CROSS-STRAITS MEETING: Chinese President Hu Jintao meets Vincent Siew, Chairman of the Taiwan-based Cross-Straits Common Market Foundation, in Boao on April 12
How can Asia make itself better heard in the international community? The Boao Forum for Asia provides a compelling solution. Every year since 2002, politicians, business leaders and scholars from around the globe have gathered on south China's Hainan Island to discuss current issues in Asia and the world at large.
Participation reached an all time high at this year's annual conference on April 11-13. Under the theme of "Green Asia: moving toward win-win through changes," more than 1,700 participants discussed topics such as green energy, climate change, financial reform, sustainable development, China's reform and opening up, and the subprime crisis in the United States.
The high-profile participants included state leaders and heads of governments of 10 foreign countries, including Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
The Boao Forum for Asia offers an Asian perspective on development issues, showcasing to the world the dynamism of the continent, said experts of Asian studies. As the continent seeks to become more visible and vocal on the international stage, the non-governmental forum is poised to play a prominent role in facilitating understanding among China, Asia and the rest of the world, they said.
A notable conference
The 2008 annual conference of the Boao Forum for Asia was remarkable, said Zhai Kun, Deputy Director of the Institute of Asian and African Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. It took place during the year when China commemorates the 30th anniversary of the adoption of its reform and opening-up policy; it had more participants and was better organized than ever before; and it saw its prestige rise, Zhai said.
BRAINSTORMING ON ASIA: The opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2008 in Boao, south China's Hainan Province, on April 12
Zhai said the forum had three major functions-to demonstrate Asian policies, celebrate Asian thinking and realize a win-win Asia. Chinese leaders routinely make speeches at the annual conferences of the forum to analyze the opportunities and challenges facing Asia and put forward initiatives for Asian cooperation.
This year was no exception. Zhai pointed out that President Hu Jintao spoke about China's future, the relationship between China and Asia and the relationship between China and the world in his speech entitled "Continuing Reform and Opening up and Advancing Win-Win Cooperation." Reform and opening up are a crucial choice that has shaped China today, Hu said in his speech. China would work with other Asian countries to seize opportunities, meet challenges and build a peaceful and open Asia for development and cooperation, he said. China would pursue peaceful development, follow a win-win strategy of opening up and dedicate itself to building a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity, Hu added.
While the West believes that Asia lacks world-leading ideas, the Boao Forum for Asia is changing that perception, Zhai said. At the forum's 2003 annual conference, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao proposed a general theme of "a win-win Asia," which was regarded as an epoch-making concept, he said.
Shen Minghui, assistant research fellow at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), echoed Zhai's views. He said the themes of the forum's annual conferences reflect the evolvement of Asia's philosophy of development. The forum put forth the concept of "green Asia" for the first time this year, a move that testified to the growing importance attached to environmental protection, climate change and energy conservation, he said.
The Boao Forum has contributed to win-win progress in Asia, Zhai said. For years after World War II, the continent did not have effective mechanisms for coordinating its efforts to seek sustainable development, resulting in market segregation, sluggish development and regional chaos. The situation improved when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum was established in 1989. Since 1997, Asian cooperation has exhibited new features of inclusiveness and openness. Against this backdrop, the Boao Forum has offered a venue for leaders from governments, business, academia and the media to address the most urgent issues concerning Asia's sustainable development, Zhai said.
The forum, along with other regional cooperative mechanisms, has formed a coordinative network involving both the government and civil society, Zhai said. It has thus helped promote Asian economic integration, improve the Asian countries' capacity to jointly deal with non-traditional security threats, bridge the ideological gap between them and make Asia better heard in and connected with the world.
The Boao Forum is the only non-governmental organization that gathers representatives from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. It may help create an "economic circle" that integrates the four regions, Zhai said.
The economic and trade cooperation between the mainland and Taiwan are faced with a historical opportunity, Hu said while meeting Vincent Siew, Chairman of the Taiwan-based Cross-Straits Common Market Foundation on the sidelines of the forum. Under the new circumstances, the mainland would continue to promote economic and cultural exchanges across the Taiwan Straits, Hu added.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called the Boao Forum the "Asian version of the Davos Forum" in his speech at the opening ceremony on April 12. But Shen from the CASS disagreed that the forum is on par with annual meeting of top business leaders held by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. While he believes China was able to present itself to the world by hosting the Boao Forum, he noted that it mainly involves Asian countries, although others non-Asian nations can participate.
"Unlike the Davos forum, the Boao Forum for Asia centers on Asia," he said. "It is not necessary for it to go global."
The consultative forum strives mainly to promote mutual understanding through information sharing and direct dialogue between government leaders and entrepreneurs instead of being a way to achieve regional integration, he said.
The Boao Forum for Asia is non-governmental mechanism, a main feature that distinguishes it from other Asian cooperative mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Plus China, Japan and South Korea, Zhai said. Inspired by the Davos forum at the beginning, the Boao forum has distinct Chinese and Asian characteristics, he said. For example, the Chinese Government strongly supports the forum, because it intends to use this opportunity to make its policies known to other countries.
Boao Forum Annual Conferences
April 12-13, 2002 New century, new challenge, a new Asia
November 2-3, 2003 Asia seeking common development through cooperation
April 24-25, 2004 Asia searching for win-win: an Asia open to the world
April 22-24, 2005 Asia searching for win-win: new role of Asia
April 21-23, 2006 Asia searching for win-win: drive growth to the next level
April 20-22, 2007 Asia winning in today's global economy-innovation and sustainable development
April 11-13, 2008 Green Asia: moving toward win-win through changes
Boao Forum for Asia
As a non-governmental, non-profit international organization, the Boao Forum for Asia is the most prestigious and premier forum for leaders in government, business and academia in Asia and other continents to share visions on the most pressing issues in the dynamic region and the world at large. The forum is committed to promoting regional economic integration and bringing Asian countries even closer to their development goals.
Initiated in 1998 by Fidel V. Ramos, former President of the Philippines, Bob Hawke, former Prime Minister of Australia, and Morihiro Hosokawa, former Prime Minister of Japan, the Boao Forum for Asia was formally inaugurated in February 2001. Countries across the region have responded with strong support and great enthusiasm, and the world has listened attentively to the voice coming from a tiny, quiet and scenic island at the southernmost part of China-Boao, the permanent site of the annual conference of the forum since 2002.