Nicholas Rosellini: Annual meeting of the Silk Road Think Tank Network

May 16, 2017


Annual meeting of the Silk Road Think Tank Network (SiLKS), 2017

Excellency Mr. Li Wei, President of the Development Research Center of the State Council of China,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning! I’m very delighted to be here and join you all at this annual meeting of the Silk Road Think Tank Network (SiLKS). Today’s meeting is an important event on the margins of the Belt and Road Forum, where countries have come together for dialogue on cooperation through connectivity. Today, think tanks from all over the world are gathering to discuss an important pillar to support the BRI implementation, which is how to manage knowledge and experiences to contribute to development outcomes, and what roles think tanks could play.  

The BRI is a welcome contribution to strengthening multilateralism and connectivity among countries. The timing is important. It comes at a time when the idea of a global community is facing growing pushback. It also comes at a time of a new, very ambitious global development agenda – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – the SDGs.

The SDGs are ambitious in three dimensions. As a development agenda, it is broad, holistic; in terms of partnership, it involves all parts of society – public, private and civil; and in terms of financial resources.

The BRI responds across all three dimensions and can act as an acceleration for achieving the SDGs if implemented appropriately. The good news is that as we heard from President Xi and other leaders at BRI, there is the interest to integrate the principles of social and environmental sustainability into BRI projects. This means that BRI is set to be a transformative development agenda among partner countries.

What are the implications for policy research and analysis? First, there are no universal solutions for BRI partner countries. There is a diversity of country needs and interests. There is also a diversity of country institutional, policy and regulatory capacities. Some countries are looking for solutions for today’s problems – poverty, inequality, access to social services – where China’s highly successful experience of the past 20-30 years is highly relevant. Other countries are looking to the future and want to exchange experience on the sharing economy, mobile payments, robotics and automation etc.

Second, we need process innovations. BRI brings together a multitude of different funding sources to look at connectivity in a comprehensive way. SDGs are a holistic, closely linked development agenda. The traditional silos in terms of sectors, partnerships, resources are breaking down and the work of think tanks has to reflect this.

Increasingly, research work needs to target development outcomes in socio-economic and environmental terms. For example, research in trade should not only examine economic impact but also look at social and environmental implications. The call for ‘shared prosperity’; the call ‘to leave no one behind’ – both point to the need for more holistic approaches that focus on longer term end states that promote the overall wellbeing of people and societies.

This inclusivity will also require multi-stakeholder involvement, ranging from national and local government to academia and private sector and to CSOs and the public. Analysis and recommendation by think tanks should accommodate more voices and take perspectives from multiple lenses.

UNDP is closely involved in research and analysis for policy coordination and experience sharing around the Belt and Road. We have been working with the DRC to analyze the framework of the SDGs and BRI linkages, and we have just launched with the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE) the Global Governance Report to address how trade, investment and finance policies deepen connectivity among BRI countries.

Along the same line, our collaboration with China Development Bank (CDB) has led to the research on global trade patterns and industrial structures that help reveal economic complementarity among BRI countries. We have also undertaken “Sustainable Business Abroad” report with State owned Asset Supervision and Administration Commission, for the purpose to help investment and business in generating development dividends through responsible investment.

We also have long standing partnership with DRC for knowledge work, of which the SiLKS is an important outcome. UNDP is happy to offer support to SiLKS as a founding partner, and by facilitating a Global Coalition of Think Tank Networks for South-South and Triangular Cooperation.

Having moved this far on our joint journey, I wish to propose a few suggestions for SiLKS to pursue effective output, for all SiLKS members’ considerations:

1.     Collaborative research agenda

SiLKS members can cooperate to provide a few in-depth analysis and concrete policy recommendations on the sustainable implementation of the BRI, in particular identifying gaps and opportunities for China and the other BRI countries to expand and deepen development cooperation in alignment with the SDGs implementation process;

2.     Demand mapping

SiLKS may map the demand for knowledge exchange assessment, prediction, planning, and monitoring support for BRI projects and BRI development needs.;

3.     New research agenda

SiLKS members need more frequent exchange to jointly explore new areas of BRI research, such as the potential to apply Chinese experiences on e-commerce, mobile finance service, and pilot free trade zones to countries along the Belt and Road.

In conclusion, I would like to once again thank our partner DRC for initiating and organizing this network. I trust think tanks have much to contribute to the implementation of the BRI and the SDGs. I wish to have fruitful discussion today with your collective wisdom and all the best to future endeavor of the SiLKS.

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