Deeper regional links stressed at BRI event

2022-09-02 China Daily Editor:Li Yan

A freight train carrying excavators leaves Liuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, for Vietnam in April. (Photo/Xinhua)

Connectivity, trade gains make clear multilateralism edge, meeting hears

Greater connectivity courtesy of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will boost both development and security in a region that has also been exposed to pressures on multilateral mechanisms, the seventh Belt and Road Summit has heard.

And efforts must be made to ensure the values of connectivity, joint contributions and shared benefits that come with the BRI meet the needs of people in diverse countries in order to ward off the forces opposed to these principles, senior officials and experts said at the event, which was held in Hong Kong on Wednesday and Thursday.

"It is significant that ASEAN and like-minded partners, including China, come together to form the world's largest free-trade agreement, RCEP", Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat told the audience, including those participating online, on Wednesday.

Noting it is important that infrastructure projects are sustainable, Heng said that the Belt and Road International Green Development Coalition has been pulling together expertise and data on the Asia-Pacific region's green transition. "As co-chairs, Singapore and China will continue to work with our partners on environmentally responsible developments along the Belt and Road," he said.

John Key, New Zealand's prime minister from 2008 to 2016, expressed his appreciation for the progress achieved through the BRI and the RCEP for multilateralism and common development.

Key's sentiments were echoed by Rod Eddington, chairman of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia.

"The case for free trade has to be constantly made by both political leaders and business leaders," said Eddington, who is also chairman of JP Morgan's Asia-Pacific Advisory Council and nonexecutive chairman of Lion group.

"There are forces in all countries which resist the movement of free goods and services around the world."

Eddington noted these forces come from a broad political and business spectrum.

Key said that some people are trying to change the global supply chain, and he named the United States as a key driver behind such attempts.

'Breathtaking' impact

The trade barriers and sanctions imposed on China by former US president Donald Trump have had a "breathtaking" impact on consumers, said Key, who is the chairman of lender ANZ New Zealand.

Moreover, the changed rhetoric of Trump in relation to China has "created another obstacle" that confronts the region, Key said.

Lim Sidenine, secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport in Cambodia, stressed the importance of connectivity, both domestic and international, for transportation infrastructure to help deliver prosperity.

"For the ASEAN strategy we need to connect people to people in the country first," he said, adding that his nation has also tried to connect physical infrastructure, and to connect the institutions together. "Where there is a road, there is hope," he said.

M.L. Chayotid Kridakon, the Thai trade representative and an adviser to the prime minister, said Thailand is embarking on a new chapter in its economic recovery, which is strongly linked to green growth, including a bio-circular green economy.

Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia's coordinating minister of maritime affairs and investment, said the pandemic had changed the global landscape, so "a sustainable infrastructure development is imperative not only for Asia but also for all our global partners".

Lim Ban Hong, Malaysia's deputy minister of international trade and industry, said he believes that the BRI can elevate the value of regional cooperation, through strong multilateral partnerships forged through innovative and inclusive solutions.

"The BRI serves as a major impetus for economic growth that addresses not only infrastructure gaps that constrain mobility and development but a fundamental issue of shared progress and prosperity," he said.

Speakers at the event also stressed digital connectivity. Heng said this can be boosted by multilateral partnerships such as the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement and regional mechanisms such as the ASEAN Data Management Framework.

"So through these different forms of connectivity will bring the region and the world closer together in a digital world," he said.

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