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Point of convergence

BEIJING, April 12, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — A news report from chinadaily.com.cn:

Point of convergence
Point of convergence

Yunnan, a province in Southwest China, shares borders and cultural affinity with Southeast Asia, and ancient trade routes such as the ancient Southern Silk Road and the Tea Horse Road have facilitated economic and cultural exchanges between Yunnan and these regions. Yunnan has been a well-deserved regional trade and cultural center between China and the Indochina Peninsula. Since the 1980s, Yunnan has been at the forefront of China’s opening-up. In 1992, Yunnan participated in the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation (GMS), taking advantage of its geographical location to initiate China’s involvement in the regional integration processes of Southeast Asia. Since the 21st century, the scope of Yunnan’s openness has expanded from South and Southeast Asia to the Pacific and Indian Ocean, as well as the Middle East and Africa, making it one of the most international provinces in China.

With its increasingly prominent role as a hub linking South and Southeast Asia, Yunnan serves as the overlapping intersection in the process of community building on various levels; for example, the building of a community with a shared future for mankind, the Asia-Pacific community with a shared future, and the China-ASEAN community with a shared future, as well as the ChinaCambodia, ChinaLaos, ChinaMyanmar, ChinaThailand, and ChinaVietnam bilateral communities with a shared future. Based on its abundant biodiversity resources, Yunnan is also becoming the gateway for China’s initiatives to promote a community with a shared future for all life on earth.

The advantages of Yunnan’s multi-dimensional convergence are reflected in four aspects:

First, Yunnan has become an increasingly prominent hub in the southwest direction of the Belt and Road Initiative over the past decade, and its important gateway role in deepening exchanges and cooperation between China, and South and Southeast Asia has been continuously highlighted in China’s foreign policies. Currently, the bilateral provincial cooperation mechanisms between Yunnan and five Mekong countries have been fully established.

Second, Yunnan has formed a framework of inner-outer integration. Yunnan is located at the center of Asia’s five-hour aviation circle, and at the intersection of ASEAN 10+1 Free Trade Area, GMS economic cooperation, and the Pan-Pearl River Delta Economic Zone. The China-Laos Railway, ChinaEurope freight train, and the new western land-sea corridor, enable Yunnan to smoothly connect itself with the six corridors and routes of the BRI. The ChinaVietnam, ChinaLaos, and ChinaMyanmar international expressways have empowered Yunnan as a pan-Asian transportation hub. Southeast Asian countries can enter western China through Yunnan, connecting to the second Eurasian Continental Bridge. This will be a spectacular continental “bridge”, connecting Asia, Europe, and Africa, bridging the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Ocean.

Third, Yunnan is a crucial pivot point in the Yangtze River Economic Belt, linking South and Southeast Asian market with the internal markets of China, which enables production factors from surrounding areas to converge in Yunnan. In 2023, the total trade between Yunnan province and the five Mekong countries reached about $15 billion, and the province has established cross-border renminbi settlement channels with a total of 120 countries and regions. Furthermore, Yunnan has gradually formed a value chain optimization and restructuring system led by the China (Yunnan) Pilot Free Trade Zone.

Fourth, Yunnan is the preferred destination for students from South Asia and Southeast Asia studying in China, and the Yunnan-Mekong Vocational Education Training Base has trained over 55,000 Southeast Asian students. In addition, the secretariat of South and Southeast Asian University Network, as well as the national focal point of the GMS Knowledge Network, are both in Yunnan University, which enhances the systematic knowledge-sharing on development experiences and policy lessons among China and South and Southeast Asia.

In the future, Yunnan’s opening-up can focus on cultivating the soft power that brings together all kinds of communities with a shared future.

First, Yunnan should continuously leverage the Lancang-Mekong corridor as a long-term strategic pivot, and closely interact with domestic development policies. Especially, Yunnan should focus on logistics corridors connecting Asia and Europe, as well as the new western land-sea corridor, with strategic development plans for integrating energy and computing power.

Second, given the importance of understanding the world when implementing the BRI, it’s crucial to strengthen area studies to adopt a “one country, one policy “approach. With its numerous universities, Yunnan has distinct advantages in the research on Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Based on that, developing and synthesizing policy advice on key issues related to greater regional development should be one of the priority issues for Yunnan’s area studies.

Third, Chinese language education and promotion is essential for China’s international communication in the coming decades. Yunnan has wide exposure to the outside world, and can develop new models for rapid Chinese language learning through industry-academia-research collaboration in order to enhance the capacity of Chinese international communication.

Last but not least, a global ecological civilization center should also be proposed in the near future. Given its abundant biodiversity resources, Yunnan has unique advantages in establishing a global or China-ASEAN ecological civilization center. By conducting interdisciplinary research and human resource development, Yunnan can assume a leading role in experience and knowledge sharing on environmental protection and the building of an ecological civilization.

In a word, Yunnan will enhance its soft power on convergence, and contribute significantly to achieving more integrated, prosperous, sustainable and inclusive development in the region and beyond.

The authors are Zhai Kun and Zhang Lei. Zhai Kun is a professor at the School of International Studies and deputy director of the Institute of Area Studies at Peking University. Zhang Lei is an associate professor at the Institute of International Studies of Yunnan University.

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