Editor’s note: This is a summary of the presentation made by Patrick Ho Chi-ping, deputy chairman and secretary-general of China Energy Fund Committee, an independent think tank focusing on energy issues, at a recent international conference in Istanbul, Turkey, entitled “The New Silk Roads: Inspirations and Opportunities.”
A year ago President Xi Jinping expressed his strategic vision of a new model of connectivity among peoples known as the “One Belt and One Road” (Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road) initiative.
Connectivity “should be a three-dimensional combination of infrastructure, institutions and people-to-people exchanges … measured in terms of policy communication, infrastructure connectivity, trade links, capital flows and understanding among peoples”.
“People” is the central element of this new initiative for regional cooperation. It is not just a government-to-government platform but involves people-to-people exchanges since materialization of this grand vision revolves around people, as it did when many ordinary people across the continent actually brought the East and West together through interactions, exchanges and trade.
The second characteristic of this new model of connectivity is “good will”. It is open to all countries and peoples interested in being connected for mutual development, whatever their forms of government, cultural and religious backgrounds, or geographic location.
“Common development” bonded together different countries along the ancient Silk Roads, and “equal footage” is what made this possible. No matter the race or religion, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists benefited equally from trade and exchanges.
Western media often term China’s recent rise a threat, but in the last 5,000 years China has recorded at least four periods of peaceful prosperity without colonization or threats. No battle was fought, no colony seized, and nobody was enslaved.
The West’s Julius Caesar said, “I came, I saw, I conquered”; the Chinese said, “I came, I saw, I made friends, and I went home.”
Motivated by good will, “connectivity” is China’s way of peacefully reaching out and offering friendship and peace so peoples and countries along the Silk Roads can build a community of shared interests and common destiny. Though our pasts may differ, we face a common future.
Indeed the “One Belt and One Road” initiative is expected to bring about shared economic, cultural and social prosperity. But unlike other regional cooperation projects with a fixed policy agenda and a set mechanism, Xi’s initiative is a grand vision. It provides ample and infinite room for creative solutions and possibilities.
Compared with the ancient Silk Roads, it is on the one hand more ambitious and farsighted, but on the other more flexible, accommodating and adaptable to new conditions and challenges. It provides an overarching theme and umbrella under which all sorts of cooperation are possible. All partners will be free to enrich its content and explore additional facets of cooperation and shared benefits.
It is neither about competing for spheres of influence nor striving for hegemony. It is about connecting countries and peoples, accommodating differences, embracing diversity, realizing potential, and achieving various goals and prospects.
Mutual understanding is the most difficult challenge in international cooperation. Let us review how, century after century, the West has failed to understand what constitutes “China” and “Chinese-ness”.
The first attempt by the West to open up China began in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) with Marco Polo, followed in the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) with the visits of the Jesuit priests Matteo Ricci and Joachim Bouvet.
The second “knock” came in 1840, when Britain invaded China and launched the First Opium War. China’s doors were pried ajar against her will.
The third “knock” on China’s door came during the Cold War in 1972, when US president Richard Nixon visited China, offering China an olive branch to integrate into the existing global economic system of the era and community of nations.
More than 150 years after being brought to its knees at gunpoint by the West, China has awakened, realizing it must catch up with the West. When Deng Xiaoping launched China’s economic open-door policy and accelerated its progress, the country quickly achieved moderate prosperity for a vast section of its population, at the same time lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty in under three decades — a truly unprecedented achievement in history.
China first knocked on the West’s door in the Han Dynasty 2,000 years ago, when Zhang Qian travelled along the original Silk Road offering trade and peace; then in the 15th Century, Admiral Zheng He championed the second Silk Road at sea.
The two previous Silk Roads traded tea, silk, spices, exotic fruits, jewelry and gold. This 21st century Silk Roads will deal in creative ideas, views and perspectives, traditions, cultures and legacies. It will exchange values, offer kindness and promote peace. It will traverse neither land nor sea, but travel through the inner workings of the human mind, driven by a desire to join our neighbors to engage in peaceful competition to achieve the common good in a globalized world.
It is a dream of peace under heaven, and the world as one. This dream belongs to all of us. It belongs to you, and me.