Summary of the International Symposium on the Silk Road Economic Belt in the Context of Economic Globalization

China International Studies | 作者: Chen Yurong & Tang Zhongchao | 时间: 2014-03-28 | 责编: Li Xiaoyu
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 By Chen Yurong & Tang Zhongchao



Editor’s note: On December 11, 2013, the international conference on the Silk Road Economic Belt in the Context of Economic Globalization was hostedby the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) in Beijing. About 60 participants, including experts from China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, officials from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) secretariat, diplomats from the embassies in China of the members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), officials from China’s Foreign Ministry and former Chinese ambassadors to the CIS states, attended the conference. The participants agreed that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative encapsulates the trend of the times and is of great historical significance. The Silk Road Economic Belt will bring new historic opportunities and huge benefits to the economic development of the countries within the belt. This initiative proposed by China will be enriched with specific content with the active participation of the relevant countries over a long period. The major points expressed at the symposium were as follows.


I. The Silk Road Economic Belt will be of Great Practical Significance.


In September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a successful state visit to Kazakhstan and the three other Central Asian states. During his visit, he attended the 13th Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Member States held in Bishkek. In his speech at Kazakhstan Nazarbayev University, Xi proposed establishing a Silk Road Economic Belt. This aroused considerable interest among the international community and received a positive response from the countries that might make up the proposed belt. Xi’s initiative represents the grand blueprint for deepened cooperation among Eurasian countries in the new era. About two thousand years ago, the ancient routes that started in China and extended to countries in Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia, as well as Europe and Africa, became a vital channel for people-to-people exchanges, trade and culture. The Silk Road, as these routes are now known, became a bridge of friendly communication between Eurasian countries and China, and a symbol of peace and friendship, cooperation and development.

Eurasia, with almost half the world’s population, is now one of the world’s most dynamic regions. In the context of the current global economic slowdown, countries in Eurasia, especially those of the Silk Road, are in a critical stage of economic and social development, shouldering the urgent tasks of economic reform and upgrading. Those countries are willing to utilize their own advantages to find their own specific development model. Therefore they are trying to establish greater cooperation and share their development experiences with one another and other countries. The initiative of the Silk Road Economic Belt is the legacy of the long-lasting friendship among the countries along the ancient Silk Road. It is also in line with the development direction of these countries and the major interests of the region as a whole. By promoting greater economic cooperation and more people-to-people contacts, the Silk Road Economic Belt would link different regions in Eurasia, enable the convergence of their different interests for complementary advantages, and enable the sharing of development opportunities to achieve common development.


II. The Basic Attitudes of the CIS Countries toward the Silk Road Economic Belt


Vladimir A. Shin, Senior Counselor of the Russian Embassy in China, pointed out with the current global financial and economic systems still very unstable and fragile, maintaining stable development is of great importance to Central Asia, and as Eurasia is becoming a major engine of the world economy, the Silk Road initiative proposed by Xi is very timely and important. He said Russia believes that this initiative will contribute to the economic and cultural development of Central Asia. As the largest country in Eurasia, Russia attaches great importance to Central Asia, and Shin said that establishing a Silk Road Economic Belt will be conducive to strengthening the relationship between Russia and the Central Asian countries.

Rashid Alimov, Tajikistan Ambassador to China, said that China and a lot of Central Asian countries are neighbors with shared interests and mutual interdependence. The political stability and sustainable development of Central Asian countries are of great concern to China as they could affect China’s own sustainable development. China and Central Asian countries have enhanced their relationships to the strategic partnerships, showcasing the mutual benefits and win-win relations between them. With no access to the sea, Central Asian countries are paying high transportation costs due to their severe lack of modern rail and road networks. If the Silk Road Economic Belt bears fruit, Central Asian countries’ economic development will be ignited and the economic relationship between Central Asia and Europe would be strengthened. Through the Silk Road Economic Belt, the Central Asian countries will have access to the sea. Furthermore it will be possible for them to integrate into the world’s financial and trade systems. Tajikistan is ready to actively participate in the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt, Alimov said. The flow of goods from China to Tajikistan, and from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and the other Persian Gulf countries, will be good for Tajikistan. He added that Central Asian countries are willing to cooperate with China, welcome China’s investment in the region and want China’s help in improving the local transport systems.

