The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could serve as a very positive example for two different societies and civilizations working together closely, with respect for each other, said Michael Schaefer, former German ambassador to China.
During his tenure in China from 2007 to 2013, Schaefer witnessed the ever-closer Germany-China political relations, as the two sides established the intergovernmental consultations in 2010.
Schaefer is among the first German politicians to advocate China's BRI.
Proposed by China in 2013, the BRI refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aimed at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa through the revival of ancient trade routes.
"For Europeans, the Belt and Road has a lot of fantasy. It reminds us of Marco Polo, and early merchants from China to this part of the world," said Schaefer. "The concept of linking China and Europe via the old merchant road is fascinating."
Thanks to the China-Europe Railway Express, which is one of the major projects of the BRI, some German cities, such as Duisburg, are reviving with more trade volumes and jobs brought by the increasing trade with China.
The BRI is conceptualized as an integral and systematic project, making policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people bonds key objectives of cooperation between all participating countries and organizations, said Schaefer, who now serves as the chairman of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt.
Schaefer also suggested that China and other countries along the BRI develop a multi-layer approach which includes not only infrastructure projects, but also cooperation in finance and people-to-people contacts, to further connectivity.
"It would be in Chinese interest to interest all the others to actively come into a new form of exchange of goods, peoples and ideas, so that I think it would make the BRI an amazing project of the 21st century," said Schaefer.
In January 2016, Schaefer wrote an article for the Berlin Policy Journal, indicating that China's BRI may well represent an authentic attempt by the world's second largest economy to start this new kind of diplomacy based on inclusiveness, equal opportunity, and respect for the diversity of cultures and political systems. The European Union (EU) should take China's offer seriously and act soon.
Although some European countries still doubt about the BRI, Schaefer believes that China should understand Europe's concerns and be patient with the situation, because China is such a huge country and the political trust-building process takes time.
"Politics is all about trust and perception. When the trust is built, the BRI could be a very positive example of two different societies and civilizations working together closely," said Schaefer.