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Building the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century with Open Mind and Bold Courage

—Address by Mr. Li Zhaoxing, Former Foreign Minister and Chairman of China Public Diplomacy Association at the International Symposium on Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century


12 February 2015 Quanzhou, Fujian Province

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to come to this renowned historical and cultural city of Quanzhou to participate in the International Symposium on Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century, and I would like to take this opportunity to extend my warmest congratulations for this event on behalf of the Chinese Foreign Ministry and China Public Diplomacy Association.

I grew up in a small coastal village in Shandong province. The middle school I went to actually built its students dormitories on the beach. I remember seawater flooding under my bed during the high tide and when it fell away, the floor was covered with sea mud. There were also days when we would take a dip in the water, or play by the beach, or simply sit there and watch the tides. I think for those of us who have grown up near the coast, we all share an emotional bond with the sea and deeply admire its greatness. As our common home, the blue waters unite us altogether.

This symposium takes place at a great moment, because the Belt and Road initiative, and particularly the development of the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century, are very instrumental in promoting the development of the ocean economy and maritime cooperation among participating countries.

In less than a year and a half since the Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road initiative, China together with its partners are already delivering fruitful results. China has made substantive progress in policy planning and mechanism building. Through a series domestic and international conferences, different local regions, the academia, business community, cultural sector, and overseas Chinese communities have all been mobilized to contribute to the initiative. People have expressed high appreciations for the Silk Road Spirit and the proposal of Economic Cooperation Corridor among major economies. Over 50 states and the EU, ASEAN, SCO, UN ESCAP and other international organizations have responded positively the initiative. China has signed the Belt and Road cooperation agreements with Kazakhstan and other states, achieving breakthroughs with partner countries on projects and programs ranging from transport infrastructure to industrial development, and to people-to-people exchange. In addition, the Silk Road Fund has been successfully launched, and 26 states have signed up as charter members to establish the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

In many ways, the Chinese government and people coming from multiple sectors have all played an active part in promoting these progresses. However, these achievements wouldn't have been possible without the support and participation of the governments and people of our partners. When President Xi Jinping worked here in Fujian Province in 1988, he proposed a campaign called "chorus on economic development", borrowing wisdom from the Chinese proverb that says, "when many people help add the firewood, the flame would rise high". Great things can happen when friends and partners combine efforts towards the same goal. The Belt and Road initiative is proposed by China, but it's not a "patent" exclusively owned by China. On the contrary, we see it as a symphony and team performance instead of a solo or one-man show. And I am very pleased to see that "One Belt, One Road" has grown to become the shared efforts and aspiration of all populace along its path.

Recently, I have been asked by a number of friends from abroad about the relationship between the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century. They asked me why we put the two together and which one ranks higher in our priority: the Belt or the Road? In my view, since the ancient times, the Silk Road has always been developing both on the continent and at sea. In some sense, camels and sailing boats have epitomized the trade and cultural exchanges across the Eurasia continent and beyond into the vast oceans. The routes we have pioneered overland and across the seas complemented each other in coexistence. Today, the Belt and the Road are like the two wings of Asia. To fly high, we need both wings to be powerful. Therefore, we attach equal importance to the Belt and the Road so that the two would reinforce each other. Situated on the crossroads of the Asia Pacific and the European economies, it is essential that countries in the South and West Asia grow land and maritime cooperation in sync. We believe that all partners along the routes of the Belt and Road, whether coastal countries or landlocked ones, could make unique contributions to promoting connectivity and international trade, and as equal contributors to and beneficiaries of this initiative, we should all enjoy the rights to participate in the international maritime cooperation.

Compared with the Silk Road overland, the Maritime Silk Road shares similarities but also has its unique characters. It has its own set of advantages, potentials, as well as difficulties and challenges. Going forward, I believe the success of the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century would require effective efforts to coordinate our cooperation. To make that happen, we must equip ourselves with an open mind as broad as that of an ocean and muster courage strong enough to brave winds and waves.

Why the open-mind? Like the vastness of the ocean comes from its accepting of thousands of rivers, to ensure constant progress under this initiative, China will continue, as we've always done, to earnestly heed the opinions and advice and fully consider the interests and concerns of all our partners. We will remain committed to open regionalism, and will refrain from closed blocs and arrangements targeted at the third party. We will seek to cooperate with other regional initiatives and mechanisms, and would welcome countries outside the region to actively participate in appropriate ways. In the future, the Belt and Road will foster large numbers of economic and people-to-people cooperation projects. We look forward to the valuable contribution from international organizations, multinational corporations, financial insititutions, and non-governmental organizations.

Why the courage? As we navigate through the adjustment after the international financial crisis, we must seize the opportunities of rapidly growing global ocean economy, and establish pivots and corridors for maritime economic cooperation. To achieve the goal, we will intensify efforts to promote maritime transportation, resources development, environment protection, scientific research, tourism, archeology, and port economic zone development. China will strive to strengthen strategic consensus and mutual trust. Our priorities will be focused on economic and people-to-people projects, and we will first proceed on initiatives that are within our capabilities and of easier external conditions, handle contradictions and differences in proper and peaceful ways, so as to avoid the disruptions of controversial issues in our cooperation.

