Editor’s note: The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) will be held in Beijing from May 14 to 15. People from both home and abroad have expressed keen interest in the BRF since President Xi Jinping announced it at the Davos Forum in January. On the occasion of the 100 day countdown, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, who is in charge of the preparatory work, gave a comprehensive over view in an interview with the People’s Daily and China Daily.
China will host the BRF in May this year. What is your vision for the Forum? What are the objectives that you hope to achieve at the Forum?
President Xi Jinping announced at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan 17 that in May this year, China will host the BRF in Beijing, which aims to discuss ways to boost cooperation, build cooperation platforms and share cooperation outcomes. The Forum will also explore ways to address problems facing global and regional economy, create fresh energy for pursuing interconnected development and make the Belt and Road Initiative deliver greater benefits to the people of all countries. These messages from President Xi have outlined our vision and considerations for the Forum and set the direction for our preparatory work.
In the fall of 2013, President Xi Jinping put forward the Belt and Road Initiative to enhance complementarity and synergy of development strategies and promote common progress of participating countries through closer international cooperation. Over the past three years and more, the Initiative has made good progress in various cooperation and won warm response and active participation. Now it is at a critical juncture of making all-round progress. The BRF will be a good occasion for us to review past progress and plan ahead.
The BRF will be the highest-level forum under the Initiative since its launching over three years ago, and an important diplomatic event China will host this year. It has great significance for international and regional cooperation. Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, we hope to achieve the following objectives at the BRF: first, thoroughly review the progress of the Initiative, showcase important early harvest outcomes, further build consensus for cooperation and sustain the momentum of cooperation; second, discuss major cooperation measures going forward, facilitate greater synergy of development strategies, deepen partnership and work for interconnected development; third, while promoting China’s economic and social development and structural adjustment, work to advance international cooperation for win-win outcomes. As one Chinese saying goes, a tree needs strong roots to grow tall and a river needs an inexhaustible water source to flow far. By hosting the BRF, we look forward to working with others to take the Belt and Road forward, lay a more solid foundation and foster greater connectivity for world economic growth and deeper regional cooperation so as to bring more benefits to various countries and their people.
The Belt and Road Initiative was put forth more than three years ago. What are its achievements since then? How has it been received internationally? Has it made any difference to people’s lives in other countries?
The Belt and Road Initiative was proposed by China. Yet it’s not going to be China’s solo show. A better analogy would be that of a symphony performed by an orchestra composed of all participating countries. This Initiative is meant to be a major international public goods benefiting all countries. It is not an empty slogan, but rather a series of visible and concrete actions centering around the crucial link of connectivity and infrastructure development as a key part of economic cooperation, which is well-suited to the needs of countries and regions along the route.
We are committed to the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. We stress practical cooperation, win-win outcomes and step-by-step progress. We are looking to align China’s development with that of other countries and encourage greater synergy between their respective development strategies and cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative. This will be conducive to expanded regional investment and domestic demand, job creation and poverty reduction and to a higher level of development of the entire region.
The past three years have witnessed the launching, expansion, faster-than-expected progress and fruitful outcomes of the Belt and Road Initiative. More than 100 countries and international organizations have joined this Initiative, among which more than 40 have signed cooperation agreements with China, reaching a broad international consensus on Belt and Road Initiative. The UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council, UNESCAP, APEC, ASEM, the GMS have all incorporated or reflected Belt and Road cooperation in their relevant resolutions and documents.
A number of important early harvests have been made. Economic corridor development is making steady progress. An interconnected infrastructure network is taking shape. Trade and investment has increased significantly. Key project cooperation is underway. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Silk Road Fund have provided firm support to financial cooperation. China Railway Express trains to Europe have been operating on the vast Eurasian continent, loaded with goods and matching the market needs of countries along the route. The trains have also set up a bridge of communication and friendship between peoples along the route, and become a welcome sight along the Belt and Road.
The joint development of the Belt and Road Initiative is an important channel to step up international cooperation, a cause embraced and advanced by all parties. It is generating new development opportunities to make people’s lives better. It is fair to say that this Chinese initiative is delivering benefits to the whole world.
