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Sessions

The Great Silk Road Countries’ Forum

Organizers:

Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, JSC "Economic Research Institute", Secretariat of Boao Forum for Asia, G-Global International Secretariat 

Relevance:

Silk Road Countries Forum, aimed at bringing together policy makers and business representatives from Europe, Asia and Middle East, is one of the main events of the Astana Economic Forum. The Forum will address the most pressing issues related to cooperation of countries located along the historic route that determines overall regional development in the future.  

Goals:

 

Key issues:

 

Silk Road Countries Forum, aimed at bringing together policy makers and business representatives from Europe, Asia and Middle East, is one of the main events of the Astana Economic Forum. The Forum will address the most pressing issues related to cooperation of countries located along the historic route that determines overall regional development in the future.
The Forum will first of all address the challenges and prospects of aligning two Eurasian geopolitical projects – The Silk Road Economic Belt and Eurasian Economic Integration. These high-potential initiatives, which aimed at formation of new economic reality for the region, have common directions, interaction of which will contribute to development of more coherent and effective strategy for co-development of countries in the region.
In addition, issues concerning the energy cooperation, particularly relevant in the context of current uncertainty in the global energy market will be discussed during the Forum.
Certain sessions  of the Forum will be focused on issues of infrastructural development of the region, economic cooperation and trade, as well as an increase of production capacities in the framework of joint projects implementation.
The uniqueness of the Forum lies in its relevance and timeliness. The growing interest of the international community to projects aimed at revival of the Silk Road provides a special status to the event.
The upcoming forum will be held with the participation and in  cooperation with Boao Forum for Asia, known as international forum, which brings together the Government leaders, businessmen and representatives of think tanks  from Asia and other continents to address the challenges concerning the economic dynamics of Asia and the World.
The session will bring together the leading experts of China, Russia, Turkey, the Middle East and Central Asia. The representatives of international financial organizations and experts are also expected to participate in the event.

 

