BEIJING:With the world closely watching the second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) in Beijing this week, a network of think tanks and academics was launched in the Chinese capital on April 24. This pioneering platform seeks to spur a free-wheeling debate on various aspects of this grand China-initiated trans-continental initiative for building infrastructure and connectivityprojects around the world.
More than 100 academics, research institutions and international organisations from over 50 countries participated in the inaugural meeting of the Belt and Road Studies Network (BRSN), held at the Beijing Hotel in Beijing.The BRSN was launched a day ahead of the second BRF, which is expected to be attended by over 40 world leaders and high-level representatives from over 100 countries. President Xi Jinping will deliver the keynote address at the ceremonial opening of the Forum on April 26.
The BRSN is envisaged as an open mechanism for academic exchange and cooperation to promote studies on the Belt and Road Initiative, share ideas and research findings, encourage theoretical innovation and knowledge dissemination, said the organisers and initiators of BRSN.
Think tanks have a key role: Xi
With the BRI facing charges of dept trap diplomacy and hidden hegemonic ambitions, the importance of bringing intellectuals and experts together on the BRSN platform can’t be overstated. Underlining the importance of think tanks in enabling a better and nuanced understanding of BRI, President Xi Jinping sent a letter to congratulate the inauguration of the BRSN. The overarching message of the Chinese leader, who first unveiled the idea of BRI at Nazarbayev University in Astana in 2013, was that although the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) originates in China, it belongs to the world.In his letter, Mr Xi stressed that the initiative has become an open and inclusive platform for international cooperation and popular global public goods, thanks to the concerted efforts of all parties.
Mr Xi underscored that think tanks are an important force in the joint pursuit of the BRI, adding that exchanges and cooperation among think tanks help deepen mutual trust, build consensus, and advance the joint pursuit of the BRI towards higher levels.
Setting the tone for discussions at the BRSN, Mr Cai Mingzhao, president of Xinhua news agency and Xinhua Institute, the research arm of the state-owned news agency, said that BRSN will be
“an open-ended platform for exchange of ideas and thoughts on BRI.”
“The BRI is not only in the interests of China, but is also in the interests of the world,” said Wang Jingqing, vice president of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
With the BRI acquiring an unstoppable momentum and 123 countries signing agreements with China, there is a compelling need for more in-depth research and evaluation of BRI projects, which have been criticised for lack of transparency and financial prudence. Going forward, the real challenge for BRI will be to ensure that connectivity and infrastructure projects are aligned with UN Sustainable Development Goals and priorities of recipient countries.
China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has rejected allegations of BRI becoming a “debt trap” or “geopolitical tool” for subjugating recipient countries. He described the BRI as “the most welcomed global public good,” and stressed that the BRI “follows the sound principle of consultation and cooperation for shared benefits.”
“Plenty of facts like these are proof that the BRI is not a “debt trap” that some countries may fall into, but an “economic pie” that benefits the local population; it is no “geopolitical tool”, but a great opportunity for shared development,” he had said at a press conference during the 13th National People’s Congress held last month.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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