Personal links is the key to success of one belt, one road initiative

Modern technology may make communication swifter, but nothing can trump an old-fashioned handshake and face-to-face contact

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 10:52am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 6:00pm

In July, 58 Hong Kong students from Polytechnic University (PolyU) flew to Xian – one of the great urban caravanserai on the Silk Road of days gone by – to spend three weeks with other youngsters from mainland China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Italy.

The trip was a small but significant example of the personal bonds being forged along the length of the ancient trade route as part of China’s groundbreaking one belt, one road (OBOR) initiative.

The students stayed in Xian for a fortnight, getting to know each other and also about the region’s history and likely future contribution to OBOR, before spending the final week exploring two other important Silk Road destinations – Almaty in Kazakhstan and Milan in Italy.

The summer school is one of a number of projects under way which stress that while modern technology – email, Skype, social media and the like – may make communication swifter, there

is still nothing that trumps an old-fashioned handshake and face-to-face contact.

A one-year Silk Road youth leadership programme, run jointly by PolyU, Xi’an Jiaotong University and Peking University, aims to develop self reliance, ethical and community leadership qualities, interpersonal and community engagement skills, and a global outlook among students.

While students from many parts of the world attend PolyU, Kazakhstan has been a ready source of students, and the republic’s future leaders have performed well, notching up highly respectable grade point averages, joining in co-curricular activities with alacrity, showing a distinct aptitude for leadership and conducting themselves well in the residential halls. Initial teething problems, such as making local friends and opening a bank account, are soon overcome.

At present, 10 students from Al-Farabi Kazakh National University are living and working at PolyU’s Research Institute for Sustainable Urban Development, studying such varied subjects as design, land surveying, real estate, building services engineering, accounting and finance, logistics, and management and marketing.

Christopher Hor, senior project officer at PolyU, comments: “The international students’ reaction to Hong Kong is similar to any visitor’s from abroad – a mixture of excitement and curiosity.

“And their reaction to OBOR is at the stage of discovery. Their priority in Hong Kong is to study well and thus their main focus is solely on improving their academic performance. However, my colleagues are working closely together with the residential life education team to raise the awareness

of the OBOR initiative among these international students.

“The hope is that, through the use of seminars, talks, discussion and interest groups and summer schools, they will soon realise their roles in the OBOR initiative personally, and help unlock the potential in their home countries in the future.

Dr Justina Yung, of the PolyU China Business Centre, who is an active Hong Kong think tanker in China, adds that personal contacts and people-to-people bonds are the way forward.

“Poly U’s future plans include stronger academic links – bringing together experts from different countries at round-table conferences and meetings to explore new areas and get to know each other better,” she says.

My colleagues are working closely together with the residential life education team to raise the awareness of the OBOR initiative among these international students
Christopher Hor, senior project officer, PolyU

“PolyU will also be exploring the possibility of research collaboration with OBOR countries in the fields of future energy and aviation. Our university has a strong reputation for its work with logistics, and one of the areas we might explore is that of natural disasters, providing developing countries with

advice on how to best cope with emergencies.”

Yung, who is co-author of The Greater Pearl River Delta and who has travelled extensively in Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran and Asean countries to gain a better understanding of economic development, and cooperation dynamics with China – says the university is also aiming to expand its youth engagement, providing greater opportunities for students to explore OBOR destinations.

PolyU staff have made strenuous efforts to raise awareness of OBOR and bring people together to discuss the opportunities it presents.

Seminars and forums conducted this year have focused on Central Asia, Tajikistan, the strategic development of Myanmar, new Silk Road regional and infrastructure policies, logistics and maritime studies, and the potential of Hong Kong for Russian speakers.

The university staff have also forged partnerships with their counterparts in belt and road regions, including at Peter the Great St Petersburg Polytechnic in Russia, Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, Pakistan’s National University of Sciences and Technology and the Politecnico di Milano in Italy, and are exploring links with tertiary institutions in such emerging countries as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

President Xi Jinping has stressed that the development of diplomatic ties relies on people-to-people bonds, and while moulding OBOR attempts should be made to remove the psychological barriers between people of different nations, including ethnic conflicts, cultural friction, religious struggles and conflicts created by other perceived differences.

The core philosophy of OBOR centres on the principles of sharing, dialogue and negotiation. Countries along the belt and road are encouraged to cooperate in concrete terms to seek common interests, which will naturally strengthen people-to-people bonds. The OBOR initiative has a social basis in people-to-people bonds that aim to create synergy, understanding, win-win results and mutual trust.