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One Belt & One Road Initiative: Beyond physical infrastructure

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At the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR)-organised forum on The Belt and Road Initiative: Risk Management, which was held in Beijing, Pathfinder Foundation Executive Director Luxman Siriwardena, in his presentation emphasised the potential of the initiative for economic development of Sri Lanka, as it enables the country to enhance its strategic value in the Indian Ocean.
Infrastructural development projects such as the Hambantota port, Mattala airport and Colombo International Financial City (Colombo Port City), could greatly benefit and probably become financially viable in the medium-term with the success of the Maritime Silk Road.
However, he emphasized that while the development of physical infrastructure is a necessary condition by itself, it is insufficient for sustainable long-term growth and development of Sri Lanka’s economy. He added that Sri Lanka needs to move from the current policy environment of uncertainty and inconsistency to a more predictable one.
He also made a case for reforms in areas affecting private sector initiatives and doing business. To maximize benefits of the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative, which is a positive development in the current global environment, Sri Lanka needs to vigorously pursue a reform agenda and take robust measures to eliminate corruption at all levels.
The forum was participated by 26 foreign and 20 Chinese scholars. CICIR is China’s premier policy think tank, which cooperates closely with the Pathfinder Foundation. The focus of the forum was to seek ways and means of enhancing mutual benefits and win-win outcomes through the OBOR initiative.
In-depth analysis of risks and challenges resulting from the B&R initiative as well as prospects for achieving higher level of economic prosperity by the participating countries, including Sri Lanka, were among the main topics of discussion.
The B&R initiative, also known as the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, could be considered as China’s grand plan for economic and social development of the countries along the OBOR. This initiative gives priority to facilitating multidimensional connectivity among all the participating countries.
It is considered that connectivity is an integral element of building of the B&R initiative. In this context, connectivity includes not only the physical connection of infrastructure but also the soft connection of policies, rules and regulations and people-to-people connections. The first session of the forum was devoted to examining the ways and means of enhancing mutual benefits, on which the keynote presentation was made by former US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman.
He opined that the B&R initiative, though Chinese in origin and concept, has now entered a phase, where broader section of the international community could participate and reap benefits resulting in upliftment of their living standards.
His positive view of the Chinese initiative was particularly interesting as President Xi Jinping in his meeting with President Trump made a request for the United States to participate in the implementation of the B&R initiative.
In addition to the participation in the Belt and Road Forum, the Pathfinder Foundation Executive Director also had discussions with Xu Yongquan, Deputy Director General of China Centre for Contemporary World Studies (CCCWS), a prominent and influential think tank of the Communist Party of China.
During the meeting with Xu, it was agreed that the Pathfinder Foundation and CCCWS would continue to explore the ways and means for strengthening China-Sri Lanka economic and other relations. As a follow up to this discussion and on the recommendation of the CCCWS, the Pathfinder Foundation has already taken steps to join the Silk Road Think Tank Association (SRTA).
In addition, negotiations are underway to conduct a B&R conference with the participation of leading regional think tanks.

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