By Jose C. De Venecia Jr.
In Beijing, we said we were honored to be asked to speak before the great Beijing Forum, for we subscribe to the founding principle of President Xi Jin ping’s historic revival and expansion of China’s legendary Silk Road—which links today’s Europe, the Middle East, and Asia much as its history and legend had linked them during the classical period.
From their beginnings—in the glory days of the Han Dynasty in the East and the Roman Empire in the West—the linkages between our countries and even those of parts of Africa had ranged beyond the exchange of material goods.
Commerce, culture, civilization
From the beginning, East-West trade transcended the limits of commerce. From the beginning, it was also East-West cultural exchange; and the two-way technology transfer stimulated by that trade has been substantial enough to influence the course of either civilization.
Even long-distance travel on the “Silk Road” had its beneficial effects. Notably, the Venetian Marco Polo’s account of his Silk Road travels inspired the Genoese Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the Americas’ “New World.” Marco Polo started out overland, crossing the Central Asian desert to the court of Kublai Khan, stayed a dozen years, and returned to Venice by sea on the maritime route of the Silk Road. Marco Polo’s voyage took him down the South China coast to Sumatra, southeast India and today’s Sri Lanka. From there, he crossed the Indian Ocean to the Black Sea, reaching Constantinople and, finally, Venice after two years at sea.
China’s rebuilding of the Silk Road
The value of China’s rebuilding of the Silk Road—in both its overland and maritime linkages—is obvious; and indeed it would redound to all those nations which gathered in Beijing.
Consider how already the Central Asian states are awakening to the possibilities of modernization—as Silk Road arteries begin to link them, westward, all the way to London and eastward to Beijing, encompassing Budapest, Hamburg, Moscow, and Warsaw, yes, freight to 28 European cities, moving them by sea, and by air.
We were privileged to be invited to speak at the “High-Level Dialogue in China’s Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation” in Beijing last May 15, 2017, together with more than 40 heads of state and government and former presidents, former premiers and heads of international congregations, indeed a great achievement for President Xi Jin ping and the Chinese people. China’s leader launched since 2013 revival of the centuries-old silk route and its 21st Century Maritime Route by sea.
Today modern infrastructure is bringing together Kunming in Yunnan with Phnom Penh and Singapore in the beginnings of a Southeast Asian “Growth Triangle.” And the long-distance trains are moving great cargoes between Asia and Europe, back and forth.
We said that in 2005, the Philippines, China, and Vietnam went so far as to venture on a three-way joint seismic survey, which we helped initiate, of disputed areas in the Spratlys chain—to assess the area’s potential for hydrocarbons exploration and development. Scientists of the three nations pronounced the prospects “promising,” and it is obvious as members of the ASEAN family that today, with China, we must now find ways and means to jointly develop the area’s hydrocarbons potential to help lessen our common dependence on distant petroleum sources in the Middle East.
And look at the potential for peace, for economic development in the heartland of the South China Sea, once rid of conflict, a landscape and seascape of small seaports, airports, oil pipelines, small tourism townships, and fishing villages, can rapidly rise in the contested areas once converted into a Zone of Friendship, Commerce, Navigation, and Development, and become the passage way, untrammeld, for all global shipping, carrying more than 50% of the sea freight of the world.
We in the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) representing more than 340 ruling, opposition, and independent political parties in Asia, have held yearly conferences in various capitals in Asia, in Beijing and in other cities of China, to help bring our peoples in Asia closer together in fraternal understanding.
Our newly organized sister organization, the International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP), representing individual members of parliaments in all the continents of the world are one with ICAPP in supporting China’s Belt and Road initiative, a historic and inspiring force for peace, friendship and development, encouraging simple, practical people-to-people understanding.
The people-to-people bonds in the Belt-and-Road Initiative are the first and principal keys to achieving good relations among nations, trade facilitation, joint-ventures, networking, and policy coordination, as we endeavour to connect highways, railways, electricity grids, rivers, and lakes to the great arteries of the world. Indeed, the people-to-people bonds are the first prime catalysts in the forging of trade, tourism, economic and social development, and in the framing of peace and unity among nations.
We said that, in spite of difficulties, a durable peace today is not impossible even in some of Asia’s troubled areas. For indeed it is most desirable if we, among ourselves, discard occasional enmity and exaggerated pride, and if we respond to the Sermon on the Mount and the hallowed spirit of China’s storied Silk Road, we could all together embark on a journey that today could lead towards the dream of a thousand years of peace and prosperity for all our nations and for all our peoples.
For the revival of the Silk Road is a vision that reflects the shift of the center of gravity from West to East, a global rebalancing whose time has come. It should help bind peoples and countries to a common future and rekindle the grandeur and glory of the old and new Asian civilization and serve as harbinger of real and expanding growth in the 21st Century.
Global potential of new expanded route
And in Beijing, we said that: in order to expand, deepen, and strengthen the cultural, geo-political, geo-economic, trade, and people-to-people linkages of the historic Silk Road, we now propose consideration of the development of a “third route,” to complement and extend China’s great “Belt and Road” Initiative.
For from Hainan island off Guangdong province in southern China, the route could also pass first through the Philippines, then Malaysia, Indonesia, and the small island nation of Timor Leste onwards.
Already in Northwestern Philippines, as part of an extended Belt and Maritime Road plan, on the banks of the South China Sea, an agri-tourism belt and large petro-chemical and industrial complex, much needed in the region, is being planned for implementation by pioneering Chinese and Philippine groups. And from Timor Leste to Australia’s Gold Coast to Sydney, and New Zealand, the extended route could move across the south Pacific, and enter Latin America: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and the tourism-rich Caribbean islands, then Mexico, all the way to the US as in the old days of the Galleon Trade from Manila to Acapulco, Mexico, which sailed for 250 years.
It is not far-fetched, for there are already multiple large Chinese investments in South America. And at some point, we said the Latinos should also bring their trade to the south Pacific and into Asia.
Yes, our proposal in Beijing for the 21st Century “third route,” hopefully an enlargement of the Silk Route, would make China’s celebrated ‘Belt and Road initiative almost globally inclusive and create a linkage with two more continents – Australia and Latin America – in a new circumnavigation, in a revivable of the Age of Exploration, and new spirit in the Age of Globalization.
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