Timeline

20.05.2016
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01.04.2015 11:24:32
The Boao Forum for Asia, an annual economic dialogue held in China’s Hainan Province, was an especially high-profile meeting this year; Chinese President Xi Jinping himself delivered the keynote address. The reason for the special emphasis was clear: Beijing selected the Boao Forum as the venue to deliver the first in-depth explanation of China’s vision for the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road, collectively known as the “Belt and Road.”
01.04.2015 11:25:38
During the Boao Forum, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), in conjunction with China’s Foreign Ministry and Commerce Ministry, issued an action plan for the Belt and Road. Xinhua provided an English-language translation of the document. Beijing is not shy about its ambitions for the project — “The plan is expected to change the world political and economic landscape through development of countries along the routes, most of which are eager for fresh growth,” Xinhua wrote. Beijing hopes that annual trade volume between China and “Belt and Road” countries will “surpass 2.5 trillion U.S. dollars in a decade or so,” Xi said.
01.04.2015 11:34:14
There were less details on the maritime route, though the plan noted there would be two legs: one linking China to the Indian Ocean via the South China Sea and the other traveling through the South China Sea to the South Pacific. There was no list of concrete projects associated with the Belt and Road, but China held up the $23 billion worth of deals just signed with Kazakhstan as a model for other countries.
01.04.2015 12:22:40
The document laid out the basic goals of the Belt and Road: “It is aimed at promoting orderly and free flow of economic factors, highly efficient allocation of resources and deep integration of markets; encouraging the countries along the Belt and Road to achieve economic policy coordination and carry out broader and more in-depth regional cooperation of higher standards; and jointly creating an open, inclusive and balanced regional economic cooperation architecture that benefits all.”
01.04.2015 12:43:35
The Belt and Road are often understood primarily as infrastructure projects. Indeed, that will be the main focus in the early stages, as Chinese leaders have repeatedly spoken of infrastructure as a “bottleneck” preventing further economic cooperation. But there’s more to the Belt and Road than simply the construction of roads, railways, and ports. Even on the infrastructure front, China’s vision to “form an infrastructure network connecting all sub-regions in Asia, and between Asia, Europe and Africa” includes energy and communications infrastructure as well an transportation.
01.04.2015 13:37:57
Infrastructure construction is the easy part, as many countries along the planned route are hungry for investment and funding. China’s more ambitious goal is to have countries coordinate their policies to ensure that each individual country’s economic development plan feeds into a larger regional vision. That includes free trade areas, both bilaterally and regionally, as well as broad financial integration.
01.04.2015 14:02:27
On the financial front, Beijing wants expanded bilateral currency swap deals. Funding for the Belt and Road projects will be carried out through the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), China’s own Silk Road Fund, and eventually through a hoped-for financing mechanism administered by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
01.04.2015 14:10:48
The Belt and Road has political overtones as well, with China using the project as a vehicle to promote its own key foreign policy tenets, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. The Five Principles are “mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.” Those principles, laid out in a 1954 treaty with India and Myanmar, celebrated their official 60th anniversary last July.
01.04.2015 15:48:11
China envisions the Five Principles as the basis for a uniquely Asian regional foreign policy, one that frowns upon Western-style “interference” in other countries over human rights concerns. Xi was also quite clear in his remarks that the Asian security architecture should leave behind the “Cold War mentality” to explore “new security concepts” — echoing China’s previous calls for a shift away from the U.S.-led alliance structure that currently lynchpins regional security.
01.04.2015 17:19:11
China set up a leading group to oversee implementation of the Belt and Road, making it clear that this initiative is a political priority. “Construction of the belt and road is a huge and systematic job … that calls for strengthened leadership and coordination of domestic and foreign affairs,” the leading group said in a statement announcing its formation.
01.04.2015 18:08:32
As part of the preparation for the Belt and Road, China will work with other countries “so that they gain a better understanding of the initiative,” Xinhua said. That may be a tacit acknowledgement that some other countries are wary that the Belt and Road is China’s attempt to assert regional hegemony. Xi tried to dispel these fears in his Boao speech, promising that China will not dominate the plan. The Belt and Road “will be a real chorus comprising all countries along the routes, not a solo for China itself,” Xi said.
01.04.2015 18:29:20
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled plans for two massive trade and infrastructure networks connecting East Asia with Europe: the New Silk Road (also known as the Silk Road Economic Belt) and the Maritime Silk Road. A little over a year later, these initiatives are rapidly becoming reality as Beijing shows it is more than willing to put its money where its mouth is.
