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Silk Road could revive vital link between East and West

2014/8/30      view:

China's initiatives of reviving the ancient Silk Road through a network of roads and maritime linkages will boost cooperation between China and the various regional blocs and could alter the economic landscape of a vast area stretching from Asia to Europe, according to experts in Dhaka.

"The architects of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road aside from revisiting a historical fact will also have the unique opportunity in challenging the traditional notion of connectivity using today's advances in technology and engineering," Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, chairman of Unnayan Onneshan, a leading local think tank, told Xinhua recently.

He said that if the ambitious undertaking is done, this could result in a new form of global cooperation in economic, financial and technological aspects and could usher in an interdependence of humankind and its rich diversity setting aside fears of clashes among ideologies, cultural beliefs and traditions.

"History tells us that the erstwhile Silk Roads opened and fostered exchanges among the diverse civilizations of China, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Europe, and Arabia, connecting the West and the East, through political, economic and cultural interactions primarily done by traders, merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers, nomads, and urban dwellers who passed through the ancient route," Titumir said.

China's initiatives to build a Silk Road Economic Belt and a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road were put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping during two separate visits to Central Asia and Southeast Asia in 2013.

President Xi's proposed "Silk Road Economic Belt" revival project could involve over 40 Asian and European countries and regions with a combined population of 3 billion.

Improved connectivity is essential to deepen any type of relations among countries, including political and cultural, said Fahmida Khatun, head of research of the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), another local think tank.

Khatun said that China's proposal will help to further deepen its political and cultural ties with countries in the region, including Bangladesh.

"It will also pave the way for bolstering economic ties between China and the countries in the region," she said.

Bangladesh and China have a rich heritage of cultural and trade interaction developed through the South-West Silk Route, the ancient tea route and the maritime Silk Road, dating back to over two thousand years.

"The revival of the Economic Belt and the Maritime Road will further deepen political and cultural ties between China and Bangladesh," Titumir said.

China is the largest trading partner of Bangladesh but is highly tilted in favor of China, said Titumir who also teaches Development Studies in Dhaka University.

He said while China has substantial surplus with all of its South Asian trading partners, Beijing can offset this imbalance by investing more in these countries, particularly in infrastructure development in order to promote long-term strategic and stable environment in the region.

"Expanding the financing channels for both country-specific and sub-regional cooperation projects through vehicles such as the envisaged Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank would provide a financial platform for connectivity between China and Bangladesh, inter-connectivity among SAARC members and with countries in the ASEAN region," Titumir said.

He said that China can demonstrate its much-vaunted notion of "peaceful rise" through confidence building measures through its good neighbor principle which is based on mutual trust and respect of each country's social, economic and political structures.

"Historically, a strong China has not been associated with aggression or expansionism and has never voted in favor of cessation or annexation by any country at the United Nations," Titumir said.

The idea of an Economic Belt and the Maritime Road could put Bangladesh, with the Bay of Bengal in the South, as a trade hub since it is geographically situated in-between the two largest markets of the world, India and China, and in the close maritime proximity with the two land-locked South Asian nations, Nepal and Bhutan, and the Northeastern states of India, according to Titumir.

Titumir said that at present Bangladesh has a number of projects in mind that include the highway project to connect Chittagong and Kunming through Myanmar. If fully operational, the project could give Bangladesh an entry into the Mekong sub-region, besides China, accelerating trade and facilitating people-to-people contacts, he said.

Khatun said that the Bangladeshi government should now conduct a feasibility study for its role in the proposed Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

"Initial feasibility studies should be conducted now and the proper government agency should come up with a final decision," Khatun said.