Kurbanov Daniyar, Uzbekistan’s Ambassador to China, said that the Silk Road Economic Belt is the outcome of the common aspiration of China and the Central Asian countries for further economic cooperation. In 2013, the most important outcome of Xi’s visit to the Central Asian countries was the establishment of comprehensive and deepened relations between them.

China’s commitment to developing friendly relations with Central Asian countries has been widely appreciated by them. The concept of the Silk Road Economic Belt indicates that China is ready to develop closer economic ties with countries along the Silk Road, which ŵill be beneficial to both China and countries in Central Asia.

Kubanychbek Dzhusaev, Counselor of the Kyrgyzstan Embassy to China, said that President Xi Jinping’s initiative is innovative and will help Kyrgyzstan deal with the international political instabilities. Kyrgyzstan could feel that the initiative is a conclusion of China’s specific development experience, especially, its experience after reform and opening up and it could envision the prospects for its own development. The core value of the initiative includes a vision of the development of Northwest China. China offers its development experience to the world and it deserves to be studied and discussed. A stronger China will undoubtedly bring new development opportunities to Central Asia. Currently the major problems for the countries concerned are their understanding and acceptance of the initiative. With their understanding and support, the initiative will benefit all parties.

Senyuta Vadim, Minister Counselor of the Embassy of Belarus to China, said that Belarus highly appreciates the initiative of the Silk Road Economic Belt. The original purpose of this initiative is to develop transport corridors that will promote economic development in the region and regional economic integration at large. As Belarus is located in the intersection of the routes between Europe and Asia, the Silk Road Economic Belt, a tie linking China, Central Asia and Europe together, is bound to provide opportunities for Belarus.


III. The Construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt Should be in Line with the Development of the SCO


Bagdat Seiitbattalov, Minister Counselor of the Kazakhstan Embassy to China said that because one of the major functions of the SCO is regional economic cooperation, the SCO could be the foundation when constructing the Silk Road Economic Belt. Kazakhstan is now actively participating in the construction of a more than 8,800 kilometers-long traffic corridor from China’s western region toward Europe, of which 3,000 kilometers are in Kazakhstan. According to the plan, the corridor will be a modern transportation hub, which is vital for the construction of the economic corridor and will support the development of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

Senior Counselor Vladimir A. Shin agreed that the combination of the SCO and the Economic Belt was very reasonable. The Silk Road Economic Belt is a transnational project, which requires more than just the development of bilateral relations. The implementation of the project calls for large-scale, cross-border, multilateral international cooperation.

However, as Chen Yurong, Director of the Department of Eura-Asia research at the China Institute of International Studies, pointed out that the Silk Road Economic Belt is still just a proposal. Chen said the possible future development model of the initiative could be a mechanism rather than an organization. In the process of building an economic belt, it would be necessary to adhere to the principle of “good-neighborly friendship and mutually-beneficial cooperation”. In this way, the role of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the SCO are complementary and mutually reinforcing. The initiative of the Economic Belt is based on the outcome of the economic cooperation between the SCO members. The SCO provides a true platform for countries to cooperate in the name of the Silk Road Economic Belt. President Xi Jinping’s proposal of the Silk Road Economic Belt offers a greater space for the SCO countries to cooperate. In light of the cooperative relations among the SCO, Eurasian Economic Community and the Customs Union, the Silk Road Economic Belt would not conflict with the Eurasian Economic Union in the future as well. These mechanisms could complement each other. Construction of Silk Road Economic Belt will provide new historic opportunities for the Eurasian Economic Union.

F. Muminova, Deputy Director of the Center for Strategic Studies under the President of Tajikistan, said that in order to avoid the different mechanisms overlapping, the Silk Road Economic Belt should not establish more integration mechanismsin its initial stages. Instead the Economic Belt should utilize the existing mechanisms such as the SCO and make greater efforts to increase the effectiveness of their measures in the initial stages, whereas the SCO has accumulated a lot of experience in this respect. F. Muminova put forward the view that SCO Development Bank and other relevant institutions should be launched as soon as possible.

