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Speech by Yang Jiechi:Jointly Undertake the Great Initiatives With Confidence and Mutual Trust

Speech by H.E. Yang Jiechi
State Councilor of the People's Republic of China
At the Session of "Reviving the Silk Road: A Dialogue with Asian
Leaders" at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2014

Boao, Hainan, 10 April 2014

Distinguished Guests,
Friends from the Press,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to attend the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference. Thanks to the concerted efforts of colleagues and people from various sectors in China and other countries, the Forum is becoming one of the most influential high-end fora in Asia and beyond. Its influence stems not just from its high-caliber participants and organizers but also its acute antenna for the current trend and frontier topics of discussion, including the discussion we are having today on the Silk Road. I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to you, leaders from various countries and friends from all sectors, for joining our discussions on the building of the Silk Road.

The two initiatives of building a Silk Road economic belt and a 21st-century maritime Silk Road, known for short as the Belt and the Road, were put forth by President Xi Jiping during his two separate visits to Central Asia and Southeast Asia last fall. The initiatives have received positive response from countries concerned and been followed with great interest by the international community. Premier Li Keqiang, in his speech this morning on China's policy toward Asian cooperation, made a special mentioning of the importance of building the Belt and the Road. Our discussion this afternoon is therefore highly relevant.

When I accompanied President Xi on his visit to Europe a few days ago, I found that people in different sectors across Europe have shown great interest and enthusiasm in the Belt and the Road. The Joint Statement released by China and the EU stated that the two sides will develop synergies between EU policies and China's "Silk Road Economic Belt" initiative and jointly explore common initiatives along these lines. During his visit to Germany, President Xi Jinping attended a grand welcoming ceremony in Duisburg for a train that arrived from Chongqing along the China-Europe railway. To everyone present there, the Silk Road, once a mere term in the history book, has become a novel story of modern logistics and of China-Europe cooperation delivering real benefits to people along the way.

Europe's enthusiasm for the Silk Road, both the ancient and the modern, is nothing accidental. It is one reflection of the world's renewed recognition of Asia's time-honored civilizations and its development potential today. It shows a new trend of communication and cooperation between the East and the West amid economic globalization in a world that is moving toward multi-polarity.

Europe was the end of the ancient Silk Road, yet silk originated from China, where the Silk Road started, and many important areas along the Silk Road were in Asia. The Asian people, the Chinese people included, opened the Silk Road, withstanding great hardships, and preserved it throughout the years. We therefore feel a natural affinity for the Silk Road, which had once witnessed the common history and glory of the Asian civilizations. For the Asian people, the Silk Road provides a source of historical and cultural pride, and stands as a flag of unity and cooperation among Asian countries.

The Silk Road has given the people of Asia confidence in their history and culture. As early as over 2,000 years ago, when the Silk Road first began to take shape, Asia already boasted matured civilizations and was leading the world in productivity, managerial expertise and the level of openness. Ample proof of this could be found in archeological discoveries and the study by western scholars. Asia was the cradle of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Silk, porcelain, lacquerware, ironware, saddle, the four great inventions of ancient China (papermaking, gunpowder, movable-type printing and compass) and the Arabic numerals of India were all, at one time, the proprietary rights of Asia. It was through the Silk Road that Asian countries embraced foreign merchants and students and shared with them, without reservation, Asia's most advanced commodities and technologies.

Since modern times, however, Asian countries have been left behind, suffering from the invasion and colonization of foreign powers and the shock of strong cultures from the outside. Nevertheless, Asian countries cherish their own history and culture, and have sought to uphold the roots of their own values. Today, the people of Asia, neither conceited with past glory nor indulged in the memory of old sufferings, have chosen to draw strength from their tradition and culture, be innovative and strive to write a new chapter in Asia's history.

The Silk Road has given the people of Asia confidence in their development paths. Heterogeneity and diversity is the very feature and advantage of Asia. Every civilization, ethnic group and country along the Silk Road has its own social soil and development trajectory and everyone is equal and unique. The difference is never about which is superior and there is no need to force conformity. It is based on heterogeneity that merchants have been able to trade, wise men communicate and the world be diverse and colorful. Instead of being just one single road, the ancient Silk Road actually provided a choice of several roads, which passed through broad areas and many countries in Asia and Europe. This is quite inspiring as we engage ourselves in discussion on our development paths today.