In a world faced with sluggish economic, investment and trade growth, backlash against globalization and rising uncertainties, how do you envision the BRF’s contribution to the global economy and international cooperation? What are the theme and agenda for the Forum?
It is true that the global economy is yet to emerge from the profound impact of the international financial crisis. The recovery is fragile and slow, and the foundation for growth still shaky. There are rising protectionism, louder voices against globalization and the mounting tensions between openness, change and economic integration on the one hand and isolationism, outdated thinking and fragmented trade arrangements on the other. That being said, bilateral, multilateral, regional and global cooperation on infrastructure, connectivity and sustainable development is gaining momentum. In countries around the world, priority is given to the real economy, the manufacturing sector, industrialization and economic diversification. It is important to grasp new development opportunities and find effective means to overcome the difficulties and solve the problems.
History provides us a useful source of wisdom for addressing today’s challenges. The land and maritime Silk Road over 2,000 years ago enabled people from various countries to defy national borders and conduct trade and friendly exchanges on camelback or merchant vessels. Those interactions left a glorious chapter in human history. History has proven that closed and exclusive arrangements have no future, while welcoming cooperation with open doors and ensuring benefits for all is the only way forward. This still rings true today. As President Xi Jinping said earlier at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, “Any attempt to … channel the waters in the ocean back into isolated lakes and creeks is simply not possible. Indeed, it runs counter to the historical trend.” The Belt and Road Initiative, rooted in the Silk Road spirit of peace, cooperation, openness, inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit, follows the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. Openness, inclusiveness and mutual benefit are the defining features of the Initiative and the very source of its strong appeal. We hope the BRF will help drive away the clouds of the economic doldrums and channel more positivity to global economic growth.
To better build consensus and advance cooperation, China has set “Belt and Road: Cooperation for Common Prosperity” as the Forum’s theme. The agenda will focus on connectivity of policy, transportation, trade, finance and people. Discussions will be conducted on key topics such as infrastructure connectivity, economic cooperation and trade, industrial investment, energy and resources, financial support, people-to-people exchanges, ecological and environmental protection and marine cooperation. The Leaders Roundtable, the highlight of the Forum, will focus on two topics: Policy Synergy for Closer Partnership and Connectivity Cooperation for Interconnected Development.
In our view, the theme and agenda are highly relevant, considering the circumstances and challenges our world faces. Underscoring the importance of international cooperation, connectivity and synergy, the theme and agenda largely overlap with the world’s major agenda. I also wish to add that many national and regional plans and global agendas have emerged in recent years, including such regional initiatives as the Eurasian Economic Union, the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, the Investment Plan for Europe, the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa and the APEC Connectivity Blueprint as well as global agreements like the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The international community needs to seize this opportunity and form synergy between those initiatives to deliver cooperative and shared benefits.
We have learnt that some foreign leaders will attend the BRF and there is great international interest in this event. How are the preparations going and which countries will participate in the Forum? What will be the outcomes of the BRF and what are your expectations?
We attach great importance to the preparations for the BRF. We have set up a committee to look after and coordinate the preparation. Thanks to the concerted efforts of responsible departments and the local government, the preparation is well underway. Many foreign leaders have expressed their interest in attending the event. Political preparation is making steady progress. Arrangements about key events, venues, logistics and security are being substantiated. For the coming weeks and months, we will keep the international community updated about its preparation for the Forum whenever necessary, in a spirit of openness and transparency.
Leaders from about 20 countries have confirmed their participation, representing Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America at the Forum. This testifies to the great attention and support the Forum and the Belt and Road Initiative have received from the international community. We will also invite ministerial delegations from some countries, representatives of international organizations, former foreign heads of state and government, business leaders, experts and scholars to join the discussions on how to promote cooperation.
The success of the Forum very much lies in its outcomes, and we are working vigorously for that to happen. We hope that the Forum will deliver important outcomes in three aspects:
First, expanding international consensus on cooperation. The Forum is expected to encourage all parties to uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, pursue peace and cooperation in a spirit of openness, inclusiveness and mutual learning, and seek win-win and interconnected development. Economic growth, job creation, poverty reduction, delivering a better life to the people and environmental protection shall be underlined as the priorities of international cooperation. The Forum will also encourage the formation of synergy among national, regional and global development agenda, with a view to moving the world toward a community of shared future for mankind featuring common development and prosperity.