In my home province Shandong, there is a saying that speaks of fishermen's know-how: cast the net up front of the boat, and sail the vessel up against the wind. Indeed, in the face of winds and waves, what matters most is to find out the wind direction so that we can sail with its strength. In the face of sunken reeves, what matters most is to make right choices on each case: some reeves can be safely crossed during high tides, yet some must require a detour. I have met friends from other countries who have been very candid in telling me that while they believe a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road would do good, they also worry that it might cause maritime disputes, security issues, and turf fights among major powers. In response, I often tell them that the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is a cooperation blueprint shared by all Eurasian countries. In this 21st century, we must get rid of the Cold War mentality, commit ourselves to a new type of international relations featuring cooperation and win-win, and press ahead ocean cooperation with more confidence, openness, and trust. The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is a fine example of China's neighborhood foreign policy concept of "closeness, sincerity, shared prosperity, and inclusiveness". There is no hidden strategic agenda to use this initiative as a means to gain sphere of influence, still less to violate other's sovereignty. That said, China will continue to firmly uphold its maritime rights and interests, safeguard global and regional maritime order, and work earnestly to provide public goods and ensure a harmonious ocean environment.

During the 4th APEC Ocean-Related Ministerial Meeting, which was held last August in Xiamen, not far from here, ministers adopted the Xiamen Declaration, calling for the establishment of new partnership for Asia-Pacific ocean cooperation that is more comprehensive, sustainable, inclusive, and mutually beneficial. In my view, coordinated cooperation stands as the most effective way to realize such partnership at three levels.

First, coordination across time. The Maritime Silk Road has its historical legacy that can be traced back to more that two millennia ago when the Chinese, Hindus, and Arabs exchanged goods through maritime sailing. During the Song and Yuan Dynasties (960-1368 AD), Quanzhou had become the largest oriental port, on a par with Alexandria of Egypt. Ten days ago, India launched the "Visit India Year 2015" campaign in Beijing. In his congratulatory video message, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "for several thousand years, India and China have together built inseparable bonds. When the ancient Chinese monk Xuan Zang paid his pilgrimage to India for Buddhist scriptures, he had been to my home state Gujarat. Upon his return, he had gone back to Xi'An, the hometown of the Chinese President Xi Jinping." Home to ancient civilizations, China and India have contributed enormously to the world in the past. In the 21st century for Asia, China and India will continue to join hands and contribute to the world development. To make the 21st Century Silk Road a success, we must tap into the our historical and cultural legacies, carry forward the spirit of peaceful cooperation, openness, inclusiveness, mutual learning, mutual benefit and win-win, and boost the confidence of the Asian people in pioornering maritime exploration, development, and cooperation.

Second, coordination across space. The development of port cities constitutes an integral part of multiple international economic cooperation corridors, including the new Eurasian Continental Bridge, China-Mongolia-Russia, China-Central Asia-West Asia, and China-Indo China Peninsula corridors. On the other hand, the hinterland development and its transportation networks are also essential in supporting and sustaining major port cities and areas. We hope that the Belt and Road initiative will help realize the free flow of land and maritime economic factors, promote cultural exchange and mix between coastal and inland regions, and facilitate the development of safe and efficient land-and-sea major transportation channels, bringing forth common prosperity for both the coastal and inland population.

Third, coordination across borders. It is high time that we coordinated many of our national development strategies and plans. Coordination across the border does not mean that one country would have the power to decide for others or would let others to decide for oneself. Rather, we should find common ground and areas of cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, and work together to plan and facilitate joint projects of cooperation. For instance, Indonesia's development strategy to become a marine power, particularly its marine highway program put forward by President Joko Widodo, fits perfectly well with the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, making ocean cooperation a new growth engine for the bilateral ties between China and Indonesia.

And then, the most foudamental element for effective coordination is our people. We should always put our people first and find ways to deepen mutual understanding and friendship among our peoples. My colleague, Ambassador Wang Yusheng, has deep feelings for the people of Sri Lanka. Previously, he has worked there for over a decade. His wife passed away there. Not long ago, at an advanced age of 84, he once again returned to Sri Lanka for a symposium. He delivered his remarks on the Maritime Silk Road in the Sinhala language and has been warmly received by the audience. When he paid a visit to his late wife in the cemetery, his tears came down, but there is no bitter regrets. Very often I tell people that the Maritime Silk Road is not something newly coined out of nothing, but a legacy that carries the efforts and aspirations of several generations of diplomats and people from various sectors.

During the Silk Road Youth Touring Program organized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry last year, we have brought some foreign students studying in Nanjing to Silk Road historic sites around Jiangsu and Zhejiang Province. An Indonesian student said afterwards, although Zheng He has the world's largest naval fleet back then, he brought to the people in Southeast Asia peace, goods, and friendship. Having seen the treasure ship with his own eyes, he is more convinced that China will continue to follow the path of peaceful development. Moving ahead, we need more young people to experience, understand, and devote to the undertaking of the Maritime Silk Road.

To end my speech today, I would like leave you three witty remarks. The first one comes from a national hero from Fujian Province, Lin Zexu. He has once written a famous poetic couplet that says, "the vastness of the ocean comes from its accepting of thousands of rivers, the resilience of thousands of cliffs comes from their absence of desire". The second one I recalled from my visit to Kyoto many years ago. In the Manpuku-ji Temple, there is a couplet written by the Fujian born high priest Yinyuan Longqi (Ingen Ryuki in Japanese) that reads, "there isn't a door that separates the believers and non-believers, and one can always move forward uninterrupted as long as one pursues the correct path". And the last but not the least, as the Chair of China Shakespeare Studies Association, I would also like to quote his words, "unite closely around you those time-tested friends". I believe these words would lend much wisdom to our discussions today and to the building of the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century in the time ahead.

Thank you!

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