The latest China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable event — the Belt and Road Networking Reception — united a diverse group of attendees, perhaps reflective of the namesake initiative’s broad ripple effect.
“As we all know too well, this is a time of huge uncertainties ... Should one opt for openness or isolation, cooperation or confrontation?” said Zhou Li, editorial board member of the China Daily Group and publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pacific.
China believes in creating a shared future for mankind and the Belt and Road Initiative is a huge step in that direction, he said. Proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, the initiative aims to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes.
Consul general at the consulate general of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Abdul Qadir Memon, highlighted the connection aspect of the initiative.
“The Belt and Road Initiative is more than just about building infrastructure, but also realizing President Xi’s vision of economic cooperation for all participating countries to realize their full potential,” Memon said. “It’s a catalyst for bringing about more people and people interaction.”
The event, held at the Renaissance Hong Kong Harbour View Hotel on Dec 20, saw consul generals in Hong Kong, CEOs and around 200 C-level senior executives from Fortune Global 500 and China 500 companies, think tanks, academics and media practitioners from public and private sectors across Asia come together under the umbrella of the ambitious Chinese initiative.
As revealed by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the opening of the Symposium on International Developments and China’s Diplomacy 2017 earlier this month, China has signed Belt and Road cooperation agreements with 80 countries and organizations, conducted institutionalized cooperation on industrial capacity with more than 30 nations, and built 75 overseas economic and trade cooperation zones in 24 countries under the initiative’s framework.
Wang also said Chinese businesses have invested over $50 billion and created nearly 200,000 local jobs in countries along the Belt and Road route.
It is one thing reading about the initiative’s impressive facts and ever growing figures, but it is another hearing about how it has changed the region.
Chief Secretary for Administration of the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Matthew Cheung Kin-chung spoke of how another major project — the Greater Bay Area initiative — feeds into the Belt and Road.
He highlighted how related infrastructure, like the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, the Guangzhou-Shen-zhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, and the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Boundary Crossing Point, will open up opportunities by facilitating flow between the SAR and the mainland.
“Hong Kong should seize the opportunities provided by the Belt and Road through the Greater Bay Area,” Cheung said.
Tengku Dato’ Sirajuzzaman bin Tengku Mohamed Ariffin, consul general at the Consulate General of Malaysia in the Hong Kong SAR, told China Daily the initiative has been instrumental in getting Association of Southeast Asian Nations infrastructure projects up and running.
“The initiative has blown some extra wind in the sails for projects like the high-speed rail from Singapore to Kunming (in Southwest China’s Yunnan province), particularly in the areas of funding and expertise,” he said.
He added that Malaysia could and wants to play a role in connecting 15 Islamic countries along the Belt and Road through Islamic finance and halal food.
Even far flung allies chimed in with their say.
“New Zealand was the first Western country to sign a Belt and Road agreement,” said David Whitwam, chairman of the New Zealand Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
He believes that New Zealand, although far away from the immediate geographic circle, will a play a role in the Belt and Road, particularly with regard to the food supply chain in the countries involved in the project.
Nicolas de Loisy, president of Supply Chain Management Outsource, said the Belt and Road has been particularly helpful in opening up big project opportunities for corporations. His Hong Kong-based logistics company counts two big projects related to the initiative under its own belt.
The role of media outlets like China Daily Asia Weekly, which celebrated its seventh anniversary at the event, was also spoken highly of in terms of promoting the initiative.
“The media has been very important in spotlighting our efforts in the race to build infrastructure,” said Sirajuzzaman.
“Media coverage highlights important considerations for these projects,” he added.
One such example would be the recent China Daily Red Letter Project, which was a live stream on Facebook that highlighted road congestion at its worst in seven Asian metropolises.
“In an increasingly digitalized media age, we brought the issue of traffic congestion into the consideration of over 10,000 viewers through that experimental live stream project,” said Zhou.
The four-and-a-half-hour long broadcast also attracted input from viewers across the region, who may well have been stuck in traffic as they tuned in.
“What China Daily hopes is to provide a platform for such dialogue, especially as the Belt and Road grows,” Zhou added.