Second, enhancing practical cooperation in key areas. The Forum is expected to cement the good momentum of cooperation in all fields under the Belt and Road Initiative, paying particular attention to those key areas and directions with far-reaching and long-term implications. The Forum will enhance cooperation in infrastructure connectivity, trade and investment, financial support and people-to-people exchanges, facilitate a number of major projects and cooperation agreements, and come up with some key mid- to long-term measures.
Third, mapping out plans for long-term cooperation. In jointly building the Belt and Road, we will explore, together with the related countries, long-term cooperation mechanisms through equal-footed consultations that take the interests of all parties into balanced consideration. The Forum will help to enhance communication and coordination, build mutual trust and a solid network of partnerships, increase real input, deepen the convergence of interests, and draw up a blueprint of development in the common interests of all parties.
From your remarks, we get the sense that the BRF will help advance international cooperation, enhance the alignment between the Belt and Road Initiative and the development strategies of partner countries, and strengthen China’s economic cooperation with the world. How then are we to understand the importance of the BRF to China’s efforts to implement its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), boost all-round reform and opening-up, and achieve the two centenary goals (namely, ushering in a moderately prosperous society in all respects when the Communist Party of China celebrates its centenary in 2021 and becoming a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious when the People’s Republic celebrates its centenary in 2049)?
The Belt and Road Initiative aims to promote common development and win-win cooperation. China does not intend to monopolize all the benefits or even take the lion’s share, but will work with partner countries to make the pie bigger and divide it equitably. In this process, through strengthened cooperation among the parties, we will make contribution to the international community as well as promote reform and development at home. China will pursue its development in the context of international cooperation by fully reflecting international consensus.
As its economy enters the “new normal”, China faces both opportunities and challenges, particularly regional disparity. With an emphasis on expanding westward opening-up, the Belt and Road Initiative will accelerate development of China’s western region, and contribute to a more coordinated development of the whole country. The Initiative covers multiple provinces, autonomous regions and major municipalities in China’s interior and coastal regions. It hews closely to China’s regional development strategy, new urbanization strategy and opening-up strategy, and will provide a strong boost to China’s all-dimensional opening-up.
The Belt and Road Initiative will create synergy between China’s efforts to boost international economic cooperation and to deepen reform and opening-up, enable China and partner countries to jointly pursue the new vision of innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development, and facilitate China’s endeavor to implement the 13th Five-Year Plan, boost all-round reform and opening-up, and achieve the two centenary goals. We are full of expectations and confidence about this.
China successfully hosted the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Beijing in 2014 and the G20 Summit in Hangzhou in 2016. How is the Belt and Road Forum different from these two events and what are its unique features?
The AEPC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Beijing, the G20 Summit in Hangzhou and the BRF are all important international conferences. The three events follow the same idea, namely, the emphasis on openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, on connectivity and interconnected development and on innovative development to tap potential driving forces and contribute to the well-being of people around the world.
The BRF has its own features compared with the previous two events. First, the Belt and Road Initiative is an international initiative for cooperation launched by China. The Forum is the first of its kind. Nevertheless, it is easier to draw the most beautiful picture on a piece of blank paper. Second, the Belt and Road Initiative is open to countries of different regions. The idea originates from the ancient Silk Road but the Initiative is not confined to it. We welcome the participation of various countries, international organizations, multinational corporations, financial institutions and non-governmental organizations in specific cooperation projects for achievements through concerted efforts. Third, compared with the well-established mechanisms that have long been in operation such as APEC and the G20, the Forum is more flexible in agenda items, cooperation areas and ways to advance cooperation. It will fully accommodate the comfort level and accessibility for the parties concerned.
We believe that the Forum will be a useful platform for strengthening coordination, mutual complementarity and international cooperation. We hope to work with other participating parties to push forward the Belt and Road Initiative so as to lay a solid foundation for the kind of cooperation that will facilitate long-term development and benefit the people, and usher in a better future for all.