The key link [By Zhai Haijun/China.org.cn]
In an address delivered at Seoul University last July, Chinese President Xi Jinping noted that the development of diplomatic ties fundamentally relies on people-to-people bonds. Xi's words acknowledged the importance of such bonds, the significance of which also applies to China's latest "Belt and Road" initiatives .
The ancient Silk Road used to bridge the civilizations of the East and the West, giving rise to trade and people-to-people exchanges before centuries of war blocked the ancient route, causing it to fall into disuse. The "Belt and Road" initiatives aim to reinvigorate the ancient Silk Road and seek to reopen its old land and maritime channels to shape a community of mutual political trust, integrated economies and inclusive cultures.
Close people-to-people ties important to diplomatic ties
Although different perspectives on the "Belt and Road" initiatives will result in different conclusions, many mainstream theories have been reserved on the prospect of the strategic initiatives, simply advising that the shaping of the "Belt and Road" should advance prudently rather than rashly.
The "Belt and Road" concept actually transcends most current international relations. By emphasizing the historical and cultural term "Silk Road," the Chinese government is signifying that it wants to break through the existing framework of international relations to allow others to understand China and the current world from a broader, more human perspective.
When shaping the "Belt and Road," China should attempt to dissolve the psychological barricades raised between people of different nations, including ethnic conflicts, cultural friction, religious struggles and conflicts created by other perceived differences. The history of Western colonization in the region provides an example of how the unilateral imposition of a certain culture or civilization will only be greeted with huge resistance.
Bearing this in mind, China has proposed a different method that features neither unilateral decisions nor preset roadmaps. Instead, China has applied the principles of sharing, dialogue and negotiation. It has encouraged the countries along the "Belt and Road" and their people to cooperate in concrete terms to seek common interests, which will naturally strengthen people-to-people bonds. Therefore, China's "Belt and Road" initiatives have a social basis in people-to-people bonds that aim to create synergy, understanding, win-win results and mutual trust.
Mutual understanding brings people from different nations closer
Billions of people live in the countries along the "Belt and Road." They abide by different cultures, traditions, national conditions and social conventions, and they have all been subject to conflicts and feuds that have accumulated over time. Bringing such diverse peoples together is anything but easy; it requires patience and a strategy that focuses on the following three concepts.
1. Ethnic reconciliation
There is a so-called "arc of conflict" that sprawls from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. This zone is a hotbed of terrorism, violent extremism and religious fundamentalism, but much of this region also overlaps with the paths of the "Belt and Road." The discussion of how to solve the issues in this zone is still in progress and will allow room for experimentation and exploration of how the "Belt and Road" can bring together different peoples and ethnic groups.
2. Religious dialogue
All countries along the "Belt and Road" have been heavily influenced by different religions. Chinese civilization is an example of this. At various times, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity were all introduced to China, where they merged with local cultures to give birth to Confucianism, Hui culture, and the school of Western Learning. The prosperity of Chinese civilization can in part be attributed to these influences.
In rejuvenating the ancient Silk Road, China should not avoid religious factors but should make the most of them by encouraging dialogues between different religious groups.
3. Public diplomacy
The "Belt and Road" initiatives are among the cooperation initiatives proposed by countries in Asia and Europe, and they are likely to be misinterpreted by other countries that claim that China seeks to expand its sphere of influence by advancing this strategy. This is why China should make the most of its public diplomacy to promote other countries' understanding of the benefits that the "Belt and Road" will bring them.
Interactions key to interpersonal rapport
In seeking closeness among people from different countries along the "Belt and Road," aforementioned efforts will only be possible if a concrete network of social connections can be established. Specifically, China should take the initiative to establish a league of universities that will boost academic cooperation on the "Belt and Road," maintain a network of cultural exchanges, organize various cultural and sports activities to consolidate friendship among people from different countries, encourage media exchanges, launch more cooperation in improving people's livelihood, and finally, encourage tourism.
To sum up, boosting connectivity among people in countries along the "Belt and Road" is a systematic undertaking that requires the combined efforts of all members of society to improve China's ability to make friends in the international community. Seeking people-to-people connectivity does not necessarily mean that China is begging others to become its friends. Instead, China should develop, live up to international standards and make friends with all others who agree to seek common ground while respecting differences.
The writer is an associate professor with the Institute of Modern International Relations, Tsinghua University and a senior research fellow at the Charhar Institute.
The article was translated by Chen Boyuan. Its original unabridged version was published in Chinese.
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of China.org.cn