Silk Road ini­tia­tives are key for China, Europe

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By LI YANG

Con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween Asia and Europe is im­por­tant for in­creased co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two re­gions. Whether China can pro­mote the con­ti­nen­tal con­nec­tiv­ity de­pends on how it turns its Silk Road ini­tia­tives on the land and sea into tan­gi­ble projects, said ex­perts who par­tic­i­pated in a think-tank sym­po­sium in Shang­hai.

The fo­rum, held in July, was hosted by the Shang­hai In­sti­tutes of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (SIIS) and co-spon­sored by the Euro­pean Union, Mon­go­lia, Poland and Sin­ga­pore. It is within the frame­work of the Asia-Europe Meet­ing (ASEM), an ex­change mech­a­nism pro­posed by for­mer Sin­ga­pore pre­mier Goh Chok Tong in 1994 to bol­ster co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Asia and the Europe.

Some 60 par­tic­i­pants from 28 ASEM mem­bers shared their knowl­edge, ex­pe­ri­ences and vi­sion while dis­cussing ASEM co­op­er­a­tion on con­nec­tiv­ity.

They agreed that ASEM lead­ers who meet at the 9th ASEM sum­mit in Laos should fo­cus on the im­por­tance of strength­en­ing re­gional con­nec­tiv­ity to sup­port eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion in Asia and Europe. And that it was high time for con­nec­tiv­ity to be in­cor­po­rated as a pri­or­ity area for Silk Road ASEM.

The ASEM con­nec­tiv­ity refers to smoother pol­icy com­mu­ni­ca­tion, im­proved road con­nec­tiv­ity, unim­peded trade, un­re­stricted flow of cap­i­tal for in­vest­ment and a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing be­tween peo­ple.

Ef­fec­tive con­nec­tiv­ity de­pends on the qual­ity of what is re­ferred to as hard in­fra­struc­ture — trans­port in­fra­struc­ture, en­ergy path­ways, lo­gis­tics net­works, and in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy in­fra­struc­ture, and soft in­fra­struc­ture such as poli­cies, strate­gies, cus­toms pro­ce­dures, reg­u­la­tory sys­tems, per­son­nel and in­sti­tu­tional ca­pac­i­ties build­ing and trans­bound­ary co­op­er­a­tion.

The di­ver­sity of ASEM mem­bers, in terms of devel­op­ment lev­els, his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural back­ground, pop­u­la­tion den­si­ties and na­tional ca­pac­i­ties, presents huge po­ten­tial as well as se­ri­ous chal­lenges for push­ing for­ward ASEM con­nec­tiv­ity.

Most of the fo­rum at­ten­dees be­lieve that while mem­bers’ com­par­a­tive ad­van­tages con­sti­tute in­cen­tives for co­op­er­a­tion, a sound bal­ance should be reached be­tween na­tional strate­gies and re­gional pri­or­i­ties, bear­ing in mind chal­lenges such as se­cu­rity con­cerns that may arise at the ground level.

e fo­rum’s sum­mary state­ment to pro­mote co­op­er­a­tion on con­nec­tiv­ity in­cludes a re­gional strat­egy and a mech­a­nism like a work­ing group within ASEM, tak­ing on board all rel­e­vant in­tra-Asia re­gional and sub-re­gional con­nec­tiv­ity ini­tia­tives.

ASEM mem­bers need to form area-spe­cific core groups to co­op­er­ate on a vol­un­tary ba­sis. Ex­panded part­ner­ship with re­gional, in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions and the pri­vate sec­tor is nec­es­sary to mo­bi­lize suf­fi­cient re­sources.

“It is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to en­gage in­dus­tries and busi­nesses, in­clud­ing the small and medium-sized en­ter­prises. The pro­posed in­dus­try di­a­logue on con­nec­tiv­ity is wel­come and the idea of cre­at­ing an ASEM In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank could also be ex­plored,” said Yang Jiemin, a se­nior re­searcher of diplomacy with SIIS.

The fo­rum’s state­ment sug­gests to re­con­vene the ASEM Eco­nomic Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing as soon as pos­si­ble, and to hold a Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ters’ Meet­ing on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to build con­sen­sus, en­hance co­or­di­na­tion and iden­tify el­i­gi­ble ar­eas for co­op­er­a­tion.

ASEM con­nec­tiv­ity may only be pos­si­ble with real and prac­ti­cal ac­tion. Ini­tia­tives such as the Mas­ter Plan on ASEAN Con­nec­tiv­ity, Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt and 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road all need ef­fi­cient co­or­di­na­tion to trans­late words into deeds.

“China should play a more ac­tive role in pro­vid­ing ini­tial fund sup­port, tech­nol­ogy as­sis­tance and per­son­nel to im­prove the trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture on the con­ti­nent. China’s sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth laid a solid foun­da­tion for China’s ded­i­ca­tion to the ini­tia­tives of Silk Road,” said Zhao Gancheng, a re­searcher with SIIS.

There were also dif­fer­ent voices heard at the fo­rum.

Stephen Roach, a Yale econ­o­mist and for­mer chief econ­o­mist with Mor­gan Stan­ley, points out the au­thor­ity should fo­cus not just on the in­te­gra­tion of the trad­able­goods econ­omy, which is some­thing that goes back his­tor­i­cally, but also in­creas­ing the in­te­gra­tion of the ser­vices econ­omy through IT- en­abled con­nec­tiv­ity.

“I think those are the ar­eas that have led lead­ers to fo­cus on and then lapse into slo­ga­neer­ing on silk roads and other types of high pro­file demon­stra­tion projects. Those are part of the process, but they are not the essence of what needs to be done in China,” said Roach.

High-speed rail­ways in Shang­hai. Re­li­able high-speed rail­way is one of the projects that China pro­motes around the world.

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