On a Wednesday night at the China Oil & Foodstuff Corporation’s (COFCO) training facility located on the outskirts of Beijing, representatives from China’s 23 provinces shared with us their best ideas to promote China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative or the New Silk Road, a cornerstone of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy and economic strategy. Never heard of it? Let me fill you in.
President Xi first floated the idea in 2013 during his visit to Kazakhstan. It is an ambitious plan to build a vast, new network of roads, railways, pipelines and shipping lanes connecting China to Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa, and Europe.
And there is real money behind the idea. The new Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) will dedicate $100 billion and China’s own Silk Road Foundation another $40 billion to finance the infrastructure projects that stretch from Xian to Rotterdam. But it will take more than money to build the New Silk Road.
Back in Beijing, we listened and learned how each province plans to contribute, what role they might play in the grand plan, and the challenges they face domestically and from international neighbors. The evening of brainstorming reminded me of a fast pitch competition of entrepreneurs honing their skills to sell what may be the most important initiative of Xi’s term.
The gathering was a pivotal moment in our week-long executive course in Public Governance and Strategic Communication, hosted by the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and the China Development Research Foundation, a Chinese think tank. Our message of placing “Strategic Communication at the Center” of every project clearly resonated with the 40 participants who came from various branches of the Chinese government including the State Council, the China National Nuclear Corporation, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, SASAC which overseas state owned enterprises, and media.
Our team of experts included Dean Ernest J. Wilson III, professors Francois Bar, Patricia Riley, Rebecca Weintraub, Jay Wang and myself from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and Sina Odugbemi from the World Bank.
The participants who attended our training understand that strategic communication must play a critical role in building the New Silk Road in order to succeed. They know it will take a strategic communication plan that identifies, listens and addresses the concerns of stakeholders, both inside and outside China. It will take a strategic communication plan to leverage the support of allies and mitigate the negative impact of critics. Success requires China to look outward and demonstrate true collaboration in a plan that could change the face of Asia and beyond.