Joseph Chinyong Liow, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences of the Nanyang Technological University, speaks in an interview at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, April 8, 2019. (Xinhua/Then Chih Wey)
China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is both important and significant for Asia's development, as many countries in the region need to improve their infrastructures urgently for economic enhancement, a Singaporean expert told Xinhua in an interview.
These countries are across Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central Asia, said Joseph Chinyong Liow, Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences of the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. Liow is scheduled to participate in the Thematic Forum on Think-Tank Exchanges of the Second Belt and Road Forum for International cooperation to be held later this month in Beijing.
Infrastructure facilities would help to connect the countries in the region to the global supply chain, whether through maritime or overland transportation, he explained. However, there are many societies in Asia which are very isolated from the rest of the world and difficult to reach.
While the coastal cities in China are quite advanced and developed, its vast inland areas have lagged behind due to their infrastructural backwardness, he pointed out, adding that China has gained experience and know-hows in addressing its infrastructural problems domestically with the improvement of technology and equipment.
"Many other countries share the same problems as China's, and China could use its expertise on infrastructure to help those countries,"Liow said with reference to the Belt and Road Initiative.
For examples, Central Asia, bestowed with bountiful natural resources such as the natural gases, would be unable to extract and market these resources without good infrastructure facilities; whereas trading is important for Southeast Asian countries but good ports are the important prerequisites, according to Liow.
In Liow's opinion, China is both resourceful and willing to assist Asian neighbors and beyond with the Belt and Road Initiative, and it's "not just good but quite necessary for regional development," the professor noted, adding that "the potential China can contribute is very significant".
For instance, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries are working towards their connectivity, and China can contribute to connectivity across all the ASEAN states, both physical and digital ones.
ASEAN is going to build a Smart-City's network, and one aspect of the network is e-commerce, an area China is very advanced in. China can assist ASEAN in constructing this network with its technologies and experience.
Even though China and some Southeast Asian countries have some disagreements over the South China Sea issue, ASEAN and China should still proceed with cooperation in other areas, he said.
Besides connectivity, Liow pointed out that infrastructure construction brings about economic opportunities. "When you build a train station, there are a lot of economic opportunities coming along the train station, such as selling products, loading and unloading as well as tourism that will create jobs," he said.
"If China builds a railway linking an inland Chinese city to Kazakhstan, look at China's investment, look at what can be built around the stations, for example a small industrial park or a small shopping area, and look at the kind of employment opportunities it can provide to the local community with several stations, we can come up with a picture of how a railway can create economic and job opportunities. People would know how much the initiative can contribute to the local community,"he added.
From Singapore's perspective, Singapore is supportive of the initiative, and has indicated to China that Singapore is happy to provide financial and legal services in the BRI projects.
That's why Singapore joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and set up a new office Infrastructure Asia in October last year under the leadership of Enterprise Singapore and the Monetary Authority of Singapore to help facilitate infrastructure investment and projects including BRI projects, Liow elaborated.
Statistics from the official website of Infrastructure Asia show Asia's need for infrastructure is more urgent than ever, as economies expand rapidly and the population of urban residents rises by a staggering 1.4 billion in the next two decades. This means more roads, more homes and more physical facilities.
Singapore and China have worked together on many inter-governmental projects, from the Suzhou Industrial Park in eastern China to the Chongqing Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity in western China, and we can build on that co-operative experience to explore the third-party market on building industrial parks or infrastructure facilities, Chinyong Liow concluded.