The second Silk Road NGO Cooperation Network Forum was held in Beijing on April 27 and 28. 170 Chinese and international NGOs from 22 countries and areas participated in the forum. Over the next two years, the Cooperation Network has committed to emphasize the “Silk Road Family” initiative (丝路一家亲), promote the establishment of 500 NGO partnerships between Silk Road participating countries and China, and carry out 200 “livelihood projects” (民生项目)。
The minister of the Central Committee of CPC International Department Song Tao commented during the Forum that in order for cooperative development between China and the countries of the former Silk Road to take place, people from all walks of life need to participate, and the public needs to understand and support the initiative. He added that by creating a platform of cooperation between NGOs, the Cooperation Network will provide useful experience in NGO exchanges. At the same time, it will also help to win general public approval towards the Belt and Road initiative and develop friendship between different nationalities. Song Tao also commented that NGOs should emphasize not just economic development, but also the cultural aspects of exchange.
Cooperation between NGOs from the Silk Road countries was first mentioned at the first Belt and Road International Cooperation Forum opening ceremony in 2017. In the past two years, 310 members from 69 countries have already joined the Cooperation Network. 173 are international NGOs, and 137 are Chinese.
During the opening ceremony the Deputy Minister of the International Department, consultant for the China NGO Network for International Exchange and chairman of the steering committee of the Cooperation Network Wang Yajun stated that in the past two years, more than 200 cooperative exchange livelihood projects have been held by NGOs in the fields of poverty alleviation, education, and medical care. In 2018, more than ten Chinese members of the Cooperation Network organized a collective “going-out” program to Cambodia and Nepal, where they began livelihood projects with local NGOs and signed a 6 million USD cooperation agreement.
At the opening ceremony, some of the delegates claimed that the NGO Cooperation Network is a platform for popular will, and should focus on developing “small but efficient” (小而美、小而精) livelihood projects. Chairman of the Overseas Chinese Charity Foundation of China (OCCFC) Qiao Wei stated that since 2014, when the OCCFC began working with Silk Road participant countries, what left the largest impression on him was organizing a team of medical professionals to do cataract surgery on people in need in Myanmar. Qiao stated that he once personally removed an eye bandage from a patient after recovery, and the first thing the man said was “thank you China”.
Qiao Wei commented further, stating that the goals for the organization in Myanmar are to continue to deepen cooperation with local NGOs, provide training to local medical professionals, and possibly build a health center. The organization must continue to make more effort to win people’s hearts, he emphasized.
An article by Dong Qiang, a professor at the China Agricultural University and the China Institute for South-South Cooperation in Agriculture, appeared in 公益慈善周刊 on the 28th, commenting on the significance of the forum. Professor Dong claims that as the “Silk Road Family” initiative calls for 500 partnerships to be made between Chinese and Silk Road country NGOs, its easy to see that the Chinese Government is encouraging partnerships in the NGO sector among Silk Road countries, even giving a numeric requirement. Only through these kinds of partnerships can the Belt and Road initiative enter the grassroots level of society and only through the “livelihood projects” is the Belt and Road guaranteed to win the hearts of the people at the grassroots level.
Dong also commented that according to research in the Belt and Road countries, the need for NGO work is especially pressing in South Asian and South East Asian countries. Considering also that the environmental regulations in these countries are lax and the cost of running projects is low, these two areas will probably be the primary destination of Chinese NGOs “going out”. The Silk Road NGO Cooperation Network Forum held on the 27th is an important assurance of cooperation between NGOs of Silk Road countries.
Dong remains very optimistic on the development of Chinese NGOs abroad. He wrote that both the first and the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation give plenty of reasons to believe that China will pursue a policy supportive of NGOs going out and help NGOs to win people’s hearts abroad. He goes so far as to predict that the next five years will be a “historical era for NGOs”, as a large scale “going out” will take place.