In his written message to the High-level Video Conference on Belt and Road International Cooperation, held in Beijing on 18 June, Chinese President Xi Jinping rightly pointed out that “COVID-19 has made many things clear to us. For one thing, all nations have their destinies closely connected, and humanity is in fact a community with a shared future.” This conference is a coordinated international attempt to tame the virus through global efforts, but more importantly, to chart out a way towards economic recovery and social development under the BRI framework in the post COVID-19 era.
Since President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, thanks to the active participation and strong support of global partners like Bangladesh, the initiative has been expanding in both depth and substance, evolving into the largest platform for international cooperation. In the spirit of multilateralism, openness and people centered development, the BRI created a platform for all participants to act as equal partners on the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits.
Over the past year and more, despite headwinds like COVID-19 and a sluggish global economy, Belt and Road cooperation has pressed ahead against all odds, making new, encouraging progress on the way to building a community with a shared future for mankind. In the 21st century, when multilateralism and interdependence have become a reality, no country could cut loose from the rest of the world. So the best practice would be to embrace international cooperation in a way that promises win-win cooperation and benefits for all. For this, I believe the BRI provides the best model.
It is a model of cooperation for meeting challenges through unity. In the face of COVID-19, BRI partners have extended a helping hand to each other. Bangladesh and many partner countries lent valuable support to China. China, on its part, provided assistance to 122 BRI partners to support their response to the virus, and sent medical teams to at least 25 countries to share its experience without reservation. On the economic and social fronts, China is working with other international players on financial and economic arrangements to help relevant countries to tide over the potential economic fallout, and the BRI countries are sure to be the first to benefit from them. In Bangladesh, we are proud to be the only country that operated regular international flights for nearly 3 months after the initial hit of the pandemic locally, which strengthened the security of supply chains and enabled necessary flow of personnel and logistics at a challenging time.
Equally importantly, it is a model of health for protecting people's safety and well-being. The BRI partners have been sharing experience in COVID-19 response, and making concerted efforts for the assistance and provision of medical supplies. China will continue to support WHO in playing a leading role in coordinating the global response to COVID-19, explore the establishment of regional response liaison mechanisms for public health emergencies, and protect the safety of those working for the Belt and Road and other cooperation projects. In the development and application of vaccines, China will give positive consideration to the needs of Belt and Road partners, and support technical exchanges and cooperation through such platforms as the Alliance of International Science Organizations in the Belt and Road Region.
The BRI is also a model of recovery for restoring economic and social activity. Under the initiative, China and the partner countries are accelerating the building of a global partnership on connectivity, keeping industrial and supply chains stable, stepping up policy coordination, and getting key Belt and Road infrastructure projects restarted. It is a phenomenal achievement that between China and Bangladesh, despite the pandemic, all our key cooperation projects including the Padma Bridge, the Padma Bridge Rail Link, the Payra Thermal Power Plant and the Karnaphuli Tunnel are still under orderly implementation, as a result of the good coordination between our two sides. Besides, we are also actively exploring the possibility to establish fast-track lanes for cross-border flows of people and goods between China and Bangladesh, so as to minimize the future impact of COVID-19 on our bilateral communication.
By and large, the BRI is a model of growth for unlocking development potential. With new industries and business models sprouting in the course of COVID-19 response, China continues to work with all partners to discover innovative approaches to strengthen policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and closer people-to-people ties, in order to better unlock each country’s development potential and build a road of green development, of health cooperation, of innovation and of peace.
In the case of Bangladesh, China just offered zero tariff treatment to 97% of Bangladesh’s export by adding 5161 more items to the existing list of 3095 duty-free products, effective from July 1st. It will certainly render Bangladeshi products more competitive in a market of 1.4 billion population, benefit both Bangladeshi exporters and Chinese consumers alike, and enhance our trade connectivity. It is a result of good policy coordination, and an initiative well supported by our infrastructure connectivity.
The financial connectivity between China and Bangladesh is steadily improving with our partnerships in organizations such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Dhaka Stock Exchange.
Finally, for people-to-people connectivity, China and Bangladesh have always shared a brotherly connection inherited from our friendly traditions, which gets even deeper through our joint fight against the common enemy of the coronavirus. Our mutual cross-border visits never came to a total stop even at the toughest moment of the fight. As the situation improves and travel restriction eases, we are bound to witness a rebound and further growth in people-to-people exchanges at all social levels.
As the 2nd largest economy in South Asia and with a vibrant young population, Bangladesh has unparalleled development potential in the region. And as a good friend, a strategic cooperation partner and an equal member of the region, China will always remain highly committed to working side by side with Bangladesh in BRI projects and all other areas for the betterment of our people. Being a peace-loving nation since ancient times, China has always envisioned a world where everyone “seeks harmony without uniformity”, for “peace is of paramount importance”. Together through the Belt and Road, we will build a community with a shared future where all could thrive in peace.
H.E. Li Jiming is the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Bangladesh