Since modern times, patriots and righteous people in Asia have explored tirelessly paths to a prosperous and strong nation. After experiencing many setbacks, they have come to the conclusion that to choose a proper development path, one must bear in mind the distinctive national conditions and that one may learn from but should never copy the experience of other countries. It is based on such an understanding that Asia, after the end of the Cold War, created miracles of economic development by working hard on its own and carrying out international cooperation. Asia has stood the test of the Asian financial crisis and the international financial crisis. According to the latest forecast of the Asian Development Bank, 45 developing economies in Asia will achieve a growth rate of 6.2% this year and 6.4% next year, more than three times the average for developed countries. Such result is not easily gained. It shows that Asian countries have done the right thing in sticking to their own paths which, despite thorns on the way, lead to bright prospects.

The Silk Road has given the people of Asia confidence to pursue inclusive cooperation. The Silk Road had enabled the East and the West to thoroughly interact with each other in peace and equality in all possible areas. The network for trade running over the Eurasian continent way back in the early days brought benefits to all sides. The ancient Chinese technologies of iron-smelting, farming and irrigation were brought to neighboring countries to the west and south of China and greatly increased those countries' productivity, while the medicine, calendar and sculpturing art from South Asia were applied and valued in China. The Chinese Harp and Polo, created by ancient nomads in Central Asia, featured proudly in the history of Chinese music and sports. The sandalwood from Timor-Leste, elephant from Thailand, wood sculpture from the Laos, leather and fur from Russia, colored glaze from Europe and west Asia, and gems from Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka were all highly popular with ancient Chinese.

Some religions or sections of religion, after being introduced into China via the land and maritime silk roads, integrated with home-grown religions in China and coexisted with them in harmony. For the numerous Chinese and foreign envoys, merchants and the wise questing for scriptures and knowledge, it was the Silk Road, and the people who kindly assisted them along the way, that had made their journeys possible.

Now that conditions for transport and infrastructure have much improved and regional cooperation has entered a new stage, countries in Asia may well live up to the Silk Road spirit of peace, friendship, openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, and endeavor to add a new dimension to the Silk Road spirit.

An important part of this new dimension, as I see it, is mutual trust. The Chinese people believe that "one would achieve nothing without credibility". Alexandre Dumas, the celebrated French writer, noted that "confidence is a rare jewel". In fact, travelers on the ancient Silk Road could hardly make the journey alone. They had to travel in company and look after each other on the way. They even had to work with each other when they sailed in a same boat on the sea. Despite the leapfrog development in science and technology, cooperation in transport today still faces hidden difficulties, and some Asian countries still suffer from a "deficit of trust". I believe as we work to improve connectivity and promote the Belt and Road initiatives, more needs to be done to increase mutual trust.

What forms the basis of mutual trust is for countries to respect history and draw lessons from it, follow a path of peaceful development, act in the spirit of the UN Charter and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, respect each others' core interests and major concerns, treat each other with sincerity and learn from and help each other.

The Chinese philosophy values peace as being the most precious. The Chinese history shows a record of China in friendly relations with neighbors. And China's diplomacy honors the tradition of matching words with deeds. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mahathir observed that when Zheng He, the Chinese navigator of the Ming Dynasty, led the most powerful fleet to Southeast Asian countries more than 600 years ago, he brought along good things and genuine friendship, totally different from Western colonizers that came afterwards. Today, the people of Southeast Asia still cherish a fond memory of Zheng He. In fact, the "Zheng He Association" is going to be set up in Malaysia to promote trade and investment between Malaysia and China.

The Belt and Road initiatives China put forward fully reflect the commitment to mutual trust and mutual benefit. Chinese leaders have made it clear that in implementing the initiatives, China will uphold the spirit of "amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness", which guide China's diplomacy regarding its neighbors, and China will not interfere in other countries' internal affairs, or seek dominance over regional affairs or sphere of influence. The Belt and Road initiatives are for open cooperation, with economic and cultural cooperation being the focus. They are not aimed at creating exclusive blocks or compromising existing multilateral mechanisms. The lands and seas of Asia are broad, and the mind of the Asian people is only broader. We should stay committed to open regionalism and make sure that all cooperation initiatives and institutions play their due role and complement each other.

The building of the Belt and the Road will deepen mutual trust and expand common interests among countries on the Eurasian continent. As President Xi Jinping pointed out, these initiatives will focus on "connectivity in five areas", namely, connectivity of policy, transportation, trade, currency and the heart of the people. Comprehensive as they are, these initiatives are practical and easy to operate.

