"I see the Belt and Road initiative as a soft power infrastructure – to provide younger generations the knowledge, values and openness of mind to shape more inclusive and peaceful societies, to master the language of diversity, to navigate across cultures,” said the Director-General, the first speaker in the thematic session on people-to-people connectivity, which included statements by the principals of the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Tourism Organization.
In his keynote opening the thematic session, Mr Tao Song, Minister for International Development of the CPC Central Committee affirmed that stronger bonds between people holds the key to the success of the Belt and Road Initiative. This calls for deepening mutual learning, nurturing cultural inclusion and advocating for dialogue, diversity and mutual respect, he said.
The Director-General recalled that “over millennia, the wondrous story of the Silk Roads has been one of encounters – between people, cultures, religions and knowledge. These encounters have shaped civilizations over the ages, catalyzing inventions, fertilizing intellectual scholarships. The Silk Roads tell a story of human progress driven by mutual learning and remind us that no culture has ever flourished in isolation.”
The “Silk Roads: Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor,” a transnational inscription on the World Heritage List in 2014 testifies to the wealth of these exchanges. “When violent extremists seek to destroy our common heritage and divide people along cultural and religious lines, we need such striking examples to highlight the power of culture as a force for dialogue, growth and social cohesion.”
Ms Bokova drew attention to UNESCO’s initiatives to promote knowledge about the Silk Roads through an online platform and Interactive Atlas of Cultural Interactions, building on the pioneering initiative launched in 1988 that resulted in scientific expeditions and a large body of research. “I am convinced we can do more, harnessing science and innovation, capitalizing on UNESCO’s network of Biosphere Reserves, to nurture the next generation of Silk Road citizens,” she said.
In his opening address, President Xi Jinping recalled that “the history of the Silk Roads shows that civilization thrives with openness and nations prosper through exchange. He affirmed that historical and cultural heritage should be fully tapped to protect heritage that preserve the distinctive features of the Silk Road and develop tourism.” The Belt and Road aims to “connect different civilizations and ensure that exchanges will replace estrangement with mutual learning, respect and trust among different countries,” he said.
President Xi outlined measures to take forward the Initiative launched in 2013, including through boosting educational and cultural exchanges, cooperation on science, technology and innovation, platforms on environmental protection, support to countries adapting to climate change and the launch of an international coalition for green development on the Belt and Road. “We should make economic globalization more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial to all,” he said.
Leader after leader highlighted the Initiative’s potential for poverty alleviation, job creation and strengthened global cooperation.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasized the synergies between the 2030 Agenda and the Belt and Road Initiative, stating that both have sustainable development as an overarching objective and highlighting the overarching need to deepen connectivity among people. “The Belt and Road Initiative is rooted in a shared vision for global development. A multipolar world means multilateral cooperation and governance to face common threats and seize common opportunities,” he said. United Nations General Assembly President Peter Thomson affirmed that the Initiative is a partnership that will boost the achievement of the universal Sustainable Development Goals.
The Belt and Road Forum, organized by the Government of China on the theme of Cooperation for Common Prosperity, aims to promote development, growth and partnerships across 65 countries, accounting for over 60% of the global population, connected by ancestral ties to the Silk Roads. It takes forward the Belt and Road Initiative, launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013 to facilitate connectivity, trade, financial integration, policy coordination and people-to-people bonds, in view of building ‘a community of common interests.’ This has since led to ambitious infrastructure development projects and a range of measures to deepen connectivity.