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Europeans looking to Belt and Road forum to deepen dialogue

By Fu Jing | China Daily | Updated: 2017-04-25 07:17
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The newly built "Silk Road Golden Bridge" in Beijing Olympic Park gets its lights tested on April 18, 2017, in preparation for the upcoming Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation that will be held from May 14 to 15. [Photo/VCG]

As the highly-anticipated Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing approaches, many Europe-based China observers are thinking of using the May 14-15 forum to deepen dialogue and exchanges, and institutionalize the Belt and Road Initiative (the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road) proposed by President Xi Jinping more than three years ago.

Out of the 28 state leaders who have confirmed their participation in the forum, which is aimed at improving connectivity among Asia, Europe and Africa, more than 10 will be from Europe. Due to domestic elections, the leaders of the United Kingdom, France and Germany will not be able to attend the forum but they will send high-level officials to join the discussions.

Recent talks with China experts in Europe show they understand the significance of the forum. Some Europeans have even compared it with the annual G20 summit, a platform set up in 2008 to mainly facilitate global macroeconomic policy coordination among the world's 20 largest economies.

Luigi Gambardella, president of ChinaEU, a business-led international association in Brussels, said the Belt and Road Initiative reminds him of the connection between the ancient Silk Road and his own country, Italy. He is ready to organize a Silk Road seminar in Rome next week before leaving for Beijing to attend the forum.

He also plans to propose that next year's Belt and Road forum be organized in Venice, Italy. Historically, he said, Venice was closely linked to China's ancient Silk Road. Explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324), an Italian who "introduced" China to Europe, was from Venice. And Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni will attend the Beijing forum.

Among those Europeans who have closely observed China's development, Gambardella said European countries should pay attention and offer political goodwill to Chinese initiatives, which aim to boost the flows of capital, technology, human resources and even tourists. Italy should shoulder the responsibility because of its historical links with China through the old Silk Road.

Jan Kohout, adviser to Czech Republic President Milos Zeman, who himself will attend the May forum, has a different view. Kohout, former Czech foreign minister and founder of the Prague-based New Silk Road Institute, said his country has already built a "political highway" with China, and the most important thing is to identify partners and implement the various deals.

Kohout suggested that the high-level political forum be organized every two or three years but it is important that every country of the dozens which have agreed to join the Belt and Road Initiative assign a dedicated coordinator for the purpose. And a meeting of all the coordinators should be organized every year.

Raising another important point, Kohout said the initiative should eventually become a two-way platform to link China and the rest of the world. Taking his country as example, he said many investors from the Czech Republic are also keen on exploring opportunities in China.

Dimitris Bourantonis, deputy rector of Athens University of Economics and Business, echoed Gambardella's view, saying the Belt and Road forum should be institutionalized and the presidency rotated every year. Greece is an active supporter of the initiative, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will be among the state leaders present at the Beijing forum.

As a new event in global governance, Bourantonis said there is need to establish a permanent secretariat for the Belt and Road forum to coordinate regional development, which is the essence of the initiative.

China has always said that, although the initiative is its proposal, it is for all participants. So it is therefore important to listen to suggestions and ideas of every country that has joined the initiative, in order to facilitate efficient dialogue and exchange platforms.

European opinion leaders have already started their brain-storming. And their contribution is essential for the success of the Beijing forum.

The author is deputy chief of China Daily European Bureau. fujing@chinadaily.com.cn

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