In the Footsteps of History
A proposed economic belt along the ancient Silk Road aims to lift regional economies, notwithstanding the many obstacles in its path
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UPDATED: March 24, 2014 NO. 13 MARCH 27, 2014
From the Past to the Future
By Zhong Sheng

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 them 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 its neighbors and abided by the principle of bringing harmony, security and prosperity to its neighborhood. It needs to participate more actively in international affairs including those involving neighboring countries. The initiatives will also help unite 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.

The development of economic belts along the Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road has been made possible by economic cooperation. The construction of such economic belts has taken ideas and suggestions for cooperation and development from many sources. The development will rely on existing bilateral and multilateral mechanisms between China and other countries and utilize existing platforms of regional cooperation that have proven effective. The countries involved need to open their mind to the various cooperation initiatives and mechanisms, take a more pragmatic approach, and make existing mechanisms more effective and mutually reinforcing. The parties involved may consider linking together their projects— both those planned and already underway—to allow for greater cost-effectiveness.

Bringing tangible benefits

The countries involved will be able to discuss strategies and policies on economic development, coordinate their positions through consultation, formulate corresponding plans and measures for cooperation and give regional economic integration the "green light" in their countries both through policy and law.

There is need for improvements in cross-border transportation infrastructure. A transportation network that links Asia's sub-regions, connects Asia with Europe and Africa, and effectively addresses the existing inadequacies of connectivity and transportation in regions targeted by the project is needed.

Regional countries need to study the issues of trade and investment facilitation while making the proper arrangements accordingly, removing trade and investment barriers, and promoting economic circulation and improvement in the region.

They also need to promote greater trade settlements 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 the capacity to fend off financial risks through regional arrangement and make the region's economy more competitive globally.

Amity between peoples holds the key to sound relations between states. Countries need to shore up popular support for their state-to-state relations, promote inter-cultural dialogue, and enhance exchanges, understanding and friendship among different peoples.

The ancient Silk Road was mainly about trade in goods, while cooperation along the new Silk Road now can have a much wider scope. Priority areas and early-harvest projects may include infrastructural connectivity, trade and investment facilitation and industrial cooperation as well as cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

The key pilot zones for development, 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 an uninterrupted flow of goods, sound governance, social harmony, mutual benefit and common development.

When President Xi proposed the economic belt along the Silk Road, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev expressed support 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 the needs of all sides. They expressed readiness for active participation. Foreign Minister Davutoglu of Turkey told the media that the economic belt initiative would 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 initiatives. Business communities in many countries followed the development with great interest.

The author is a senior commentator on international affairs

Email us at: zanjifang@bjreview.com

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