Hamianin Vasyl, Minister Counselor of the Ukrainian Embassy to China, pointed out that the concept of the Silk Road Economic Belt is inseparable from the SCO and the SCO member states. However, it is more than the SCO. It is known to all that hundreds of years ago, Ukraine was an important part of the ancient Silk Road, and today the Ukrainian transportation network, including its railways, highways and maritime transport, is well developed and plays a pivotal role in the Eurasian transport corridor. The Ukrainian President has authorized the relevant departments to discuss with China and other SCO member states specific planning for the Silk Road Economic Belt.

V. Vorobyev, Ambassador and Senior Consultant of the Secretariat of the SCO, held the view that, aiming at promoting peace and development, the Silk Road Economic Belt, with the historical background of cultural and economic development, is an open concept with far-reaching significance and good prospects. However the macro concept must be filled with concrete ideas. The concept of the Silk Road Economic Belt is similar to the guidelines and policies of the SCO. Therefore the two can complete each other and economic development can be combined with the further development of the SCO. The Economic Belt will become a new factor in boosting the economic development of the SCO members, whereas the SCO provides a realistic cooperative platform for the implementation of the Silk Road Economic Belt. The SCO Secretariat is ready to participate in interactive activities in support of establishing the Economic Belt, particularly cooperation with Chinese and other nations’ research institutions and experts.


IV. The Silk Road Economic Belt Should be Built under the Principles Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping


Su Fangqiu, Deputy Director-General of the Department of European-Central Asian Affairs at the China Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pointed out that the relevant Chinese departments are now conducting in-depth research for specific programs with regard the Silk Road Economic Belt. The overall planning is being carried out under the principles proposed by President Xi Jinping. First, strengthening communication on policy. Policy consultation means that to consolidate mutual political trust, China and the Eurasian countries communicate with each other on economic development strategies and take coordinated actions. Achieving deeper cooperation requires the elimination of political barriers, discovery of common interests and greater consultation. Second, improving road connectivity. Opening up transportation channels, including roads, railways, ports, aviation, telecommunications, oil and gas pipelines among the relevant countries, with the aim of building a three-dimensional regional transportation network. Third, promoting trade facilitation. China is sparing no efforts in improving its trade structure with Eurasian countries. Making a bigger cake of high-level trade and investments, through cooperation to expand the scale of trade and improve the investment protection mechanisms and law. Fourth, enhancing monetary circulation. Monetary circulation asks for the broader vision of expanding local currency settlement and currency swap cooperation. At present China has undertaken currency cooperation with Russia and some Central Asian countries. In this regard, China proposed that currency cooperation should be deepened to enhance the role of regional currencies role in regional cooperation, to safeguardthe financial security and economic interests of Central Asian countries. Fifth, strengthening people-to-people exchanges. Eurasia is one of the cradles of ancient civilization, and it has made huge contributions to the exchanges and development of human societies. Therefore, Eurasian countries should build on this legacy and further promote exchanges and dialogue among different cultures and promote the harmonious coexistence of different races, religions, and cultures.

T. Sultanov, Director of the National Institute for Strategic Studies of Kyrgyzstan, pointed out that in ancient times two of the Silk Road routes passed through Kyrgyzstan, one in the north and one in the south, and the country was always in the middle part of the Silk Road. At present the revitalization of the Silk Road exerts great influence on the economy of Kyrgyzstan. China-Kyrgyzstan economic cooperation has gained new momentum. Kyrgyz President Atta Mba Aliyev overwhelmingly supports the new strategic initiative of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

