International Department of the CPC Central Committee       BEIJING REVIEW
Wednesday, May 31, 2017       MONTHLY
B&R Forum features people-to-people connectivity session
By Hou Weili & Ma Xiaowen 

Song Tao, Minister of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee, delivers a keynote speech at a thematic session on people-to-people connectivity of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation

"Only when countries have frequent people-to-people contacts, can their hearts become closer. Only then, will the conditions for pragmatic and friendly cooperation in other areas become ripe,” said Song Tao, Minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee (IDCPC).

Song made the remarks in his keynote speech at a thematic session on people-to-people connectivity of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation moderated by Guo Yezhou, Vice Minister of IDCPC, in Beijing on May 14-15.

Song Tao, Minister of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee

Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 to strengthen China’s relations with participating countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, primarily through extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits.

The initiative includes an overland Silk Road Economic Belt that connects China with Europe through Central Asia, and an ocean-based 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road that links to countries to the south of China and leads all the way to Africa and Southern Europe.

Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, Director General of WHO, delivers a speech on health cooperation at a thematic session on people-to-people connectivity of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

Significance of people-to-people connectivity

“The Belt and Road Initiative is about not only economic advancement, but also innovative exploration in the pursuit of new globalization and better global governance,” Song said.

“To create a better world for people of every nation is the direction of reforming current global governance. With the initiative, we can better learn people’s demands for development, respond timely and find solutions through negotiation and cooperation,” he added. He also stressed that promoting people-to-people connectivity will inject vitality into the efforts to reform and advance the system of global governance.

The forum was the first high-level meeting on the Belt and Road Initiative after President Xi Jinping first proposed it in 2013. The two-day meeting showed the international community's keen interest in the initiative. It was attended by 29 foreign heads of state and government leaders, representatives of international organizations and delegates from over 130 countries.

The initiative provides a platform for exchanges of different civilizations, according to Song. “Participating countries’ different nationalities, histories, cultures and customs present a colorful civilization landscape. Strengthening bonds among the people is indispensable to the success of the initiative,” he said.

Thanks to partnerships between China and other participating countries, people-to-people exchanges are receiving a boost as the Belt and Road Initiative scales up cooperation, whether in education, healthcare, culture or media.

Statistics from the Ministry of Education show there were about 200,000 students from Belt and Road countries studying in China at the end of 2016. China has also reciprocated, with 350,000 of its students studying in these nations since 2012.

In his keynote speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the forum, President Xi pledged that China will invite 2,500 young scientists from Belt and Road countries to conduct short-term research projects in China, train 5,000 scientists, engineers and management personnel, and establish 50 laboratories for joint scientific research in the next five years.

A session for story sharing and presentation of achievements, presided over by China Central Television (CCTV) host Dong Qing, took place after the speeches.

Exchanges of wisdom

The thematic session was a platform for global leaders to share their wisdom on enhancing people-to-people connectivity. After Song’s keynote speech, Irina Bokova, Director General of the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, commented that the silk routes tell a story of human progress driven by mutual learning, and they remind people that no culture has ever flourished in isolation. The Belt and Road Initiative is opening new opportunities for development and prosperity.

Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said China has already signed a memorandum of understanding on medical cooperation along the Belt and Road with WHO, which demonstrates China’s commitment to global health.

Massimo D'Alema, President of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), stressed that the most crucial component of the success of the Belt and Road Initiative is precisely constructing strong people-to-people bonds between communities and societies.

“Connectivity of people, which is indeed foundational to lasting prosperity and peace, is the only winning option,” said Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab Province, Pakistan, after a brief introduction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative.

“One should not impose on others what it does not desire for itself,” said Dmitry Meyertsev, President of the Russia and China Friendship Association. “Mutual respect among the two peoples is an effective approach for achieving a better future for China and Russia.”

Speakers at this session also included Jose De Venecia, President of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties; Roman Tasmania, Chairman of Ethiopian charity association Maternity; and Dhanin Chearavanont, Chairman and CEO of the Charoen Pokphand Group.

Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab Province, Pakistan

Sharing stories

A session for story sharing and presentation of achievements, presided over by China Central Television (CCTV) host Dong Qing, took place after the speeches.

Representatives of the Letpadaung copper mine project in Myanmar, Huawei’s “Seeds for the Future” project and a primary school project in Gwadar, Pakistan, as well as employees of the Colombo City port project in Sri Lanka, China Ocean Shipping Co. and China Startimes Group, shared their stories about advancing people-to-people connectivity under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Leaders from international institutions, officials from China’s ministries, and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and business communities presented to the audience their efforts in pushing forward connectivity.

“The people are the builders of the Belt and Road. The objective of development is to improve the life of people,” said Charles Kayonga, Rwandan Ambassador to China.

The thematic session mapped out a three-year action plan to promote people-to-people connectivity throughout the Belt and Road. The plan gives special attention to NGOs through the establishment of the Silk Road NGO Cooperation Network. Supported by the China NGO Network for International Exchanges (CNIE), the new network has secured the participation of 160 Chinese and foreign NGOs.

"In the future, CNIE will optimize resources and strengthen contacts with foreign NGOs and think tanks to encourage more talents from non-governmental sectors to contribute to the initiative," Zhu Rui, Secretary General of CNIE, said at the thematic session.

Members of the Silk Road NGO Cooperation Network will regularly share cooperation needs and approaches to deepen exchanges through reciprocal visits, seminars and workshops. The network will also support NGOs in initiating voluntary cooperation programs in education, healthcare and livelihood improvement to deepen understanding and build trust among participating nations.

These efforts will be strengthened by the Chinese Government with additional people-to-people exchange programs.

Ding Wei, Vice Minister of Culture, said before the forum that China's cultural exchange programs with Belt and Road countries will involve 30,000 people and 1,000 institutions over the next three years. Meanwhile, another 13 Chinese cultural centers will be established abroad. China will also launch a national Silk Road scholarship program to assist 10,000 students to study in China annually.

"It is cross-cultural interaction that brings us to reach a common point and help each other fit in locally," said Raphael Oni, a Nigerian journalist who covered the forum.

"Knowing the culture, laws and customs before venturing into a foreign country is essential, because if the locals do not welcome your business, your endeavor is doomed to fail," said Zhao Kejin, an associate professor in international studies at Tsinghua University.

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