Speech by Wang Weiguang

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, February 9, 2015

Wang Weiguang, President of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, delivers a  speech at the opening ceremony of the International Seminar on the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, on Feb. 11, 2015. [Photo:China.org.cn]

The following is the full text of Wang Weiguang's speech titled "Co-Construction of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road -- The Inevitable Choice for Historical Development."

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

As the strategic conception of building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road initiated by the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government is now being putting in place, we are gathered here today on a big day for the Forum sponsored by the State Council Information Office in collaboration with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Xinhua News Agency, China International Publishing Group, and Fujian Academy of Social Sciences. First of all, on behalf of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, I'd like to extend my warmest welcome to you all as well as my heartfelt thanks to all the organizers of the Forum.

In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government announced the strategic conception of building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, which sparked great attention from other parts of the world and won wide support from countries along the way. Not only has the strategic concept evoked memories of the ancient Silk Road, but it has inspired imagination of a new type of Silk Road fit for the times, creating a clear picture of the promising prospects of peaceful global development.

I. Construction of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Is a Major Initiative to Inherit Historical Legacy

More than 2,000 years ago, our ancestors opened the door to the outside world for friendly exchange with other countries. As such exchange became more frequent, two major international thoroughfares took shape, linking China and the rest of the world: one on land, the other on sea, the legendary Silk Road. The Maritime Silk Road runs from the Far East to the West, serving China and many countries along the way from Southeast Asia to Africa. It has served as a road of trade, culture, and more importantly, a road of friendship. It set a good example for interconnection and working together internationally in ancient times.

China's maritime trading with Southeast Asian countries can be dated back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). The Maritime Silk Road emerged during the 8th and 9th centuries. Chinese ships traveled westward from the South China Sea and reached the Middle East and Europe via Southeast Asia and the coasts of the North Indian Ocean. Cities like Guangzhou, Quanzhou and Mingzhou served as hubs for trade between China and the West.

During the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, Chinese trade further developed along the Maritime Silk Road. Fully understanding the importance of developing maritime commerce, Emperor Gaozong of the Song Dynasty instructed his officials to make good use of its maritime traffic resources and manpower.

Encouraged by the royal court and driven by potential rewards, massive merchant fleets shuttled between China and other countries. The Yuan government also attached great importance to overseas trade. Many ports along the southeastern Chinese seaboard became bustling hubs linking to the world and drawing businessmen from hundreds of countries and regions – as far as the Korean Peninsula to the east, the southernmost tip of Southeast Asia across the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf and the eastern coast of Africa in the west.

Into the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the ancient Maritime Silk Road was further stretched as it continued booming. During the reign of Emperor Yongle, the royal court dispatched imperial envoy Zheng He to the West seven times. It took him 28 years to complete the voyages, reaching as far as Kenya. Not only did the voyages immensely promote trade between China and foreign countries, but it accelerated cultural exchange as well.

Today, we can still hear stories about legendary Zheng He, a carrier of Chinese civilization, in many southeastern Asian countries. Not only did Zheng bring commodities such as silk, tea and ceramics, to the countries he visited, but he mediated disputes amongst countries, contributing remarkably to the maintenance of regional stability and development while enhancing China's international prestige.

The efforts made amidst twists and turns to open the Maritime Silk Road over 2,000 years ago are unimaginable today. We do know that over the centuries, streams of envoys, trade caravans, travelers, scholars and craftsmen have shuttled between the East and the West, meeting complementary needs and learning from each other, accelerating development and progress of human civilization.

This uniquely convenient maritime thoroughfare bore the capacity and openness to inject tremendous vigor and vitality into the regions along it well into the Qing Dynasty.

It is no exaggeration to declare that the Maritime Silk Road served as an important lane of sea traffic for countries along it in ancient times as well as a lifeline for economic, cultural and trade communication amongst these countries.

Over 2,000 years of experience in international communication has shown that only by adhering to the principles of unity, mutual trust and benefits, equality, inclusiveness, mutual learning, cooperation and seeking win-win results can countries of contrasting races, beliefs and cultural backgrounds completely share peace and joint development.

This is what we have learned from the ancient Silk Road.

II. Construction of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Is an Inevitable Choice for Historical Development

During the mid-Ming Dynasty, feudal China was ruled under policies of secluding the country from the outside world. Its "maritime prohibition" policy in particular severely hindered overseas trade. To make matters worse, Western powers began to invade Asia. Over four centuries, Western invaders crept into almost every corner of Asia.

After the First Opium War was launched by Britain in 1840, China gradually descended to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, resulting in the decline of the time-honored Maritime Silk Road. The country's maritime trade correspondingly dipped in terms of scale and range.

The founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 opened a new chapter in the history of the development of the Chinese nation. The Chinese government proposed the diplomatic Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, dramatically improving China's peripheral environment and winning acclaim from most countries around the world.

Since then, the Chinese government has continuously adhered to the Five Principles without wavering regardless of changes in the international situation and adjustments of international patterns.

In the late 1970s, China entered a new stage of economic reform and opening to the outside world. Over the last three decades, the country has achieved noticeable results tirelessly diving deeper into reform and opening up, enthusiastically participating in global economic affairs, expanding cooperation and communication, and promoting mutual benefits and win-win results around the world, massively contributing to global economic development.

Also, China has played a positive role in maintaining regional stability and development by following a path of peaceful development.

More than 30 years of practice in reform and opening up has shown that China's development relies on a favorable external environment and a road of peaceful development. The nation develops best with world peace and the promotion of common development of all countries.

This is the objective demand of our times. This is a solemn commitment of the Chinese people.

In the 21st Century, the world has seen more frequent communication in the realms of markets, technology and information, heralding an era that places even greater value on maritime cooperation and development.

In recent years, China has intensified its economic and trade relations with the countries and regions in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia, and Africa. Its trade volume with ASEAN has surpassed US$400 billion and is expected to top US$1 trillion by 2020.

China has seen a steady growth of bilateral trade with coastal countries along the Indian Ocean, including India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

As the second largest economy in the world, China has made remarkable achievements in exporting capital, technology, and investment projects while strengthening communication with different countries and regions in various sectors.

Construction of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road will create precious practical value and play an active role when the world suffers from an incessant economic downturn as well as hedging against risk.

The plan is not about repeating or playing back history. It is the inevitable choice for historical development and progress of mankind in the new era.

III. Target and Positioning of the Concept of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road

China announced the concept of co-building the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road to adapt to economic globalization, maximize reciprocal benefits for countries along its line and build a community of shared destiny highlighted by mutual political trust, economic integration, cultural inclusiveness, interconnection and togetherness, mutual benefits and win-win results – all working towards the ultimate goal of common development and prosperity in countries and regions along the way.

Construction of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road is of greater importance when examined from a historical background of global multi-polarization, economic globalization and co-existing cooperation and competition.

In October 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered the speech Joining Hands in Constructing the China-ASEAN Community of Shared Destiny at Indonesia's parliament, where he proposed the great concept of building a China-ASEAN community of shared destiny.

Since then, President Xi has talked about the idea of a "community of shared destiny" many times on different occasions, including the G20 Summit and SCO Summit. To create such a community is actually a further step towards building the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.

The initiative reflects China's good intentions and desire to join hands with other countries and help those in similar situations achieve mutual benefits and common development, living up to both creative and practical trends of historical development.

First, construction of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road will benefit all countries along the Road by facilitating common development.

The objective of the campaign is to carry forward and enrich the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, comprehensively enhance the relationship between countries along the Road and further mutually-beneficial cooperation in all sectors based on economic cooperation. All of this will promote economic development, social stability, regional harmony and cultural integration in these countries.

China is still a developing country. Along with maintaining sustainable, healthy development, both economically and socially, the country hopes to enjoy the massive benefits from the construction of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road while bringing benefits to countries along the Road, ultimately blazing a new trail of mutual benefits and common development.

Next, the initiative of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road will promote cultural communication, political mutual trust, friendly exchange, and harmony and peace in countries along the Road.

With focus on economic cooperation, the campaign will certainly enhance political mutual trust, reinforce friendly exchange and promote cultural communication among the countries along the Road.

At the end of the day, strategic mutual trust among governments will smooth communication and improve understanding, and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road can be built into a road of friendship, harmony and peace.

I want to again stress the international importance of construction of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.

The campaign brings dozens of countries and regions together via a wide range of cooperative initiatives, inspiring global vision and drawing global attention.

To attract greater international participation, positive efforts should be made to intensify economic and trade cooperation among countries along the Road while opening new channels and exploring new fields, so as to facilitate construction of the Maritime Silk Road to establish a new environment for world politics and economics and accelerate development and prosperity of the global economy.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

The 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road initiative presents a mission for both the governments and people of countries along the Road. It is also a major task for the further study of humanities and social science circles in these countries.

As the top national research institution for philosophy and social sciences and China's largest state-level comprehensive, high-end think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is eager to increase academic exchange and cooperation with its counterparts devoted to humanities and social sciences, institutes of higher learning, and think tanks in other countries across the planet to provide intellectual support for the construction of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road.

Thank you!

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