01.04.2015 19:09:19
Bloomberg, citing Chinese government officials, reports that China plans to create “a $16.3 billion fund … to build and expand railways, roads and pipelines in Chinese provinces that are part of” the planned Silk Road Economic Belt. China’s state-owned China Daily also picked up the report. The massive investments will help boost economic development in China’s poorer inland regions, a key goal of the Silk Road Economic Belt.
01.04.2015 19:27:36
Meanwhile, Beijing also plans to promote policies that encourage Chinese banks to lend money to other countries along the planned route. And that’s in addition to the massive amounts of infrastructure funding China had already promised to Silk Road partners: $1.4 billion for developing port infrastructure in Sri Lanka; $50 billion in infrastructure and energy deals in Central Asia; $327 million in general aid to Afghanistan, some of which will fund “the construction of rail lines, highways, water conservancies, [and] power facilities,” according to China Daily.
01.04.2015 19:47:14
With the establishment of China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), expect to see even more money flowing into the region to shore up infrastructure capabilities. Want China Times estimates that the total value of the Silk Road Economic Belt, when all is said and done, will be an astronomical $21.1 trillion.
01.04.2015 21:09:49
Xinhua’s recently unveiled an updated, interactive map depicting the extent of two Silk Road projects. A quick comparison to Xinhua’s earlier version of the map reveals a number of new “stops” that have been added in the past six months, including Moscow, Russia; Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Colombo, Sri Lanka. And Beijing is still expanding its list of potential partners: in his recent visit to China, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani indicated his country’s willingness to be part of the project.
01.04.2015 22:34:58
In most cases, the Silk Road is not a hard sell. Regional partners (particularly smaller, and often over-looked countries like the Maldives) are eager to gain Chinese assistance in building critical infrastructure for their people. As Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei put it in a recent press conference, “A place needs to have well-functioning roads before it can get rich.”
01.04.2015 22:58:20
In less prominent countries, China may be the only ready source of international aid. And in countries that have several major power suitors vying for their affections (the Central Asian states, Indian Ocean states, and Eastern Europe in particular), China’s largess may spark a sort of “bidding war” that encourages China’s rivals to commit funding and diplomatic attention in ways they might not otherwise do.
01.04.2015 23:21:41
For example, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s concerted outreach to India’s smaller neighbors, including Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, is partially motivated by fear that New Delhi is being overshadowed by Beijing in those regions.
02.04.2015 05:53:29
For China, the Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road are opportunities to expand Chinese influence while also showcasing Beijing’s softer side. If brought to fruition, the Silk Roads would boost China’s trade with effectively the whole Eurasian continent. Meanwhile, with Beijing footing the bill for much of the requisite infrastructure development, the vast trade network would increase the number of regional governments that view China as a patron and benefactor rather than a threat. To use China’s favorite foreign policy catchphrase, it’s a “win-win” situation – China can foster a softer image for itself even while boosting its regional influence.
02.04.2015 06:50:28
China’s economic powers are riding high, and still growing. Beijing is naturally trying to take advantage of its advantageous financial situation to boost foreign policy influence. It’s no coincidence that some are comparing China’s Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road to the Marshall Plan enacted by the U.S. after World War II. In both situations, a rising global power wants to use its economic strengths to secure foreign policy goals (including the basic goal of sustaining its own domestic economy). The Marshall Plan helped establish the U.S. as a bona fide super power; Beijing is betting its twin Silk Roads can do the same.
02.04.2015 08:18:41
The Eurasian Economic Union and the New Silk Road are two major foreign policy projects which Russia and China, respectively, have been pursuing since the early 2010s. The initiatives are the pet projects of the two states’ leaders.
02.04.2015 10:19:01
Vladimir Putin proposed the Eurasian integration in October 2011, while running for his third presidential term. In an article published in Izvestia, Putin sketched out his ambitious vision of a Russian-led political-economic bloc in the post-Soviet space. Russia convinced Belarus and Kazakhstan to sign up to the project the following month but it took another three years to sign the treaty establishing the Eurasian Economic Union. 2015 marked the official inauguration of the union, which was almost immediately enlarged to include Armenia.
02.04.2015 10:35:18
