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Culture connects hearts of people along 21st Maritime Silk Road
Author :  Li Hongmei Source : Chinese Social Sciences Today 2016-09-26
The 21st Maritime Silk Road connects harbors on China’s eastern coast with ports at the Strait of Malacca, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. By building transportation and communication networks, it enhances connectivity and promotes finance and trade.
Its projects range from railways and ports to electricity and water conservation projects. For such a big international project, misunderstanding can easily arise if there is a lack of cultural exchanges. Therefore, we should also build a bridge for people-to-people and cultural exchanges along the route.
Some people think that the purpose of the Belt and Road is to transfer China’s excess backward production capacity to other places. This viewpoint misrepresents China’s ideas and plans. It is based on the zero-sum game mentality that portrays a project for mutual benefit as economic “plunder.”
It is true that because of insufficient cultural exchanges, some cooperative projects in Africa and Southeast Asia did not gain enough support from local people, harming the interests of both sides. To cope with this, we should realize that places have different values, culture, lifestyles and religions. Stronger cultural communication can break down barriers to connect people’s hearts.
Some people in the West describe the “Belt and Road” initiative as a strategic response to the US “Pivot to Asia” strategy to sow discord between China and Africa, Russia and other regions. They call it a fragile “partnership” based on temporary needs.
Though these words do not merit much attention, they remind us that only through strengthening cultural exchanges and seeking common ground while reserving differences can we promote political mutual trust and cooperation in foreign policy. Then economic cooperation can sustain and be carried out smoothly.
We should not ignore the fact that due to a lack of political mutual trust, it is difficult to make progress in security cooperation between some countries along the route. The building of some harbors has also been suspended. Therefore, the key now is to strengthen mutual trust through cultural exchanges, multilateral forums and cooperation in academic research.
Then, we can formulate standardized international agreements for trade and investment and build a social basis for trade cooperation as well as for communication among personnel and technology exchange.
The “Belt and Road” initiative advocates connectivity in policies, transportation, trade, currency and the hearts of the people, among which the last is the most difficult. Some recent international events like European refugee crisis, terrorism in Middle East and Brexit all show that there is a lack of understanding and trust among countries.
Drawing lessons from the aforementioned issues, the Maritime Silk Road embodies an open-minded attitude toward every country along the route as well as countries that are willing to join it. For this reason, we are implementing substantial measures to enhance cultural exchanges in different aspects and on different levels.
For instance, China and ASEAN have set a target to exchange 200,000 students by 2020. We are also promoting people-to-people exchanges through think tanks, information sharing, technological cooperation and other methods.
Li Hongmei is director of the Institute of Maritime Silk Road at Hainan Normal University.