Published:  12:00 AM, 15 March 2017

Building a new Silk Road


For more than 2,000 years, the Silk Road has borne witness to exchange and friendship betw-een the East and West. With its tales of trade and travel down the ages, the route has traditions that have become a source of inspiration for those who seek new opportunities for common development. Now, China is looking to work with Britain in a new partnership, on a new Silk Road for today: the Belt and Road Initiative.

This is an ambitious idea proposed by President Xi Jingping, which aims to harness the potential of countries on the old Silk route - countries in central Asia, west Asia, the Middle East, and Europe - to develop economic and trading partnerships through greater infrastructure and cultural links.

We are already seeing the fruits of this approach. In January, the first freight train from China's eastern town of Yiwu arrived in London, extending Belt and Road (B&R) to the far western end of Europe.

But there are other tangible results of this kind of enhanced, global co-operation. During President Xi's state visit to the UK in 2015, China and the UK reached the agreement to dovetail Britain's 'Northern Powerhouse' with the B&R project.

At the eighth China-UK Economic and Financial Dialogue last year, where our two countries reaffirmed their shared commitment to closer B&R cooperation, Britain announced a £40 million (Dh178.5 million) capital injection into the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Britain is a country of global influence and can be an important partner for China in B&R.

It has many strengths and unique advantages that could give it a head start in B&R co-operation. It has a highly internationalised financial sector and mature professional services in law and consulting; it has prestigious think tanks and educational institutions as well as world-class R&D and innovation platforms.

 And, of course, it has a language that is spoken around the world, and close historical and cultural ties with countries along the B&R route. These strengths and advantages put Britain in an excellent position to secure the opportunities the B&R has to offer.

China and the UK can continue to advance their respective development strategies in tandem, can expand trade and investment, jointly explore and develop the market along the B&R route, and deliver greater common prosperity. The world is an open and interdependent place.

But some have lost their direction in the sea of globalisation. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, President Xi spoke out for responsible globalisation, calling for "an open global economy to share opportunities and interests". This has much in common with Prime Minister Theresa May's vision of a truly 'Global Britain' that "embraces the world".

Both leaders understand that win-win results are only possible if we increase global connectivity and share the fruits of growth. Increasing connectivity along the new Silk Road is one way to achieve that. That is why one of the key announcements in President Xi's speech was that Beijing would host the 'Belt and Road Forum for International Co-operation' in May. In doing so, China is keen to show its responsibility as a major contributor both to the world economy and global co-operation. At the same time, this will be an opportunity to pool international wisdom in defining B&R co-operation in the years ahead.

Enthusiastic support
There is already much to build on. B&R has so far received the enthusiastic support from more than 100 countries and international organisations. More than 40 have signed co-operation agreements with China, leading to a series of new projects and a surge in new jobs along the B&R route.

In this way China and its B&R partners both benefit from a highly inclusive and dynamic initiative that is delivering benefits far and wide. The forthcoming Forum in Beijing will be the most important international gathering to advance, as its theme suggests, 'Co-operation for Common Prosperity'.

So far, leaders from more than 20 countries across Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America have confirmed their attendance. Discussions at the forum will be devoted to infrastructure connectivity, commercial co-operation, industrial investment, energy and resources, financial support, cultural and people-to-people exchange, eco-environmental protection and maritime co-operation, among others.

The remarkable opportunities of 'Belt and Road' co-operation are now up for grabs. With China, Britain can be a key partner, reaping the potential of these opportunities. By ensuring we pull together, the B&R initiative can, like the Silk Road before it, go a long way to delivering better lives for many millions of people, from Asia to Europe.

The writer is the Chinese
ambassador to the UK

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