By Bukola Ogunsina, Beijing, China
Various Heads of State and over a thousand delegates recently attended the One Belt and One Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) which kicked off today in Beijing, China. The event which took place at the China National Convention Centre and ends tomorrow, 15th of May 2017, had the Chinese President Xi Jinping, host of the event, give a much applauded opening speech.
“This is indeed a gathering of great minds. In the coming two days, I hope that by engaging in full exchanges of views, we will contribute to pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, a project of the century, so that it will benefit people across the world.
“Over 2,000 years ago, our ancestors, trekking across vast steppes and deserts, opened the transcontinental passage connecting Asia, Europe and Africa, known today as the Silk Road. Our ancestors, navigating rough seas, created sea routes linking the East with the West, namely, the maritime Silk Road. These ancient silk routes opened windows of friendly engagement among nations, adding a splendid chapter to the history of human progress,” he disclosed.
The Belt and Road Initiative will take after the ancient silk routes. The initiative which focuses on infrastructure and connectivity, sets to further connect countries to the global trade network. It will also promote cooperation in the areas of economy, security and people to people exchange, among others.
President Xi said the ancient silk routes embody the spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit, adding that the routes were not merely for trade, but boosted the flow of knowledge as well.
“More importantly, the exchange of goods and know-how spurred new ideas. For example, Buddhism originated in India, blossomed in China and was enriched in Southeast Asia. Confucianism, which was born in China, gained appreciation by European thinkers such as Leibniz and Voltaire. Herein lies the appeal of mutual learning,” he observed, urging delegates to look back on history, “History is our best teacher,” he indicated.
Meanwhile, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has provided US$1.7 billion of loans for 9 projects in Belt and Road participating countries, and annually, the Chinese government offers 10,000 government scholarships to the relevant countries. As China braces to work with other countries on this project, Xi states that finance is the lifeblood of modern economy.
BRI will promote trade and investment cooperation, and will support countries connected to the BRI and help generate an estimated 180,000 jobs.
Similarly, the Chinese President stated that the BRI would in turn, establish a secure environment shared by all. It will intensify counter terrorism efforts and strive to eradicate poverty, backwardness.
On his part, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin said in his speech, “It is a great honour for me to participate in the opening ceremony of the One Belt, One Road International Forum. Mr Xi informed me about his plans to hold this representative event. Back in September last year at the Russian/Chinese Summit in Hangzhou, and we said we’d lend our support to this enterprise from the very beginning. This idea has been brought up before that. Certainly this gives us our opportunity to talk in a broad format about the future of the vast Eurasian continent,” he said.
The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Gueterres who was also present at the event pointed out that the BRF was in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “As it opens channels for good, let us also open room for dialogue,” he indicated.
“It is a centre for global development. The wide range engagement of China is necessary today,” he further averred. The BRI was first promoted by President Xi Jinping in the autumn of 2013.
Also present at the opening ceremony was the Turkish President, Tayyip Recep Erdogan, the Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickranasinghe, and the Pakistan Prime Minister, Narwaz Sharif among other dignitaries.