What if the 2,000 cities on 516 canals around the world are well informed of the development and opportunities for them to participate in Belt and Road initiative, now popularly known as B&R? This was a question raised by Deng Qing, secretary general of the World Canal Cities Cooperation Organization (WCCO), at a forum held recently in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province.
Nearly 200 media executives gathered for the discussion with government officials and think tank researchers about the role the Internet media can play in B&R at the forum organized by the China Internet Media Network.
In a series of panel discussions, they compared notes on the challenges of the Internet and finding effective ways to publicize the B&R. Wang Jing, head of the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission, said the Chinese media have not kept up pace with Chinese companies and their involvement in B&R projects. They should step up their presence and increase the efforts in creating a fair public opinion environment for B&R.
Statistics show since China launched the initiative in 2013, it has invested more than US$50 billion in the B&R countries. A total of 56 economic and trade cooperation zones have been built by Chinese companies in these countries, generating nearly US$1.1 billion in tax revenue and creating 180,000 local jobs.
Wang is upset with the misinterpretation of B&R in foreign media and urged efforts to dispel suspicion and distrust. He said some people regard the B&R Initiative as China’s attempt for hegemony. “They tend to exaggerate setbacks of some B&R projects and grab public attention with negative news.”
The former chairman of the All-China Journalist Association, Zhai Huisheng, advised Chinese media to report B&R affairs more from a historical, cultural or technological perspective and to present a win-win picture for the public. Zhai praised Yangzhou’s decision makers for banking on the heritage of the Grand Canal to connect their city with B&R countries.
Grand Canal and Silk Road
Built first in Yangzhou in 486 BC, the Grand Canal linked overland and maritime routes of the ancient Silk Road that went all the way through Southeast Asia and the Middle East to Europe and east Africa. The connectivity transformed the city into a vibrant commercial center. Yangzhou flourished and became the biggest hub of foreign trade and economic activities in ancient China, very much in the same way as modern-day Shanghai and Shenzhen.
For this reason, Yangzhou led the efforts of all canal cities to apply for the UNESCO listing of the Grand Canal as a World Heritage Site. They won the bid in June 2014 after five years of hard work. The city is now seeking a big role in B&R designed to bring forth new economic growth in participating countries by means of connectivity through investment and infrastructure projects of transport.
WCCO secretary general to the forum said: “We see new co-operation opportunities among world canal cities under B&R initiative, especially in urbanization progress, cultural diversity and sustainable growth.” WCCO Chairman Zhu Minyang stressed a coordinated effort in the Grand Canal and its cultural heritage preservation with pollution clean-up and economic development scheme.
Forum participants agreed that the Chinese media have a huge role in explaining and telling vivid stories about changes in the life of people in participating countries. These stories will win the hearts of more people there.
German Ambassador to China Michael Clauss told the Foreign Correspondents Club, in Beijing last week, that his government sees a lot of merits in B&R but many people in Europe and United States are ignoring it. Clauss was quoted by Reuters as saying he “was surprised” by this.
“It’s being underestimated a little bit. People should wake up,” Clauss said. He added that despite some shortcomings, “we feel that especially since TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and others have been given up, there’s no better game in town.”
It is the duty of the Chinese media to help clarify misunderstanding among the international community and create a public opinion environment to convince people that the B&R is really “the most important public goods China has provided to the world” as said by the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Zheng Xinye, Professor of Economics and deputy chief of the People’s University’s B&R research institute, emphasized to the forum that “power of speech means productivity.”
He thought the Chinese media should tap into the power of speech in following topics: B&R takes the approach to involve less developed regions into the global development trend through creating opportunities to update their backward infrastructure and clean up pollution problems which is important to the social stability of their countries. B&R is expected to eventually push forward the interconnection of the participating countries, making better use of their resources, cutting down on pollution and closing up regional gaps, Zheng noted.
The forum also discussed cooperation among different media.
Hu Baoxiang, honorary chairman of China Internet Media Network, called for effort to further develop the function of the media network, such as coordinating joint interviews on major topics, pooling information and training resources, and sharing experiences to cope with challenges and promoting integrated media development.