Bridging cultures and economies
His Excellency Wang Kejian presents the “Belt and Road Initiative” that will revive the ancient Silk Road, benefiting both China and Lebanon.
On Tuesday, September 19, lecture hall 904 of the Adnan Kassar School of Business was filled to overflowing, as approximately 200 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and numerous dignitaries gathered for a lecture by His Excellency Wang Kejian, ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Lebanon. The ambassador delivered a presentation on the “Belt and Road Initiative” — Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road — China’s massive infrastructure project meant to tie together at least 60 countries along the path of the ancient Silk Road that had connected the Chinese and Roman Empires more than 2,000 years ago.
An endeavor such as the Belt and Road Initiative “has never been done before, and Wang Kejian is a strong supporter and advocate of the initiative,” said LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra as he introduced the ambassador. Jabbra also emphasized Kejian’s deep roots in the Middle East, as he had previously served in Egypt and as ambassador to Syria from 2014 to 2016. Proving the point, His Excellency garnered enthusiastic applause from the audience for his unexpected decision to deliver the presentation in Arabic.
Backed by the recently created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — in which China is the main shareholder — the Belt and Road Initiative is projected to pour trillions of dollars into transportation, energy, power, telecommunications, health and education along six land corridors, complemented by a maritime “Silk Road” running from the Chinese Coast through Singapore to the Mediterranean. “It’s a win-win situation,” stressed Kejian, as China’s profits from the initiative are projected to go along with a general rise in prosperity in participating countries.
The proposed benefits are not limited to the economic realm. According to Nashat Mansour, dean of LAU’s School of Arts & Sciences, the Chinese government thinks “that so many countries participating in this humungous project will lead to peace and cooperation, to the common betterment of all the participants.” For example, the Chinese have recently offered to assist the Lebanese government in dealing with the continuing Syrian refugee crisis, cooperation that in this case would have both economic and humanitarian benefits.
Ambassador Kejian himself expressed a firm belief that “the initiative will serve the mutual interests of China and Lebanon,” and strongly encouraged businessmen, politicians and young people to explore ways in which this framework would benefit the two countries.
Students attending the lecture appeared ready to hear the message. “I work at a bank and we are constantly making transfers to China,” said M.B.A. student Noura Ibrahim. “It is obvious the bond between Lebanon and China is growing, and that Lebanon is already benefiting from it.”
The bond has been strengthened, among other things, by the personal efforts of H.E. Adnan Kassar, chairman of Fransabank, in whose honor the LAU business school is named. Kassar, who had only recently returned from a business trip to China, was present at the lecture. In his view, LAU’s efforts in reaching out to the embassy and positioning the university to be actively involved in the Belt and Road Initiative has great strategic value, as “China has proven to be a friend of the Arab world, and of the Lebanese people especially.”
The presentation by the Chinese ambassador forms part of LAU’s wider policy of forging strong connections with foreign embassies present in the country. “It’s always important to have connections and to network, not just with individuals but also with governments,” said Saad El Zein, assistant to LAU president for special projects, who organized Kejian’s visit. “It is very important for us to have our voice heard by the embassies, and to increase our partnerships in different areas.”
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