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Belt and Road story has to be better told

   China Daily   14:58, March 22, 2019

Improving the narrative of the Chinese initiative is of great importance for people around the world to perceive it appropriately

Since it was first proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative has become China's most important external initiative. On the one hand, the five connectivities of policies, infrastructure, trade, finance and people have all witnessed tangible results for both China and the participating countries. On the other hand, there are still misperceptions and misunderstandings of the initiative.

To change this situation, improving the narrative concerning the Belt and Road Initiative is of great importance for people to perceive it appropriately and hence strengthen the people-to-people connectivity between China and the rest of the world.

It is well known that how a story is told is a very important factor in how it is received, as it subjectively shapes and constructs meanings.

Belt and Road story has to be better told

When the Belt and Road Initiative was first proposed, the Western world described it as a new Marshall Plan. Such an analogy presents an inaccurate understanding of the initiative. The spirit of the Belt and Road Initiative, how it is being implemented, and the means to push it forward are all different from the Marshall Plan. If its narrative is better told, people might understand it better.

The Belt and Road Initiative's narrative determines people's understanding of it. If the narrative is not appropriate, it is very likely to lead to a wrong understanding. Such a phenomenon is even more common in cross-cultural communication due to differences in history, tradition and even different ways of thinking and acting.

The Belt and Road Initiative is a new narrative, so the requirements are even higher. For instance, China has emphasized many times that the Belt and Road Initiative is a symphony performed by all participating countries not a solo by China. Such language helps people better understand that the success of the Belt and Road Initiative needs the joint action of both China and participating countries, which is based on the spirit of mutual consultation, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation. It is of great importance to reflect on how to improve the narrative of the Belt and Road Initiative for a worldwide audience.

Although it has been more than five years since the Belt and Road Initiative was launched, many people around the world still don't understand its real essence. Actually, the Belt and Road is a kind of public good that China is providing to the world. It links China's development with that of other countries. It is a mechanism and platform to promote cooperation between China and the participating countries. With the world facing increasing uncertainties and turbulence, the initiative sends an important message to the world.

The initiative emphasizes equality. All countries can join in, no matter whether they are rich or poor, strong or weak. The initiative is based on the willingness of each country and all countries contribute to and benefit from the platform equally. Besides, the initiative emphasizes openness, encouraging partner countries to combine their own comparative advantages, narrow development gaps, accelerate regional integration and achieve common development and prosperity. It means linking Asia and Europe, but also extends to Africa and Latin America.

In this sense, it is also a new round of globalization with Chinese characteristics, in particular when the world is faced with the challenge of anti-globalization and deglobalization.

In addition, the initiative is inclusive. Countries with different social and political systems, different religions and different cultures can all join in; different regional and international organizations can participate as well. Regarding cooperation, there is no fixed standard or rules.

What's more, the initiative aims to promote joint development. Other countries and regions may benefit from China's development through cooperation with it under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. If the initiative can help promote the development of underdeveloped and developing countries and lift them to be middle-income economies, the total development landscape of the world will change.

The Belt and Road Initiative needs people with proficiency in foreign languages. Due to the limited number of foreigners who can communicate in Chinese, the narrative of the Belt and Road Initiative has to rely on communication through foreign languages most of the time, for example, English. High proficiency in a foreign language means effective communication on the world stage regarding agenda setting and rule-making, as well as inspiring ideas. Such high proficiency is needed not only at the government but also at the media and academic levels. High proficiency means understanding the culture behind the foreign language.

The Belt and Road Initiative involves tremendous cross-cultural activities, and cultural awareness and sensitivity are a must for effective communication. High proficiency also means specialists with knowledge of finance, trade, energy, the environment and transportation.

The Belt and Road Initiative has become a very important part of the discourse regarding China, and it has attracted increasing attention from the world. Improving the narrative and telling its stories better will help reduce doubts and questions about the Belt and Road Initiative, and present a better picture to the world, which is of great significance for not only the well-being of the Chinese but also the rest of the world.

The author is professor and vice-president of China Foreign Affairs University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.