'Asia lacks a forum led by Asians and guided by Asian interests'


Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation finance ministers pose for a family photo in Beijing on October 22, 2014

Excerpts from the speech of Zeng Peiyan, Vice Chairman of Baoao Forum for Asia, delivered in Colombo.

Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) is a nongovernmental and nonprofit international organization with a fixed conference date and a fixed domicile. Proposed 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, BFA was formally inaugurated on February 27 2001. Boao, Hainan Province, China serves as the permanent site of BFA Headquarters. Since 2002, BFA has been holding its annual conference at Boao.

The purpose of BFA is to base itself on Asia and promote and deepen the economic exchange, coordination, and cooperation within Asia and between Asia and other parts of the world. It also aims to offer a high-end dialog platform for governments, enterprises, experts, and scholars to jointly discuss economy, society, and environment and other relevant issues. Through its working network with the political, business, and academic circles, BFA will serve the ever-growing economic cooperation among its members and between its members and other entities.

In the 21st century, economic globalization and regionalization continue to develop. With European economic integration picking up speed and North American Free Trade Area under further development, Asian countries have been faced with great opportunities as well as many severe challenges. This requires them to strengthen their cooperation with other parts of the world and enhance exchange and cooperation among themselves. In fact, it is now a common task for them to find a way to cope with the challenges brought about by globalization, to maintain the healthy economic growth of Asia, and to strengthen their coordination and cooperation.

Although Asian countries have participated in many international conferences and organizations such as APEC and PECC, Asia as a whole lacks a forum that, led by Asians and guided from perspectives of Asian interests and views, can be dedicated to the discussion of Asian issues and aims at enhancing cooperation and exchanges among Asian countries, and between Asian countries and other parts of the world. Against this backdrop, in September 1998, former Filipino President Fidel V. Ramos, former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa proposed the establishment of an Asian Forum, one similar to the World Economic Forum headquartered in Davos.

The Boao Forum for Asia is the premier platform in Asia for promoting economic integration in this dynamic region. It was jointly initiated by 28 countries and inaugurated on 27th February 2001. The Forums annual conference brings together more than 2000 senior government officials, corporate leaders and scholars from Asia and other parts of the world. The first time the BFA is bringing a delegation to Asia in Sri Lanka, The Pathfinder Foundation (PF) with the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) to organize a high level panel discussion and round-table and hear the Speech made by ZengPeiyan, Vice Chairman in Colombo recently.

Maritime Silk Road

I am pleased to be here with you in beautiful Sri Lanka known as the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean". It is my first visit to Sri Lanka, where the warm people, charming scenery and abundant natural resources have impressed me deeply. I really appreciate the elaborate arrangement of the Pathfinder Foundation for this conference.

The world is undergoing profound adjustment, internal and external demands are declining and global economic growth is continuing to slow down after the international financial crisis. How to stick together to seek new economic growth points has become a common challenge faced by Asian countries. In this context, with the aim of meeting challenges together and achieving common prosperity, the Chinese government has proposed the cooperation initiative of "jointly building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road". The great vision meets the global demand for accelerated development and restructuring, follows the trend of regional integration, and has drawn high attention and received positive response from the international community and countries in many regions.

As an important link of global civilizations and a traffic "artery" for trade, the ancient Maritime Silk Road has witnessed the friendly association between the East and the West for thousands of years. There have been frequent business exchanges among over 60 countries on this road. Peaceful shipping trade has led to economic interdependence, civilization collision and ethnic integration, and made remarkable contributions to the economic prosperity of Asian, African and European countries. The initiative to build a "21st Century Maritime Silk Road" is intended to pass down the spirit of the ancient Maritime Silk Road to rejuvenate the spirit on the new route of Asian development in the new century.

The cooperation initiative of "21st Century Maritime Silk Road" has two distinct features. First, the initiative underlines "inclusive development". As an integrated and win-win mode of cooperation and exchange, the initiative is aimed to promote all countries to give full play to their comparative advantages to open up an effective way for equal cooperation and sharing of development achievements between countries with various development levels, different cultural traditions, different resource endowments and different social systems, to establish a system of multi-field cooperation, create a pattern of multi-level cooperation and develop a framework of multi-channel cooperation. Equality and mutual trust in political sense, mutual benefit and win-win situation in economic sense are both critical to inclusive development. Amid the global economic slump, building the Maritime Silk Road will provide a new development framework and new cooperation mode to the world. Currently Asian countries' backwardness in infrastructure is the main bottleneck of their development. China's proposal for new mechanisms such as Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Silk Road Fund is intended to cement financing cooperation, help make up financial insufficiencies in infrastructure, drive the countries along the Maritime Silk Road to engage in regional transport, port, logistics, communications, environmental protection and energy construction, and create more jobs and bring more energy into regional development. I believe that with your common participation, the Maritime Silk Road will not only be a trade channel, but also a channel creating new opportunities and arousing new vitality for regional prosperity.

The second feature of the initiative is "open cooperation". Oceans are open, so is the Maritime Silk Road. Openness decides diversification. The "21st Century Maritime Silk Road" is not a mode of geo-economic cooperation dominated by a certain country, and it does not seek exclusive cooperation, go against any third party or serve any selfish purpose. It embraces all Asian countries as well as European and American countries; keeps advancing regional investment and trade liberalization, and opposes trade protectionism; and encourages political, social, humanistic, ethnic and religious exchanges to strengthen mutual communication and understanding. Thus, this is an open road of cooperation and win-win situation.

Since ancient times, South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bangladesh have been important nodes on the Maritime Silk Road, as well as the only ways to the Arab and Africa. Today South Asia is still China's major partner and good neighbor. Hopefully we will complement each other's advantages to jointly promote regional economic development, accelerate the integration of the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean, play respective roles, and benefit all sides and people of all countries, so as to create a new era of cooperation between China and South Asia.

Sri Lanka initiated economic and trade exchanges with China as early as over 2,000 years ago and it's the first country give a positive response to the new initiative. Chinese president Xi Jinping and his Sri Lankan counterpart MahindaRajapaksa exchanged visits and the two heads of state announced elevation of the bilateral ties to the strategic partnership of "mutual assistance and enduring friendship". The "MahindaChintana" proposed by President Rajapaksa to build Sri Lanka into a shipping, aviation, international trade, energy and knowledge center highly matches the initiative of "21st Century Maritime Silk Road" and is sure to bring the bilateral ties into a new stage.

Sri Lanka is China's fourth-largest trade partner in South Asia and China is Sri Lanka's second-largest trade partner. In 2013, the China-Sri Lanka bilateral trade volume reached 3.62 billion US dollars, up 14.3 percent year on year. In the future, there is still huge room for bilateral economic and trade cooperation. We are pleased to see the two sides initiate the negotiations on the free trade area this September, which are expected to wind up in the middle of the next year and will yield positive results as early as possible.

This is issued by the Pathfinder Foundation based on Speech made by ZengPeiyan, Vice Chairman of Baoao Forum for Asia in Colombo. Readers' comments are welcome at www.pathfinderfoundation.org


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