Ben Hillman (L) with Chinese and Indonesian scholars of Islam, pluralism and religious conflict.

New Silk Roads

15 October 2015

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Dr Ben Hillman is a Senior Lecturer at Crawford School. His research focuses on political change in Asia, democratization, ethnic conflict, post-conflict reconstruction, and comparative local governance.

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In March this year China’s National Development and Reform Commission released plans for implementing the country’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ policy—a grand foreign policy and trade initiative designed to expand land and maritime links with Central, South and Southeast China along historical Silk Road routes.

Initially conceived as a series of mega-infrastructure projects, the One Belt, One Road initiative has evolved into a more ambitious plan for deepening connections between China and the region through trade, policy coordination and expanded people-to-people ties.

In October Crawford School’s Dr Ben Hillman was invited to contribute to a national forum on strategies for realising the One Belt, One road vision. Hosted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in partnership with Yunnan University and the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, the forum examined the opportunities and obstacles China faces in expanding its diplomatic and trade ties with Central, South and Southeast Asia.

At the conference Hillman spoke to Chinese officials and leading scholars about the importance of preparing Chinese youth for greater engagement in the region. He also highlighted the potential for increased cross-border trade to generate new opportunities for ethnic minorities in western China.

However, he argued that much more investment in targeted education programs was essential in order to develop the skills and knowledge needed for closer engagement with the region.

Hillman, who teaches comparative politics in the Policy and Governance Program at Crawford School, also shared his experience in leading a delegation of 16 Indonesian think tanks on a visit to China in May this year.

“The visit was designed to create opportunities for debate on policy issues of common concern and to exchange ideas on running successful think tanks,” he said.

“However, the visit also highlighted how little Chinese and Indonesian scholars knew about each other’s societies. This is something that must be urgently rectified if China is to succeed in strengthening ties with the region.

“China’s brightest students have tended to look toward the US and Europe to further their education and to create international career opportunities, but as China emerges as a regional power, Chinese students need to learn more about the diverse and dynamic societies on their doorstep.

“Chinese universities, especially those at the geographical gateways to the land and maritime Silk Road routes, will need to develop new programs to prepare students for closer engagement with the region. In the meantime, Australian universities with strong academic programs on the societies of East, South and Southeast Asia could help to fill the gap.

“Although Australia is not located along Silk Road routes, Australia will directly benefit from better policy coordination between China and the region and from expanded regional trade. Australia’s political, technical and intellectual capital could be harnessed to build new links in the region.”

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