Xi Jinping put forward the idea of renewing the Silk Road two years after Putin’s initial declaration of Eurasian integration. During a visit to Kazakhstan in September 2013, the Chinese leader vowed to create a “Silk Road Economic Belt” as the first step in the process of connecting China to Europe via Central Asia. Several weeks later, during his trip to Indonesia, Xi presented a parallel initiative, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The idea of reviving the ancient Silk Road quickly became popular in the Chinese media and expert circles. “One Belt, One Road” became a popular slogan describing the project.
02.04.2015 11:23:48
Taken at face value, both the Eurasian Union and the New Silk Road are geared towards economics. Their implementation will, however, have a significant and multifaceted political impact. As the two projects intersect first and foremost in Central Asia, commentators started pointing to an inevitable clash between Moscow and Beijing in this region. A closer look, however, suggests quite the opposite. Since Russia and China build their influence in third countries in very different ways, it allows them to avoid competition and reconcile their respective initiatives.
02.04.2015 11:38:57
The way Moscow and Beijing launched their projects provides the first illustration of how different these initiatives are. Russia began very ambitiously, with declarations for an integrational project that would compare to the European Union. What took the EU four decades – the creation of the single market – the Russian-led organization was supposed to achieve in four years. From the very beginning, Russia saw the ultimate outcome: a fully-fledged integrational organization.
02.04.2015 12:11:22
China, in turn, concentrated on clearly specified economic undertakings, such as the construction of pipelines, railways and railroads. Xi Jinping announced the concept of the New Silk Road only after he could be certain that a substantial part of the work on the ground had been done. The “One Belt, One Road” concept does not have any specific endpoint. China may continue to implement the New Silk Road concept for decades to come, but it can also announce its success in a few years.
02.04.2015 13:14:37
There is a fundamental difference in the goals that push Russia and China to pursue grandiose projects. Moscow frames its project in terms of an exclusionary sphere of influence, which would confirm Russia’s status as a global great power. It is less interested in genuine economic integration than in the acknowledgement of its privileged status in the post-Soviet space by what it perceives as its peers – the West and China.
02.04.2015 13:41:54
As long as Moscow can gain prestige and keep up the appearance of great-power posturing, the nuances of the implementation process do not matter much. China’s aims related to the New Silk Road are at the opposite end of the logical spectrum. Beijing is first and foremost interested in continuing its economic expansion abroad. The ideas of renewing the Silk Road were framed in a non-exclusionary way. The concept remains open for all possible participants, from Asia through Africa to Europe.
02.04.2015 14:02:17
China makes no pretenses towards having a sphere of influence – Chinese scholars have even been reminded by officials not to compare the New Silk Road to the Marshall Plan, as the latter allegedly demonstrates “hegemonic features.”
02.04.2015 14:35:20
Russia focuses on the form of its influence – Moscow insisted on the establishment of a legal foundation for the integration process and its institutionalization. China cares much more about the substance. The New Silk Road is therefore better understood as an umbrella for what remains bilateral economic engagement. These differences help explain why Russia and China can be expected to reconcile their respective interests in Central Asia.
02.04.2015 16:17:32
Today marks the deadline for countries to apply for founding member status in the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Over the past month, the number of applications surged, as U.S. allies and partners in Europe and Asia broke ranks with Washington to join the AIIB. The U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Australia, and South Korea all signed up since mid-March.
02.04.2015 17:26:32
As of March 31, Chinese media reported that 42 countries have applied for founding member status but only 30 of those application have been officially accepted. China’s Foreign Ministry said a full list of countries approved as founding members would be released by April 15. “Opinions are being solicited through multilateral procedures on other countries that have filed applications over recent days. We will have the exact number of prospective founding members by April 15,” spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
02.04.2015 19:25:19
Perhaps the most surprising late application to the AIIB is Taiwan. The Taiwanese government had previously expressed interest in joining, with Finance Minister Chang Sheng-ford telling legislators that Taiwan was willing to join “upon invitation.” Its official application wasn’t sent in until the evening of March 30, South China Morning Post reported. Presidential spokesman Charles Chen I-hsin said in a statement that joining AIIB would “increase the odds of the island taking part in international affairs and international economic and trade organizations.”
02.04.2015 20:43:38
Despite Taiwan’s interest, it’s not clear if Beijing will welcome its inclusion in AIIB. When asked about Taiwan’s application for membership, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “Concerning Taiwan’s application, problems like ‘two Chinas’ or ‘one China, one Taiwan’ should be prevented from emerging.” Current requirements limit AIIB members to states, which would preclude Taiwan from joining under the “one China” policy. However, China could alter the requirement to define members as “economies,” using the same language that allows Taiwan to take part in APEC.
