BFA Bangkok Conference opens in July: why is this conference so important?
Origin:Boao Forum for Asia      Time:2017-06-16 16:19:48     Views:694142

To explore the future and broaden the horizons of Asian regional cooperation, the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) will convene a conference in Bangkok, Thailand on July 11, 2017 with the theme of “Asian Regional Cooperation: New Challenges, New Approach”.

With continued political and economic volatility, 2017 is a challenging year for all countries, particularly so for Asian economies, which are struggling with external trade protectionism and financial fluctuation as well as internal reforms, livelihood issues and economic transition. With the rise of anti-globalism, certain countries have gone so far as to build protectionist “walls”—a phenomenon that highlights the importance of Asian regional cooperation.

As a response to this trend, the BFA will convene a conference in Bangkok, Thailand with the theme of “Asian Regional Cooperation: New Challenges, New Approach” on July 11, 2017. The conference will be graced by Zeng Peiyan, Vice Chairman of the BFA and former Vice Premier of China, Zhou Wenzhong, Secretary General of the BFA and Surakiart Sathirathai, former Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand and Director of the BFA.

As of today, confirmed participants include Jin Liqun, President of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; Sok Siphana, Advisor to the Royal Government of Cambodia; Chen Deming, former Minister of Commerce of China; Li Ruogu, former Chairman and CEO of Exim Bank of China; Jusuf Wanandi, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Foundation; and Michael Yeoh, CEO of Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute.

Asian regional cooperation: the new challenge of de-globalization

Asian Development Outlook 2017 released by the Asian Development Bank on April 6 points out that the accelerating economic growth in two thirds of Asian developing countries makes the continent the largest contributor to the world economy, representing 60% of global economic growth.

However, Asian countries are faced with a more complicated external environment—the rise of de-globalization.

Today's world is beset by thorny issues, such as weak economic recovery and growth, intensifying trade protectionism, the urgently needed reform of economic governance, increasingly imbalanced development and divergent policies among major economies. This situation is complicated by new globalization challenges such as terrorism, cyber and energy security, and climate change.

According to the BFA Progress of Asian Economic Integration Annual Report 2017, Asia is currently confronted with unprecedented integration challenges in areas such as trade, production and finance. The future of Asia is also highly uncertain. To turn this situation around, Asian countries need to further strengthen their sense of community and give up the beggar-thy-neighbor mindset.

To improve its resilience against external risks, Asia, which is also affected by transformative changes worldwide, needs to face these challenges, to think outside the box and to strengthen regional integration.

At the opening ceremony of the BFA Annual Conference 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech titled “Towards a Community of Common Destiny and A New Future for Asia”. He pointed out, “Asia belongs to the world. For Asia to move towards a community of common destiny and embrace a new future, it has to follow the world trend and seek progress and development in tandem with that of the world.” “To do well, Asia and the world could not do without each other.”

A growing number of Asian countries have accepted the concept of “a community of common destiny”, which has increasingly translated into actions. Deepened regional cooperation between 2015 and 2017 has elevated Asian economic integration to a new height, as evidenced by the acceleration in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the China-Japan-South Korea free trade talks, China-ASEAN and Lancang-Mekong cooperation as well as the “Belt & Road” initiative.

In today's highly interconnected world, globalization has to progress, not retrogress. Asian countries will continue to increase cooperation, strengthen innovation and improve education and infrastructure towards a better future—in a way that is open, inclusive, mutually beneficial and win-win.

Belt & Road: New Approach to Asian Regional Cooperation

In 2013, President Xi Jinping proposed to build “the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road”, later known as the “Belt & Road”. The past three years have seen the transformation of this initiative from idea to action, from vision to reality—supported by a clearly defined roadmap with bright prospects. On November 17, 2016, all the 193 UN members agreed to incorporate the “Belt & Road” initiative into UN General Assembly Resolution A/71/9—a testimony to the international community's support of this endeavor.

In 2017, specific actions started to be taken to implement the “Belt & Road” initiative. The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held this May issued the Joint Communiqué of the Leaders Roundtable of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation as a result of the broad consensus reached among 29 heads of state/government as well as the leaders of the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Forum also resulted in a list of deliverables, which includes 76 items comprising more than 270 concrete results in five key areas, namely policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people-to-people connectivity.

Belt & Road initiative also aligns itself with the development strategies of en-route countries, such as Kazakhstan's “Bright Road”, Mongolia's “Steppe Road”, UK's “Northern Powerhouse”, the Vietnam's “Two Corridors and One Ring”, Turkey's “Middle Corridor”, Russia's “Eurasian Economic Union”, South Korea's “Eurasia Initiative”, Australia's vision for developing northern Australia, and Laos' vision of transforming from a land-locked to a land-linked country.

