Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative or BRI possibly is the most ambitious project in today’s world. Once implemented, this would connect the Asian countries with Europe, America, Africa and beyond.
Having placed an emphasis on developing original research for several years, China is becoming a colossus of innovation. The building of the digital Silk Road, which is making real contributions to cyber-connectivity, highlights this advancement. China will finance exchange programs – including for women, young people and individuals with disabilities – to learn about this technological miracle and share findings back home.
Back in May, 2017, during the inaugural speech at the Belt and Road forum, President Xi Jinping elaborately explained the necessity of this project, which would open new vista of infinite opportunities to the participant nations.
He said, “Over 2,000 years ago, our ancestors, trekking across vast steppes and deserts, opened the transcontinental passage connecting Asia, Europe and Africa, known today as the Silk Road. Our ancestors, navigating rough seas, created sea routes linking the East with the West, namely, the maritime Silk Road. These ancient silk routes opened windows of friendly engagement among nations, adding a splendid chapter to the history of human progress. The thousand-year-old “gilt bronze silkworm” displayed at China’s Shaanxi History Museum and the Belitung shipwreck discovered in Indonesia bear witness to this exciting period of history.
“Spanning thousands of miles and years, the ancient silk routes embody the spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit. The Silk Road spirit has become a great heritage of human civilization”.
From President Xi’s inaugural speech, we came to know, in China’s Han Dynasty around 140 B.C., Zhang Qian, a royal emissary, left Chang’an, capital of the Han Dynasty. He traveled westward on a mission of peace and opened an overland route linking the East and the West, a daring undertaking which came to be known as Zhang Qian’s journey to the Western regions. Centuries later, in the years of Tang, Song and Yuan Dynasties, such silk routes, both over land and at sea, boomed. Great adventurers, including Du Huan of China, Marco Polo of Italy and ibn Batutah of Morocco, left their footprints along these ancient routes. In the early 15th century, Zheng He, the famous Chinese navigator in the Ming Dynasty, made seven voyages to the Western Seas, a feat which still is remembered today. These pioneers won their place in history not as conquerors with warships, guns or swords. Rather, they are remembered as friendly emissaries leading camel caravans and sailing treasure-loaded ships. Generation after generation, the silk routes travelers have built a bridge for peace and East-West cooperation.
The ancient silk routes spanned the valleys of the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus and Ganges and the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. They connected the birthplaces of the Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian and Chinese civilizations as well as the lands of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam and homes of people of different nationalities and races. These routes enabled people of various civilizations, religions and races to interact with and embrace each other with open mind. In the course of exchange, they fostered a spirit of mutual respect and were engaged in a common endeavor to pursue prosperity. Today, ancient cities of Jiuquan, Dunhuang, Tulufan, Kashi, Samarkand, Baghdad and Constantinople as well as ancient ports of Ningbo, Quanzhou, Guangzhou, Beihai, Colombo, Jeddah and Alexandria stand as living monuments to these past interactions. This part of history shows that civilization thrives with openness and nations prosper through exchange.
The ancient silk routes were not for trade only, they boosted the flow of knowledge as well. Through these routes, Chinese silk, porcelain, lacquerwork, and ironware were shipped to the West, while pepper, flax, spices, grape and pomegranate entered China. Through these routes, Buddhism, Islam and Arab astronomy, calendar and medicine found their way to China, while China’s four great inventions and silkworm breeding spread to other parts of the world. More importantly, the exchange of goods and know-how spurred new ideas. For example, Buddhism originated in India, blossomed in China and was enriched in Southeast Asia. Confucianism, which was born in China, gained appreciation by European thinkers such as Leibniz and Voltaire.
The ancient silk routes witnessed the bustling scenes of visits and trade over land and ships calling at ports. Along these major arteries of interaction, capital, technology, and people flowed freely, and goods, resources, and benefits were widely shared. The ancient prosperous cities of Alma-Ata, Samarkand and Chang’an and ports of Sur and Guangzhou thrived, so did the Roman Empire as well as Parthia and Kushan Kingdoms. The Han and Tang Dynasties of China entered the golden age. The ancient silk routes brought prosperity to these regions and boosted their development.
Criticisms and opposition to BRI
It is said in the Chinese proverb, “The beginning is the most difficult part”, meaning the BRI project too had faced numerous forms of criticisms and adversities, mostly because of misunderstanding and lack of full knowledge on this project. But of course, Chine, under the leadership of President XI Jinping already had taken a solid first and subsequent steps in gradually implementing the Belt and Road Initiative.
Beijing’s critics said, implementation of the BRI would geometrically increase China’s influence in Asia and the world, as it will ultimately play the role of the leader of those BRI member nations.
Some critics, for example, India, even went further saying Xi Jinping’s BRI was actually Beijing’s “agenda” of expanding its “hostility and aggression” amongst the member nations, which ultimately would turn China into tomorrow’s socio-political and economic “mafia”. Indian policymakers and analysts even said that the implementation of BRI would give China such a high-position that it would not only deprive all of the smaller member nations of socio-economic benefits, but it also would grant China the “desired” opportunity for “playing foul with the Asian nations and the world.
Expectations from the BRI
Once President Xi Jinping’s brainchild Belt and Road Initiative shall be implemented, Asian nations will be connected with countries in Europe, America, Africa and beyond thus greatly contributing in enhancing trade as well as interactions on combating terrorism and trafficking. Moreover, BRI shall open the prospect of inter-nation relations at the people-to-people level, which will help in boosting the tourism industry in particular.
President Xi Jinping role as an Asian leader
President Xi Jinping has already emerged as the most dynamic leader in Asian with magnanimous visions, which would help in promoting the brand ‘Asia’ to other continents. Moreover, China is committed to combating religious extremism and militancy, which would be of immense benefit to most of the nations in the world, especially those which currently are fighting such evil forces.
One of the significant policies of President Xi Jinping is, he is willing to let all other nations in Asia, Africa and beyond prosper. This is called – together we prosper, meaning China and particularly President Xi is going to set the excellent example of sharing prosperity and happiness with other neighboring nations in Asia and the world.
With the advancement of technology, the word global village is gradually becoming a reality and looking into the future of this world, BRI is the most dynamic and timely initiative for the betterment of every participant nation.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter at Salah_Shoaib