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Sustainable Silk Roads’ conference takes place at McEwan Hall


A two-day conference exploring China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was hosted by the Confucius Institute for Scotland on October 4 and 5 at the University of Edinburgh’s McEwan Hall.

Discussing one of the greatest government-designed economic initiatives in the world, businesses, academics, policy-makers and students were among those who attended the event.

Described by the Institute as “one of the most significant and substantial investment and development programmes to come out of China in modern times”, the BRI is a large-scale economic strategy that was originally outlined by China’s President Xi Jingping in 2015.

The BRI aims to revitalise the Silk Road spirit on multiple social, cultural and economic grounds. Such reinvigoration would strengthen economic cooperation and sustainable development works across the globe.

The conference started with an opening address by Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the UK and alumnus of the University. Other speakers also included Chen Liming, Chief Executive of International Business Machines (IBM) China, as well as Jin Xu, Minister Counsellor of the Economic and Commercial Office of the Chinese Embassy.

The two-day event was mainly composed of discussion panels and parallel workshops on various themes that are especially prevalent in the BRI endeavor. Topic areas included energy, green buildings and infrastructure, smart data-mobility and water.

The significance of holding such a conference in Edinburgh was partly to remind conference attendees of the necessity for international cooperation in an increasingly interdependent world. Sino-Scottish relations have strong future prospects. One exemplar of such international cooperation is evidenced through the establishment of The Low Carbon College (LCC) this year between the University of Edinburgh and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Combining China’s great challenge to strive for low-carbon innovation, and the wealth of practical research that the university institutions have cultivated, the LCC aims to “provide an effective bridge between Scotland and China to translate, transfer and exchange ideas, technologies and partnerships”, explained Ed Craig, Deputy Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation.

Likewise, Professor Zhen Huang, Vice-President of Shanghai Jiao Tong University stated that the LCC would come to be a “very important partnership”, noting positive prospective outlooks.

One example of a partnership looking to share its innovative ideas in China is UK business Dryden Aqua. The business promotes sustainable technology through promoting a filtration system without control systems nor valves.

Sarah, a second year International Relations student, was one of the participants of the conference, who was keen to get exposure to real-world examples of what she is studying in her degree, especially in relation to international cooperation.

Speaking to The Student, Sarah said that her “Chinese heritage and interest in sustainable development made this conference extremely relevant” to herself.

Noting Brown’s keynote speech in particular as “truly inspiring”, Sarah said that the speech, “gave an idyllic picture of our future as a globalised world.

“The Belt and Road Initiative, when completed, will be the largest infrastructure project in the globe. It involves over 60 countries, and would drastically shift the economic landscape of Asia.

“Brown spoke primarily about interdependence and the need for a strong political relationship between China and much of the Western world.”

Sarah continued, “I attended the energy panel, and enjoyed discussing the ways that the BRI can be developed in an energy-sustainable way.

“The panel assessed this issue through perspectives of professionals in varied positions — lenses through an academic, an engineering consultant and an insurance worker.”

Image: kaysgeog @flickr


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