In connectivity, an ambitious blueprint has been drawn up. More than 130 bilateral and regional transportation agreements have been signed, which cover railways, expressways, maritime and air transportation as well as postal services. China has also worked with relevant countries to open 356 passenger and freight transportation routes through 73 highways, waterways and ports; maritime transportation services have covered all Belt and Road countries; between China and 43 other en-route countries, direct flight is enabled by an estimated of 4,200 flights a week; the procedures for international railway transportation have been streamlined, which has greatly facilitated China-Europe cooperation in international rail freight transportation and railway mail service. Currently, there are a total of 39 China-Europe rail lines bound for 15 cities in 10 countries.

Besides, a number of big transportation and infrastructure projects have either started or already been put into operation, such as the two highways and the Gwadar Port of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor; the Port of Colombo, the Port City and the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka; the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway in Indonesia; the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway in Kenya; Piraeus Port in Greece; the Mekong-Lancang River navigation channel improvement project; and cross-border highway bridges between China and Russia. Several economic corridors have been created, including China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, New Eurasian Land Bridge, China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor, BCIM Economic Corridor and China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor.

Substantial results have also been achieved in financial cooperation. At the BFA Annual Conference 2017, President of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) Jin Liqun, said that an additional 15 countries are expected to join the AIIB this year, which will raise the number of its member states to 85 to 90. He also said that the AIIB was created as a strategic action to develop a shared global vision and build consensus. In fact, AIIB member states share the same vision—building a path towards shared benefits by promoting connectivity and improving infrastructure.

Jin repeatedly said at BFA events that to support infrastructure development in Asia, the AIIB will join hands with multilateral development banks such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The Belt and Road initiative is a new opportunity for Asian regional cooperation, as well as a new engine for global economic growth. Since ancient times, the Silk Road has been symbolic of peace, openness, mutual benefit and prosperity. Today, the new spirit of the Silk Road—“peace and cooperation; openness and inclusiveness; mutual learning; and mutual benefit”—has been widely adopted by the international community, which means it is the aspiration of all countries to seize new opportunities to address the challenge of de-globalization.

ASEAN plus China: 2.0 version soon to come

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of ASEAN as well as the 20th anniversary of ASEAN plus Three. In 2010, the China-ASEA Free Trade Area (CAFTA)—the most populous free trade area as well as the largest of its kind among developing nations—was created. For years, China-ASEAN cooperation has been a benchmark for Asian regional cooperation.

China and ASEAN nations are natural partners due to their geographical proximity, historical connections and complementary economies. Similar labor-intensive industries and differentiated cultural backgrounds also make them compete against each other. However, the concept of seeking common ground while shelving differences, openness and inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation has become a strong cornerstone of China-ASEAN cooperation.

China and ASEAN will face new cooperation opportunities in 2017. Bilateral exchanges are deepening in law, technology, culture, tourism and education beyond traditional sectors such as trade, investment and finance. The alignment between the Belt and Road initiative and ASEAN's development blueprint is expected to reinvigorate regional connectivity and supply chain cooperation.

At a BFA conference held in 2015 in Malaysia, Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, former Prime Minister of Malaysia and Director of the BFA, emphasized that Asian regional cooperation would be incomplete if ASEAN did not have a comprehensive assessment of the role and opportunity of the Belt and Road initiative as well as its significance for ASEAN's infrastructure development and its impact on ASEAN.

China-ASEAN cooperation has reached a new altitude. As proposed by Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli at the BFA Annual Conference 2017, we will continue to strengthen regional cooperation frameworks, such as ASEAN plus China, ASEAN plus Three, the Lancang-Mekong cooperation framework, East Asia Summit and Asia Cooperation Dialogue; advance the implementation of the upgraded CAFTA agreement; accelerate the completion of negotiations on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP); and push for the formation of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, so we can lay a solid foundation for Asia as a community of common destiny.

With ASEAN plus China upgraded to the 2.0 version, we will see brighter prospects for Asian regional cooperation.

The BFA Bangkok Conference comprises three sessions—Asian Economic Integration: The Way Ahead; Connecting Asia: Infrastructure and Supply Chain; and ASEAN-China Free Trade Area: Trade, Investment & Financial Cooperation. The conference will bring together approximately 300 leaders from various communities to brainstorm new approaches and challenges to Asian regional cooperation and identify new opportunities of cooperation in different sectors.

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