Report on the Silk Road Think Tank Association (SRTA) conference hosted by the Shenzhen municipality, the China Center for Contemporary World Studies (CCCWS) and Fudan University

I am pleased to introduce SIGNAL’s new biweekly commentary on developments in China-Israel relations, the SIGNAL Note.

While the SIGNAL Note will generally address China-Israel matters, in the spirit of connectivity and cooperation, the current focus is to share our research insights regarding the new Silk Road and some brief thoughts on how Israel might contribute to the Belt & Road initiative.

Having just returned from the Silk Road Think Tank Association (SRTA) conference hosted by the Shenzhen municipality, the China Center for Contemporary World Studies (CCCWS) and Fudan University, I would like to share some initial thoughts on the Belt & Road initiative. SIGNAL began researching Belt & Road initiative in the summer of 2014. We understood that President Xi Jinping had put forward a visionary Initiative for geopolitical-geostrategic-geo-economic interplay. By building multilateral economic cooperation, the Belt & Road initiative would generate mutual benefits and the kind of interdependence that promotes stable relations between nations. As is well documented, when countries enjoy economic gains through their interactions, they tend to think long and hard before entering into conflict.

As we continued our research, SIGNAL saw that the interconnectivity proposed by OBOR would inherently promote increased people to people exchange that would in turn lead to greater cultural understanding. Furthermore, being based in Israel we noted that the concept of a land and maritime route would require the cooperation and participation of multitude of nations that were not necessarily on good terms. This could create an opportunity for greater stability in areas of tension or conflict.

During 2015, SIGNAL expanded its research and began examining where Israel could make a valuable contribution to the new Silk Road as envisioned by President Xi because we fully support his ideals for this initiative to bring an improved quality of life to all the nations along the Belt and Road.

In SIGNAL’s view, Israel might contribute to the Belt & Road initiative beginning with the land bridge between the Indian ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

With only 2 countries offering the option to reach the Mediterranean Sea from the Indian Ocean, Egypt and Israel on the Red Sea will play a crucial role in the maritime Silk Road. While the Suez Canal one and two facilitate water passage between the two seas, Israel can provide a land crossing between its port in Eilat and the Ashdod port in southern Israel. China’s successful bid to expand and run the Ashdod port combined with its chance of winning the tender to construct and run the speed rail between Ashdod and Eilat offer potential success for China’s maritime route. Goods that were off-loaded in Eilat and re-loaded onto ships in Ashdod would be able to enter Europe, for example, via the Greek port at Pireus which is now owned and run by a Chinese company.

In closing, I would like to say a few words about the first SRTA conference that took place during the last week of Feb. 2016, and of CCCWS which invited SIGNAL to participate. With over 50 countries attending, the SRTA succeeded in embodying some of the most important ideals of the Belt & Road initiative. Because China has been able to develop and maintain good relations with many countries that do not necessarily have smooth communication amongst themselves, the STRA conference provided a platform for experts and scholars from divergent countries to gather, meet and share ideas. I as an Israeli had the opportunity to share a panel with Malaysian and Afghani experts, bounce ideas around with Bangladeshi and Kazakh scholars and hold discussions with Turkish and Swedish researchers to name only a few. During over five years of working with CCCWS, I have admired their professionalism and sincere commitment to multilateral communication.

By taking the STRA conference on a “road trip” to Beijing and Chongqing, the conference organizers created a kind of Belt & Road experience of connectivity. In Beijing the conference delegation met with the CCIEE Director Zhang Xiaoqiang painted the picture of the Belt & Road plan in broad strokes, noting that discussions with the EU on funding sources for the initiatve were productive. Director Zhang also noted that the flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor enjoyed an investment of approx. $46 billion and that the Belt & Road initiative is committed to regional peace. He added that the overall plan includes a focus on joint science and technology development and the success of the Belt & Road initiative will require enterprise cooperation.

Continuing the SRTA conference, we were then welcomed by NDRC Vice Director, Ning who brought our understanding to a more tangible level as he responded to pertinent questions from the former President of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva. The former president asked where the Belt and Road will begin, with Central Asia appearing to have good potential. Vice Director Ning noted that cooperation is open to all countries and the most enthusiastic will surely be the first to establish joint projects. He added that corporate bank funding within participating countries will be welcome to help advance the projects. Vice Director Ning explained that China’s provincial, regional and municipal governments are now developing more specific plans to carry out the overarching Belt & Road design concept. He clarified that in the process of creating connectivity between China and Central Asia, with a network of roads and rail, the aim is to build a consensus to advance mutual benefits through these construction and infrastructure projects.

Regarding the Silk Road Think Tank Association, Vice Director Ning related his confidence that the intellectual and cultural cooperation via the SRTA will contribute in important ways to the 5 Connectivity Plan for the Belt & Road initiative, including Policy, Communication, Infrastructure & Construction, Trade and Finance and People to People. Vice Director Ning stressed that China is responsible for its contribution to the Belt & Road initiative and it is looking to partners in the various regions to combine their strengths with those of China to advance economic and social benefits for all.

On behalf of SIGNAL, I congratulate the conference organizers for a successful launch of the STRA.

I hope you will continue to subscribe to the SIGNAL Note as we focus on the new Silk Road and on Israel’s potential contribution to its success as well as other matters in the China – Israel relationship. Future SIGNAL Notes will touch upon a range of topics such as the Belt & Road security challenges, where cutting edge technology may fit in and thoughts on the role of international law as the new Silk Road begins to take shape.

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