The ancient Silk Road was a road for commerce and trade. Likewise, the Silk Road initiative also seeks to promote economic cooperation on a priority basis. In 2013, the volume of trade between China and the countries along the Belt and the Road topped US$1 trillion, accounting for one quarter of China's total foreign trade. Over the past decade, trade between China and these countries has grown by an average of 19% annually, 4 percentage points higher than the growth of China's foreign trade in the same period. What is more, there is still huge room for further growth. For instance, it is estimated that China's trade with ASEAN countries will hit US$1 trillion by 2020.

In the coming five years, China will import commodities worth US$10 trillion, invest over US$500 billion abroad and send about 500 million tourists overseas. China's neighboring countries and countries along the Silk Road will be the first to benefit. In building the Belt and the Road, China will dovetail its development strategy with that of the countries along the Belt and the Road. We will advance our cooperation with them in trade, industry, investment, energy and resources, finance and ecological protection, and strengthen cooperation on urban development, ports, land ports and industrial parks. Efforts will be made to nurture new growth points, support local employment, improve local capacity for sustainable development and realize common development of China and these countries.

Connectivity is the priority in China's vision for the Belt and the Road and also in Asia's regional cooperation. "Hard connectivity" in transportation and infrastructure is well under way. Last December, the bridge spanning the Mekong River on the Kunming to Bangkok road was completed. China played an important part by providing free assistance, and the project represents a result of joint efforts of China, the Laos and Thailand. The project will benefit local communities of the three countries and promote cooperation in the Lancang River and Mekong River areas.

The Piraeus Container Terminal of China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company in Greece is doing well. China will also build railways with Hungary, Serbia, Turkey and other countries. And China is talking with Russia on win-win operation models for the Eurasian railways. The blueprint of a grand Eurasian passage and market is unfolding, and the ancient Silk Road is now beaming with new vitality.

"Soft connectivity" in policy, law, regulation and human resources will be promoted in parallel. China and ASEAN are discussing ways to upgrade their FTA, while the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is advancing negotiations on agreements on international road transportation facilitation. China's cooperation with neighboring countries on quality and quarantine inspection and customs cooperation is on track to becoming more institutionalized. To meet Timor-Leste's aspiration to be self-sufficient in food supply, China readily conducted three phases of hybrid rice demonstration project to help local people solve their big problem. The Chinese company Huawei trained several thousand telecommunications professionals for Central and Southeast Asian countries, which was very well received locally.

I want to talk in particular about the importance to "connect the heart". Ancient Chinese used to say that for friends, what is precious is mutual understanding and, for mutual understanding, what is precious is knowing the heart. Some foreign sinologists believed that if one uses his heart to understand the complexity and subtlety of the Chinese culture, he will feel closer to the Chinese people. The Confucius Institutes China opened with other countries, the culture centers China opened in other countries and foreign culture centers in China could all serve as an increasingly important platform for China to engage with the world.

"Connectivity of the heart" could be achieved through many ways:

First, increase people-to-people contacts. A lot of biases and misunderstandings do not stem from hatred but from estrangement and the lack of familiarity. As a Chinese saying goes, "To see something once is better than to hear about it a hundred times." Go to the field and talk to the locals, one often gets a fresh understanding. For neighboring countries in particular, it is necessary for both the leaders and the general public to have more interaction, as we believe friends and relatives will become closer when they visit each other more.

Second, promote cooperation in cultural, art, archeological, sport, health and other areas of people-to-people exchange and enhance exchanges at the local level and among media organizations, think tanks and young people. Young people are the future of Asia and the world. We should encourage and help them interact more. The importance of it could never be over-stated.

Third, promote the study of foreign languages and step up student exchanges. Learning and mastering the languages of other countries helps increase understanding of each other's culture, form a rational approach to differences, and develop a sense of inclusiveness and amity toward other people and other countries.

Fourth, persist in our efforts and focus on cultural exchanges. The Silk Road was not built in a day. Likewise, cultural convergence and affinity between people takes a long process and cannot be achieved overnight. As long as we keep working at it with firm confidence, we will achieve the goal, just as drops of water will eventually wear a hole in the solid rock.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The history of Asia has evolved in close relation with the rise and fall of the Silk Road. The collective renewal of Asia in the future will come alongside the revival of the Silk Road. The Belt and Road initiatives will have an overall bearing on the big Asian family. We hope that countries concerned may discuss and work with China as these two initiatives are being implemented, which will bring benefit to all of us. Let us work together with real earnest for the ambitious goal of building the Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century maritime Silk Road.

Thank you.

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