PARTICIPANTSAT a recent Belt and Road Communication Conference for Industrial Cooperation in Shanghai aired their views on the best way to facilitate the Belt and Road initiative and bridge the gap between demand and supply.
Forty-seven overseas participants from 16 countries, including officials in charge of planning, finance and business sectors spoke at the conference which was held at Shanghai Star Dynamics Innovation Space on September 22. It was co-sponsored by the International Silkroad Institute, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) and CIFAL Shanghai International Training Center.
Zhou Yiping, dean of SASS International Silkroad Institute, said his institute provides a public cooperation platform to serve the Belt and Road countries, and hopes to integrate it with the UNSustainable Development Goals for 2030.
“Most countries along the Belt and Road are still in the initial stage of industrialization, and show strong market potentials and volition to use foreign investment. So far China has already set up over 50 cooperation zones in 20 Belt and Road countries, with accumulated investment of US$18.6 billion,” Zhou revealed, adding that such investment led to nearly US$1 billion in tax for host countries, and helped create hundreds of thousands of local jobs.
However, given the lack of experience and effective communication, there have been some bottlenecks that hindered development, and hence the need for better communication between the relevant parties to maximize the opportunities for the Belt and Road countries in socio-economical, environmental and humanistic terms.
Igor Savic, deputy general manager of the National Bank of Serbia, claimed that the initiative has already achieved spectacular success.
He said that Serbia has been trying hard to attract foreign investment, particularly from friendly countries like China, which has been active in supporting Serbia’s development. He said Serbia’s tax levels are below the average EU levels that has helped the country attract foreign investment significantly since last year.
With the launch of direct flights between Belgrade and Beijing, it will become convenient for more Chinese people to travel or conduct business in Belgrade.
Bojana Vasiljevic Poljasevic, advisor to Cabinet of President of Republic of Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina, believes conferences like this were a good platform to share ideas and contribute to mutual understanding and reduce misunderstanding. Although the republic is not yet a member of EU, it would play a significant part in advancing the relations between China and central and east European countries.
Alexander Onyeka Irobi, Director of Foreign Service Academy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, said that all Belt and Road countries should be actively involved in building a bridge of friendship and cultural exchange to ensure the progress of the initiative.
He admitted that there is bound to be problems and obstacles, and the correct approach is to find a solution. He said Nigeria, with a population of 180 million, is a giant in Africa, and a paradise for investment. The country used to be solely dependent on its crude oil, but it is gradually growing in other sectors.
The government has been active in pushing through infrastructure development, development of renewable energy, and construction of power plants, and have created policies favorable to foreign investment.
Fan Mingzhi, deputy secretary-general of China Association of Urban Environmental Sanitation, shared her insight on China’s edge in garbage disposal.
Fan said that as a vast and densely populated country, China’s per capita garbage grows at 1.07kg a year, but there has been significant achievement in garbage disposal, with garbage at cities and townships 100 percent manageable.
“In a big country like China, garbage shows significant seasonable changes, with water content in mixed garbage reaching as high as 56 percent, making sorting and disposal difficult,” she said. In spite of this, China has emerged as a global leader in terms of technology, and has drawn up a whole set of standards for the sector.
She believed China’s experience and approach in this field can be relevant for developing countries still in the preliminary stage of garbage disposal.
Zou Lei, research assistant from Party School of Shanghai Committee of CPC, cited some problems Chinese enterprises are concerned about when going overseas, which include consistent policy, knowledge about local policy and law regarding taxation and labor.
Comprehensive development was also something Chinese enterprises should pay attention to when going abroad. It might be loss-making for a Chinese infrastructural company to build a single road, but the endeavor could be profitable when commercial establishments are built along the road.
Panelists upbeat about closer ties
Some of the participants spoke separately to Shanghai Daily on the sidelines of the conference.
Muhammad Saleh, Section Officer from Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform, Pakistan
Q: Could you cite areas where Sino-Pakistan cooperation could be fruitful?
A: China and Pakistan have enjoyed very good relations since 1947. Take the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Originally valued at US$46 billion, its value is now US$62 billion. There is room for further cooperation in IT, infrastructure, and industrial parks.
The development of Gwadar Port and the city of Gwadar in Southwest Pakistan is significant, as it is a gateway to West Asia, Middle East, and Africa.
Pakistan is suffering from energy shortage, thus it is keen on development of whatever kind of energy, be it solar or hydro.
We are also building connectivity, not only in terms of infrastructure, but also in people to people ties.
Pakistan is strategically located where partnership could help develop China’s relatively less developed west area. This is a win-win situation. I think these are some of the areas we could build strong partnership on the basis of historical good relations between the two countries.
Q: Could you identify some challenges confronting Chinese entrepreneurs trying to be successful there?
A: I think the biggest problem is security, not only financial security, but also physical security. But I can assure you, Pakistan has been very stable for the last few years, thus there is huge potential for development whether in public or private investment. One of the living evidence of this is the performance of Pakistan stock exchange, one of the best performing stock exchanges in Asia.
We still have many problems, but we are also pushing forward with reforms, and the international community has acknowledged the results of the reform. Our government is committed to strong partnership with China.
Igors Udodovs, Deputy CEO, Head of Marketing and Development, Freeport of Ventspils Authority, Latvia
Q: Would you please specify areas where cooperation with China might be more constructive?
A: Latvia is a very small country compared with China, thus we are not talking about Latvia and China, but European Union (EU) and China. As a member of EU, Latvia is in a single market, with free movement of goods, people, and capital. Thus in that sense we are actually proposing Chinese companies to use Latvia as a location to service the EU market.
We might have different views of cooperation, but what we want to highlight is that we have very good infrastructure for transportation and logistics. We have very powerful ports.
In Soviet times, Latvia had the biggest port in the whole Soviet Union. On the other hand, we also have areas for industrial development. We can easily propose 200 hectares of land or more for Chinese companies to build their own parks, or use existing parks.
Q: Could you identify challenges that might confront Chinese companies seeking development there?
A: The EU has a uniform set of regulations done centrally for the whole Union, so in that sense, there is no difference whether the business is being located in Latvia or elsewhere in the EU. There are a lot of European companies operating in China which have successfully adapted to local mentality, and I think Chinese companies are more adaptable when going abroad.
We can understand each other by learning more from each other. As evidence of Chinese importance, in my city our mayor has proposed to have Chinese as an option of foreign languages starting from Grade One.