02.04.2015 20:53:51
In a positive sign for Taiwan’s potential membership, Hong Kong might also join AIIB. Hong Kong, like Taiwan, has separate membership in APEC; if language defining AIIB membership is altered to allow Hong Kong to join, it would pave the way for Taiwan’s inclusion as well. Hong Kong Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Chan Ka-keung said the Hong Kong government “will seek funding from Legco [the Legislative Council] and will present the documents to garner… support for joining” AIIB. Chan added that if AIIB includes Hong Kong and its “finance and professional services,” the “benefits will be enormous.”
02.04.2015 23:03:18
Though the fate of Taiwan’s bid to join AIIB remains up in the air, it seems to have a better chance than a long-time Chinese ally: North Korea. NK News reports that North Korea sought to join AIIB, but was rejected when it refused to provide detailed economic information. Masahiro Kawai, formerly the head of the Asian Development Bank, said he had been told by AIIB President Jin Liqun that North Korea was interested in joining. “When I met Jin in December, he told me that North Korea had come to him, and that he had given them a clear indication that the AIIB would need to disclose sufficient information … but the North Koreans were not willing to provide that information,” Kawai said.
02.04.2015 23:14:25
China requested various details on North Korea’s economy, including tax information and economic activity. Beijing also wanted Pyongyang to give details on how potential AIIB loans would be used. North Korea was either unwilling or unable to comply. North Korea “stopped publishing economic statistics in 1967, so it isn’t something they’re used to,” Andray Abrahamian of Choson Exchange told NK News. He added, “But as their businesses and economic policymakers begin interacting with more foreign partners [providing economic information] is something that they will simply have to address.”
03.04.2015 05:13:24
Other experts interviewed by NK News said the response to North Korea stemmed from China’s desire to address international concerns regarding transparency and governance in AIIB. With other countries watching closely to see that China will adhere to international standards in setting up the AIIB, Beijing is not inclined to give North Korea a free pass.
03.04.2015 05:22:36
When asked about North Korea’s bid to join AIIB, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua denied knowledge of such an interaction. She then repeated China’s stance that “the AIIB is an open and inclusive multilateral development institution, and all parties are welcome to join.”
03.04.2015 05:50:47
Taiwan is interested in joining the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – if it’s invited. As the Taiwanese China Post reports, Taiwan’s Finance Minister Chang Sheng-ford told legislators on Thursday that “Taiwan is willing to join [AIIB] upon invitation.” Joining AIIB “would open up a very good channel for investment,” he added. But Chang also noted that Taipei has not yet received an invitation. Chang’s remarks come after the Mainland Affairs Council, which handles cross-strait relations, said that Taiwan’s stance on the AIIB would be determined by the Finance Ministry.
03.04.2015 06:23:58
Mainland China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, also reported on Chang’s comments. It’s unclear, however, if Beijing will allow Taiwan to join in. So far, AIIB membership has been limited to countries – a term Beijing resolutely refuses to apply to Taiwan. For example, Taiwan is not a member of the IMF or the World Bank due to Chinese objections, but it is included in APEC (because APEC is defined as a grouping of Pacific economies rather than countries.) Unless the AIIB members are defined using similar language, Taiwan’s participation won’t get off the ground.
03.04.2015 06:39:44
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Australia is moving closer to joining AIIB, with a decision possible after a Monday cabinet meeting. And in a surprising twist, even Japan seems to be considering the possibility of joining, although Abe’s administration described its stance toward AIIB participation as “cautious.”
03.04.2015 08:47:30
In other news, Xinhua reports that China and Russia recommitted to jointly celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. That includes an exchange of visits by top leaders, with Chinese President Xi Jinping expected to go Moscow in May and Russian President Vladimir Putin to return the favor by attending a Chinese military parade. Putin told a senior CCP official in Moscow that China and Russia’s joint celebrations “would help safeguard world peace against attempts to distort history and glorify invaders,” according to Xinhua.
03.04.2015 08:59:47
The Wall Street Journal reports the ties between China and Hollywood are growing, with two major Chinese firms announcing co-production and co-financing deals with U.S. film studios. However, neither Chinese company would release the names of their supposed U.S. partners. Hollywood’s growing interest in China – now the world’s second largest movie market – is reflected in more films incorporating Chinese settings and actors.
03.04.2015 09:44:20
Finally, last weekend Chinese Premier Li Keqiang gave his annual press conference at the closing of the National People’s Congress. South China Morning Post has a round-up of what Li said – and, perhaps most interestingly, what he didn’t say (from mentioning Hong Kong’s Occupy Central protests to talking about territorial disputes).