Wang Haiyun, Senior Consultant of the Center for SCO Studies, underscored that the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative is foremost conceptual framework which needs to be further enriched if it is to realize its full potential as an economic concept. Even though the Silk Road Economic Belt is focused on economic cooperation, it is certain that the concept will exert political influence, which asks for the support of sound political relations among the relevant countries. Wang also pointed out that the Silk Road Economic Belt is a flexible form of cooperation rather than integration. He also mentioned that in a broader sense, the Silk Road Economic Belt not only includes railways and roads, but also the information highway, the Internet, and a net of resources. Inter-operability should be the core value of the Silk Road Economic Belt, he said. The construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt requires the peace and harmony that enabled the ancient Silk Road to flourish. Therefore, first, the principles of promoting policy communication, road connectivity, trade facilitation, monetary circulation, and people-to-people exchanges, should be upheld as they are the necessary foundations for the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt. Second,mutual benefit and common prosperity should be continually borne in mind. China upholds these new concepts and hopes the relevant parties will uphold them as well. Third, we should rely on the SCO to be a communication platform. However, the economic belt should not be restrained to the SCO, not subject to the SCO’s consensus-based system and veto power. Fourth, the cooperation mode should be both flexible and pragmatic. Countries can participate voluntarily on however a large or small scale. Fifth, cooperation on inter-operability could prompt cooperation in a wide range of fields. Sixth, we should learn from the past and stress cooperation in culture and the humanities, which is an important lesson to be learnt from the ancient Silk Road.


V. The Relevant Countries Should Join Hands in Promoting the Silk Road Economic Belt


In the symposium, officials and experts from China agreed that the initiative of the Silk Road Economic Belt is an open concept. Russia, Central Asia, South Asia, West Asia and other countries and regions are all important for its construction. The initiative is also a flexible concept; it can be launched either at the bilateral level or the multilateral level, for example, by effectively connecting with economic departments of the SCO, the Eurasian Economic Community and other existing regional mechanism. Meanwhile, the initiative is a complex concept as well. As a huge and an unprecedentedly bold concept, the construction of the initiative requires the relevant parties to implement it gradually and deepen their cooperation step by step. At present, there are still uncertainties and instabilities in the Eurasian regional situation. During the cooperation process, we are asked to seek truth from facts and overcome the difficulties and challenges in light of the regional situation and national conditions. We can see the bright future of the Silk Road Economic Belt. However, the way forward will be full of twists and turns. We should be patient in our efforts to join hands with the relevant countries. Former Chinese ambassador to Belarus Yu Zhenqi said that the Silk Road Economic Belt spirit can be summed up in four words: peace, friendship, cooperation and development. The relationships between the Economic Belt and other regional organizations, such as the Eurasian Union (now under construction), and the SCO, meanwhile, can be summed up in two phrases: running in parallel and mutually complementary.

Zhao Changqing, Vice-President of the Euro-Asian Social Development Research Institute in the Development Research Center of the State Council, said that establishing the Silk Road Economic Belt would be of great advantage to the relevant countries’ economic development, and if the roads are smooth and cooperative projects are unhindered, international trade and people-to-people contacts will prosper. The increased flow of goods and people will help promote greater integration, common development and the welfare of the people in whole region. The Silk Road Economic Belt is a voluntarily cooperation and coordination grouping rather than an international organization. Countries can participate in the Belt according to their own will, whether as a national state, regional member or through. Individual departments, extending the belt step by step to gradually form the overall cooperation. By establishing a community of common interests, the Economic Belt could overcome many obstacles, such as the diverse nature of thegovernments, regimes and regional organizations. The Silk Road Economic Belt does not intend to, and is unable to, supplant the roles of the SCO, the Eurasian community, the Eurasian Union and other regional organization.

S. Baktygulov, Senior Research Fellow of the Institute for Public Policy of Kyrgyzstan, noted that several aspects of the Silk Road Economic Belt still need to be studied and discussed. First, what is the exact definition of the Silk Road Economic Belt, how should that be implemented and how should it be developed? Second, is the Silk Road Economic Belt both achievable and operable? Third, is the Silk Road Economic Belt a process of regional integration or a new pattern of relations between China and its neighbors? Fourth, what can the relevant parties do during the initial stages of the Silk Road Economic Belt? In terms of these questions, several working groups could be organized in the future for further discussions.


Source: China International Studies January/February 2014 159-170