"The role of human capital in the One Belt, One Road initiative" was the motto of the Third China-Central and Eastern Europe Conference on Cross-Cultural Dialogue, Education and Business that ended on Saturday in the Macedonian town Ohrid.
Although the infrastructure is important, the "One Belt, One Road" initiative is not only about constructing roads and building trade ties, but more importantly, it is about development and sustainability, says professor Chen Xin from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Institute of European Studies during the two-day conference.
"In this regard, the human capital should play a significant role in the Belt and Road Initiative. Human capital can help people understand China more, explore and leverage opportunities for cooperation, join the innovation and technology processes, and enhance sustainable development," he adds.
According to professor Howard A. Davies from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, one of the most significant aspects of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative is truly understanding China. However, media coverage and analysis often remain significantly misinformed.
"Misunderstandings also arise through sloppy thinking, and because China is structurally and culturally different from the U.S. and Europe," professor Davies says.
The infrastructural projects built with Chinese aid are extremely important for the region of Central and Eastern Europe, but we also need educational, scientific and cultural connection, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov admits.
"China once again comes close to the position it had two centuries ago, and that is to be the biggest economy in the world. As a result of this progress, China has made a huge step forward in many other fields," Macedonian President Ivanov says, pointing out that the countries from Central and Eastern Europe can benefit especially from the Chinese accomplishments in the area of technology and innovation.
The experts agree that the increased mutual understanding should be one important dimension of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative. This includes not only increasing the knowledge about China and its potentials, but also rediscovering the cultural potential and social capital of the countries in the region.
"We must accept that the only new thing at the beginning of this Millennium in the Balkans and South East Europe is China. I would say even in Europe and in the wider world as a new proactive socio-economic and political player. Especially for us in the Balkans and South East Europe, it will lead to deep cultural, economic as well as geopolitical and geostrategic tectonic changes," Ljubomir Kekenovski, professor at the Faculty of Economics in Skopje explains.
According to his analysis, the countries in the region should respond to these changes in three ways - through using the financial support for infrastructural projects, by researching the positive background and tradition of the cultural potential of the region to respond in an adequate way to this initiative and with developing active role of educational institutions in supporting and developing this project to maximize its value.
The conference was co-organized by Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje (Macedonia), the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), as well as by the prominent Chinese universities: Southwestern University of Finance and Economics from Chengdu and Shanghai University of International Business & Economics from Shanghai. Further, the conference was also supported by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Institute for European Studies in Beijing.
University professors from Macedonia, China, the United States, Australia, Serbia, Romania, India, Hungary, Slovenia etc attended the conference.
Although the focus of the conference was to bring a different aspect to the Chinese role in the region of Central and Eastern Europe, the Macedonian media, when reporting the event, still mainly focused on the Beijing's interest to offer financial support for infrastructure projects. The role of human capital has so far remained mostly unexplored in the context of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative.
"We still need to open our minds for more deeply studying this initiative from all aspects," professor Kekenovski concludes.
The One Belt, One Road initiative, launched in 2013, involves 16 Central and Eastern European countries. The previouis conferences within the initiative were held in Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, and Krakow, the second largest city of Poland.