- Sartaj wants focus on challenges, opportunities through collective wisdom
Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on Sunday said that the One Belt One Road (OBOR) concept was the most significant transformative initiative in recent human history, which was a harbinger of shared hopes, common prosperity and win-win cooperation among the people of the world.
Addressing the thematic session on ‘Connectivity of Think Tanks’ here in the Chinese capital, he said that through a focus on the connectivity of infrastructure including roads, rail links, sea routes, ports, and connectivity of policy, trade and finance, they were observing a phenomenon which has few historical parallels.
In a civilizational sense, the true impact of the initiative would be in the realm of thoughts, ideas and cultures, and the think tanks were the breeding grounds for those elements, he said, adding that the dialogue of the think tanks was an extremely important, cross-cutting segment of the OBOR summit.
He said that Pakistan lauded the spirit of the OBOR initiative. The concept of shared partnerships and voluntary cooperation were the basic principles of the Belt and Road vision. Sartaj said that China had created the necessary cooperative mechanisms and brought its intellectual, technological and financial resources to make it a reality.
He said that it was for the participating countries of the forum to carry the initiative forward and play their due role in realising its true potential. Through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he said Pakistan was privileged to be the first flagship project of the Belt and Road initiative. He said the CPEC was making excellent progress.
In its first phase, the focus was on building the requisite infrastructure and establishing connectivity. Simultaneously, several energy generation and distribution projects had been launched, while Gwadar port was being developed as the cornerstone of OBOR.
Sartaj said that the establishment of several special economic zones was an important part of the CPEC. The Chinese government, state-owned corporations and financial institutions were providing funds, technology and support to CPEC projects. Gas and oil terminals would distribute energy throughout Pakistan and pipelines could be set up for transporting oil and gas to western China.
The important flagship project would lead to not just national but regional development through connectivity. “As we proceed forward in implementing these projects, the role of academia, scholars, experts and think tanks would become increasingly important. Connectivity of ideas through the exchange of information, mutual learning and joint research, among the OBOR countries would be very useful in sharing experiences and lessons learned,” he said.
He said that Pakistan was willing to share its experiences with the think tanks community. Those linkages had helped in the mutual understanding of the OBOR vision and focusing on complementarities between the people of the two countries. He said that the think tanks of China and OBOR countries needed to come together and utilise their combined intellectual resources. Through collective wisdom, “we can explore and focus on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”
Firstly, the revival of the ancient Silk Road had been a passionate dream for billions of people of Eurasia. President Xi Jinping’s vision had brought realisation to that dream. The quest to rediscover and revive the bonds at the level of the people had solid historical and civilizational underpinnings. He said that the think tanks needed to further explore the historical and cultural linkages and find ways to link today’s realities with them.
Secondly, the OBOR initiative comes at a time when we are witnessing major changes on a global scale. At this juncture, the evolving negative considerations of geopolitics, anti-globalization sentiments, protectionist barriers to the free movement of people and goods, ethnocentric nationalism and xenophobia have to be countered.
Thirdly, for the vast majority of developing states, the OBOR signified a new wave of globalisation propelled by the East, which was infused by Asian values. However, that win-win cooperation was intended to lead to a harmonious development of both the East and the West. The think tanks could identify common objective and priorities between the East and the West.
Fourthly, a broad spectrum of opportunities was offered by the OBOR. Exploring the entire range of possibilities was a task that think tanks must fulfil. Be it trade, finance, infrastructure, or technology; the potential is immense. It is up to us to explore this potential.
Fifthly, national development policies and priorities of all the participating countries, he said, would naturally be different, keeping in view national circumstances and local conditions. The think tanks can explore how the OBOR policy initiatives and national development policies can be harmonised.
Sixthly, broader oversight of the initiative by the think tanks would also be helpful in making the requisite adjustments in its course, which, in turn, would require identification of obstacles and any adverse consequence of different projects. Constructive criticism could lead to improvement and amelioration of such initiatives. The OBOR was a long term initiative and the think tanks would be pivotal in ensuring the continuous evolution of its basic principle and positive impact in the light of actual experience, he added.
Sartaj said that the people-to-people exchange through think tanks could provide opportunities for cross-cultural linkages, improved understanding of each other’s concerns, core interests, sensitivities and then finding common grounds. On the concrete way forward, he proposed an annual gathering of selected think tanks of OBOR countries. Such an annual gathering, bringing together academia, experts, scholars and practitioners from every walk of life, would provide an immense opportunity for shared introspection and collective wisdom.