suggestions on the materialization of the new Silk Road Economic Belt
The establishment of the Belt and the Road will not, however, be an easy task. A great deal of deliberation and negotiation may be necessary among the countries along the Belt and the Road for generating necessary political interest in and support for these mega-connectivity projects and viewing mutual benefits in them and for harmonization of customs & financial rules and regulations, removal/lowering of tariff and non-tariff barriers, trade and investment facilitation, etc in order that desirable economic integration may be achieved. Steps have to be taken for facilitation of visas. Agreements would be necessary also for promotion of tourism and people-to-people contacts between the countries. Negotiation at the bilateral and multilateral levels may be commenced soon on all these matters and areas.
A major issue would be building or development of appropriate infrastructural facilities in all the counties along the ‘One Belt & One Road’ for smooth operation of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road. Many of the countries might need financial and technical assistance in this regard. China might be required to provide a huge chunk of it. Expeditious founding of the planned Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and early commencement of its functioning could be a major step forward in this arena. Eurasia Economic Forum (EEF) may be a good platform for action in this regard.
Expos on the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and car rallies along the planned Silk Road may be held in all the countries along the Belt in a bid to give visibility to the spirit and concept of the new SREB and the philosophy behind it. A series of seminars and symposiums in the countries along the Belt and the Road may be organised to drive the “One Belt One Road” initiative home to the peoples of those countries. And the embassies and consulates of those countries in China can coordinate between the relevant authorities in their countries and those in China and extend all possible support to an early materialization of the two epoch-making projects –‘One Belt & One Road’ –launched by China.
The author is the Ambassador of the Embassy of Bangladesh to China