Building the Silk Super-Highway in Central Asia

Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and Special Adviser of the United Nations Secretary-General for Timor-Leste, delivering statement at meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Tashkent, Uzbekistan , 29 November 2013

Statement as Delivered by Dr. Noeleen Heyzer
United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Executive Secretary of
the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and Special Adviser of the United Nations Secretary-General for Timor-Leste

Meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of
the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
Tashkent, Uzbekistan , 29 November 2013

Honourable Prime Ministers,
Distinguished Heads of Government,
Secretary-General of the SCO,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

It is my great pleasure to address this important meeting, and I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation to the Government and people of Uzbekistan for their warm welcome, and gracious hospitality.

Excellencies,

The Asia-Pacific region holds the key to the economic, social, and environmental future of the world.

In the context of the global economic turbulence, which has become our new normal, the outlook for the advanced economies of the West remains deeply uncertain.

The countries of Asia and the Pacific, as the engines of global economic dynamism, must find new markets, new models, and new ways to grow, if we are to build a more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable future.

In this endeavor, closer cooperation, economic integration, and accelerated connectivity, are amongst the most important regional tools available to address persistent and emerging cross-border development challenges, and to shift old mind-sets from a paradigm of trade-offs, to one of real and lasting partnerships.

Excellencies,

Building the ‘Silk Super-Highway’

As the largest and most inclusive intergovernmental platform for Asia and the Pacific, United Nations ESCAP has been mandated to pursue these goals working with key subregional partners, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This was why, in 2008, ESCAP and SCO signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which now extends to 2015.

ESCAP recently proposed a four-pronged policy agenda to build a more integrated Asia-Pacific region, founded on shared prosperity and social equity. The elements of this agenda include building a broader Asia-Pacific market to connect high- and low-growth countries; ensuring seamless regional connectivity; financial cooperation to better deploy regional savings for productive purposes and closing infrastructure gaps; and providing a coordinated regional response to shared vulnerabilities.

We were therefore very encouraged by the recent proposals of His Excellency, President Xi of China, for the SCO countries to build an “economic belt along the Silk Road” to promote trade, connectivity, prosperity, and understanding – tapping the potential of our landlocked and least-developed Central Asian countries.

With its key location as a land-bridge between Europe and Asia, as well as its vast natural resources, and the dynamism of its people, the development of this subregion is critical to the future success of all of Rising Asia. Together we can do more than revive the Silk Road, we can build a Silk Super-Highway – a corridor of economic prosperity and development progress, which can serve as a model of cooperation.

Excellencies,

Key New Agreement on International Road Transport

ESCAP and our member States have already made great strides on regional connectivity through initiatives such as the Asian Highway and the Trans-Asian Railway networks, and most recently through our Intergovernmental Agreement on Dry Ports which was signed this month by 14 countries, including 3 SCO member States1 . By providing essential links, transport can transform landlocked countries into ‘land-linked’ countries – helping to integrate them with regional and global economies.

Connecting countries with regional engines of economic growth requires more than just the physical infrastructure or hardware of connectivity however. We also need the software of connectivity – harmonization of regulations, training and skills development, and the forging of institutional and people-to-people connections across regional borders.

This is why ESCAP has worked so hard to support the negotiations of the SCO Intergovernmental Agreement on the Facilitation of International Road Transport, and why we will continue to lend our technical assistance and support to SCO member States for its implementation, once it is signed.

Apart from opening more than 15 000 km of Asian Highway routes for transport operation and services, and developing road access for Central Asia to the coast, it will effectively jump-start the lifeblood of traffic along these critical arteries, routes, and feeder-roads of the Silk Super-Highway through the heart of our region.

I wish to take this opportunity, therefore, to express ESCAP’s support for the urgent conclusion of negotiations on this landmark new Agreement.

Excellencies,

Conclusion

In conclusion, ESCAP values our partnership with the SCO, guided by the principles of the “Shanghai spirit”: mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diverse civilizations, and seeking common development; and by the values of the United Nations Charter: peace, justice, respect for human rights, and the pursuit of better standards of life, in larger freedom.

We stand ready to extend our cooperation for enhanced regional integration and connectivity. Let us, together, build the Asia-Pacific future we want – of inclusive, resilient, and sustainable prosperity.

I thank you.

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1 China, Russian Federation, and Tajikistan.