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Interview: Belt and Road Initiative open to everyone, appeals to Europeans: European scholar

The Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China is open to everyone, and will further advance the interconnected development of Europe and Asia, said a European scholar on Wednesday.

After years of studying the Silk Road, Dutch historian Professor Richard Griffiths shared his insights into the Belt and Road Initiative in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

"It's not just China building this infrastructure; any party can join in," said the British-born academic at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia, Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes.

More than 100 countries and international organizations have responded warmly to the initiative and over 40 of them have signed cooperation agreements with China.

Currently studying Chinese himself, Griffiths first became interested in the initiative after helping set up a Silk Road research unit between Europe and China in 2007.

His research led him to recently write a book titled "Revitalizing the Silk Road: China's Belt and Road Initiative," which will be published later this year.

"I'm an economic historian and I'm interested in questions involving economic development," Griffiths said. "One of the big things is that development in infrastructure promotes economic growth in some cases but not in others."

This led the scholar to see a research opportunity. He saw the Belt and Road as a development project, but so far not much of the literature does looks at it from that perspective.

"I started researching exactly what was happening along these various corridors," Griffiths said. "And trying to see what was being rolled out by the project itself rather than how people were talking about its political dimensions."

In his January 2017 address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Xi announced that the Belt and Road forum for international cooperation will be held in Beijing this May, in order to brainstorm on interconnected development.

For Griffiths, this represented a real opportunity. "There is almost a Eurasian culture waiting to be re-discovered," he said. "I think conferences like this are the start of something like that and I'd love to be part of that process."

"The point of the Silk Road metaphor and why it's so strong is that the actions just occurred almost automatically. The goods traveled, the people each did their little bit, the cars and vans dropped goods off at the markets, and moved them on and that made up the road," he explained.

However, the expert said more could be done for people to have an overall picture of the Silk Road. "At the moment, we're getting a lot of infrastructure projects that are not really connected in that public explanation," Griffiths said.

"That idea (of holding the forum) would strengthen the Chinese story of the Silk Road and help cohere the international activity that the Silk Road will embrace."

Given a unique perspective through his work, Griffiths saw the Belt and Road Initiative as one way to respond to the threat of international protectionism that many analysts fear.

"If a trade war begins, it is important for leading countries to say: 'We won't go with it,'" said Griffiths.

Should the United States try to initiate a trade war with China, it would be important for China not to pass the consequences on to other nations, the historian said. Instead, it should develop "tariff truces" with countries interested in international cooperation.

"If that happens, Chinese leadership can really play an important role in stabilizing the world economy and this conference then will just be part of that," Griffiths said.

He also believed that such a strategy would appeal to Europeans, saying: "The European Union will be very responsive to that kind of move."

European cooperation is of major importance to the success of the Belt and Road Initiative, the expert stressed. He pointed out that one of the problems with infrastructure projects in Europe was that they had to be conducted under European rules and regulations.

"In Europe, if you do an investment project of this nature, it has to be open to competition," Griffiths said.

[Source: By Zhao Xiaona and Jeremy Allan Hawkins, Xinhua, 02Mar17]

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