Laying the foundations for China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’

Ou Xiaoli sets out the direction, goals and areas of cooperation for China’s ambitious initiative linking Asia and Europe that offers opportunities for development for all along the route

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2015, 5:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 November, 2015, 5:39pm

It has been two years since President Xi Jinping (習近平) introduced the idea for a Silk Road economic belt and a 21st-century Maritime Silk Road on his visits to Central Asia and Southeast Asia, in September and October 2013 respectively.

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We recently reviewed what has been done so far for the “One Belt, One Road” plan, which can be summarised into the so-called “Five First” tasks: firstly, creating a master plan backed by the top leadership; secondly, achieving an international consensus; thirdly, forging a series of cooperation agreements; fourthly, making progress on a number of construction projects; and lastly, developing a comprehensive support system.

China’s push for ‘One Belt, One Road’ will create plenty of opportunities and room for development for Hong Kong

This is what China has done over the past two years. What will we do next? The next step is to implement the blueprint action plan of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which was issued by the government in March, and commence work on several fronts.

The first is a focus on building the six major economic cooperation corridors and several key maritime pivot points.

On land, the plan is to build a new Eurasian land bridge and develop the economic corridors of: China-Mongolia-Russia; China-Central Asia-West Asia; the China-Indochina peninsula; China-Pakistan; and, Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar. This can be done by taking advantage of international transport routes, relying on core cities along the belt and road, and using key economic industrial parks as cooperation platforms.

On the seas, the initiative will focus on jointly building smooth, secure and efficient transport routes connecting major sea ports along the belt and road.

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This is similar to creating a strong structure of beams and columns when building a house; constructing these corridors and nodes forms a framework for the “One Belt, One Road” project. Because these corridors involve different countries, we believe each will be different in its project specifics.

The second aspect is to focus on strengthening cooperation in eight major areas, including infrastructure connection, trade, investment, resource exploration, finance, ecology, culture and maritime cooperation.

Work in these eight areas will not proceed at the same time. Instead, our priorities for now are infrastructure connection and industrial cooperation.

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I think everyone understands the importance of linking up infrastructure. There is a Chinese saying, which points out that “if you want to get rich, first build roads”. Surveying the Eurasian land mass, we can see that the infrastructure at both ends – East China on the eastern end and Europe on the western end – are in good shape. But the transport connections in the middle need attention.

Industrial investment is similarly important. In our research, we have found that China may already have passed the stage of relying on foreign investment and has begun to enter a new phase; today, we have a “going out” strategy that encourages domestic companies to invest and operate overseas. The time has come for Chinese enterprises to venture overseas.

There are substantial development gaps between China and other countries along the belt and road. These countries would welcome the funds and expertise from Chinese companies.

Thirdly, we must work hard to form the core team for the “One Belt, One Road” plan. The initiative involves the whole of Eurasia, which is one of the biggest and most populous land masses in the world, comprising many countries. These countries have different governance structures and are in different stages of development. They hold different attitudes towards the plan.

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In the course of driving this initiative, we must take into account each country’s willingness to take part, its conditions for development and, in particular, its understanding of the initiative so as to develop a core team of willing partners. We need to strengthen communication and negotiation, demonstrate leadership, turn them into stakeholders and win over their support for “One Belt, One Road”. Their fruitful participation will encourage wider support for the initiative, and more will be willing to join us and strive for the common good.

Lastly, it is important that we successfully complete the development projects that have been identified as landmark cooperation projects. Progress is not only the main concern of our partner countries, but they are also important markers for the practical soundness of the entire initiative. Thus, the task at hand is to ensure their successful roll-out.

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China’s push for “One Belt, One Road” will create plenty of opportunities and room for development for Hong Kong. I believe Hong Kong enterprises will find suitable roles to play according to their own strengths and capabilities.

By setting out the direction, goals and areas of cooperation, China has painted the broad strokes of the One Belt, One Road plan. China, as the initiator and a participant, will of course mobilise all available domestic resources to ensure the plan’s success.

We hope we can convince countries along the “One Belt, One Road” routes to join us in exploring the vast opportunities for development that can enrich us all.

Ou Xiaoli is counsel for the National Development and Reform Commission’s Department of Western Region Development. This is a translation of his recent speech at the Post’s China conference