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Time:March 23-25, 2019
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Sponsor:Development Research Center of the State Council
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2018丨【Siemens】The Belt and Road Initiative

Blueprint for a New World Trade Order Calling for International Collaboration and Partnerships.

In 2002, the US-based Smithsonian Institution celebrated a festival called “The Silk Road: Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust”. Part of the festival, which took place in Washington D.C., was a concert by the Silk Road Ensemble, a group of musicians dedicated to exploring the relationship between tradition and innovation from East and West. Members of this ensemble came from seemingly diverse cultures and places like Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Europe, and even America. On their website it says: “When we create music together, we listen to our differences, connecting and creating meaning from them.”

At first glance such altruistic initiatives seem to have nothing to do with our common notion of the ancient Silk Road as a business-driven trade network, let alone with China’s extensive, silk-road-reviving “Belt and Road Initiative” – one of the most ambitious and promising infrastructure program of our modern times.

But actually the contrary is the case:

Trading of goods like silk, cotton, gold, spices or fruits for economic and monetary reasons was surely a driving factor behind establishing transportation routes as widely ramified as China, India, Africa, Persia, Arabia, Egypt and Europe from as early as 114 B.C. But these trade roads not only transported goods from A to B for their sellers’ economic benefits. They literally created connections between these countries, their cities and, most importantly, their people; people of very different heritage, background and culture, linked by the creation of transportation and interaction infrastructures. In times when the known world was much smaller, yet also much more difficult to traverse, the Silk Road was a lifeline bringing not only tangible goods and prosperity, but also tastes from and insights into foreign cultures, philosophies, and religions. Detecting differences and similarities between residents and merchants, connecting, and creating meaning from these encounters was just an important aspect of the ancient Silk Road as trade and money-making was.

Clearly, our world has changed dramatically since then. It is connected. People and goods travel the world at unprecedented speed. Living standards have improved in many places. While the 20th century saw a relative dominance of Western cultures, political and economic gravities are rapidly shifting from West to East today. Globalization is the megatrend of our times, turning our planet into a global village – with positive effects for trade or personal mobility, but also negative, or at least challenging results. E.g. local conflicts don’t stay local anymore; they are becoming global not only on an abstract political level or in the news, but also tangibly in everyday lives. Mass migration is only one phenomenon leading to increasing protectionism, nationalism and closing borders around the world.

In light of these developments, the idea behind the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a logic consequence of mentioned East-West gravity shift as well as of China’s changing role and increasing political and economic power. It is, however, also an astonishingly bold and farsighted strategy that counters protectionist tendencies with a pledge for open trade and partnership as well as geographic, economic and people connectivity.