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"Implications of the One Belt, One Road Initiative for Europe and the Eurasian Continent" – Speech by Secretary of State at the conference "Inventory on the OBOR"

02.02.2016 - Speech

Ms Schetelig,
Mr Baron,
Professor Wang,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you most warmly and to open this conference on China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative. It is a great honour for Germany to host this event today.

I would like to highlight a few points in view of possible implications of this initiative for Europe and the Eurasian continent.

The Eurasian continent is coming more and more into focus as a geopolitical space: it is the biggest landmass on our planet and with an estimated 4.7 billion inhabitants home to about two thirds of the world’s population. It is in fact becoming a massive space for cooperation!

In the past few years the EU has done a lot to promote better connectivity – amongst its member states as well as with its neighbours and with the neighbours of those neighbours. The European Neighbourhood Policy aims to connect the countries east of the EU more closely to Europe – economically, politically and also with regard to infrastructure. The EU’s Central Asia policy shares the same goal: bringing Central Asia and Europe closer to each other. So does the EU’s Russia policy: its overarching aim, current problems not withstanding, is to improve relations with our biggest neighbour. Cooperative integration is our core principle, meaning that both sides have to work together in order to come together.

Now China has developed its own such policy in the form of its New Silk Road initiative “One Belt, One Road”. OBOR aims to promote economic ties between China and the wider region. Central Asia and the Eurasian continent as a whole is one of the main focuses of OBOR. OBOR is intended to improve connectivity – not only in transport but also in the energy and IT sectors – in order to promote trade, financial cooperation and policy coordination.

OBOR is an important vision for the Eurasian continent, looking from East to West. From our perspective, looking from West to East, it interacts with the European Neighbourhood Policy and Central Asia Strategy to generate a broader framework and serves some of our policies and aspirations with regard to China, thus adding a new dimension to EU-China relations.

We welcome the resolution and effectiveness with which China is putting its vision of Eurasia into practice. By setting up not only the Silk Road Fund but also the AIIB – the first international financial institution of its own conception – China has created an important tool with which to realise important projects within the New Silk Road initiative. Europe also has its own financial means and banks to support projects in its territory and its neighbourhood.

But finance is not the only challenge. We are talking about a vast region with many states and governments, many specific interests and also important security issues. Neither the EU nor China can overcome these challenges alone. Moreover, various models of integration exist in the region, like the Eurasian Economic Union, SCO and OBOR as well as the European Neighbourhood Policy. We are not the only player, and countries in between sometimes feel uncomfortable.

Therefore, we have decided to cooperate more closely with regional organisations like the OSCE. We have chosen connectivity as an important theme of Germany’s OSCE Chairmanship in 2016.

Coordinating the various integration processes in adjacent geographical regions is in the EU’s interest, in China’s interest and especially in the interest of the countries in between – which are all participating states of the OSCE. That is why we have invited China to our OSCE Connectivity Conference with the business sector in Berlin on 18 and 19 May.

As a forum and platform for dialogue, the OSCE can help build bridges in the Eurasian area.

A business-driven dialogue on connectivity can identify synergies, facilitate trade, and build trust and confidence. And it makes sense to link initiatives in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – whether business-driven or public sector-driven – with initiatives coming from China or from the EU and to bring all the relevant stakeholders to one table.

Ladies and gentlemen,

OBOR is now a central element in Chinese foreign policy and is so well known today that it has become nearly a household name. But many still regard OBOR critically, and sceptical observers see it as a project that primarily serves China’s interests and does not really foresee win-win relationships.

Some say the main goal is to create new markets for China through economic penetration. Some say it is just a way to export Chinese surplus; some say it was only designed to develop China’s weaker regions through better regional integration. And some say OBOR is just another way to establish China’s centrality vis-à-vis its neighbours – that it is an empty political tool.

With regard to all this scepticism, I am very happy that we are holding this conference today to shed some light on the actual substance and state of implementation of projects.

I am happy to welcome our colleague Alain Baron from the EU Commission. He is responsible for the EU-China Connectivity Platform – which we fully support! The EU-China Connectivity Platform was established to bring the EU’s vision for connecting the Eurasian continent together with the Chinese vision.

How can we make sure that Chinese infrastructure plans actually connect with European infrastructure plans? And how can we make sure that fair rules and common standards for all players are set and met? How can we ensure equal access to projects and joint decision-making? The first meeting of the Platform just took place in Brussels at the end of January. I am already very interested to hear about the dialogue and its initial results!

I am also very happy to welcome Prof. Wang Yiwei, whom I know already well from my time as EU Ambassador to China. He is one of the leading Chinese experts on OBOR, with close ties to the Chinese Government. He will present current Chinese plans and project designs and talk about financing (e.g. through the Silk Road Fund and the AIIB) as well as the role of regional organisations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

He will counter the arguments of the sceptics by explaining where we stand, what has been achieved – and, especially importantly, how we can make sure that the whole undertaking is really win-win for all participants, governments and businesses alike.

This brings me to the business sector. Last but not least, I welcome Ms Patricia Schetelig from the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and the Asia-Pacific Committee of German Business (APA).

She is going to give an introduction to the expectations and interests of the German business community with regard to OBOR-related projects.

And I am happy to see many representatives here today from various businesses, who will be able to bring in their point of view.

Let me wrap up by saying that we share the vision of a more closely connected Eurasian continent – stretching from the EU all the way to China. We see huge economic and political potential for cooperation. We see prospects for trade, growth and for more exchange among our peoples.

But we will only be able to reap the benefits of such unprecedented cooperation if it is based on mutual gains and benefit, which means transparency, common standards and rules that guarantee equal access to opportunities for all participants!

I wish all of today’s participants an excellent and fruitful exchange! Thank you for your interest and for your active engagement.

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