Why there should be a humanitarian dimension to China's Belt and Road project

Thank you to the Chinese Government for inviting the ICRC to the Belt and Road Forum.

At ICRC we've been following the development of the Belt and Road Initiative with great interest. We commend this ambitious project, and like many others recognise its great potential.

Let me tell you the reasons why I'm honored to have the opportunity to address this Forum.

I've been travelling along the Silk Road for many years now, seeing the work of ICRC in more than 40 countries on the Belt and Road in Asia, Africa and Europe. In fact a few days ago I was visiting our operations in Myanmar.

My organization has been working in many of these places, sometimes for decades, and has a deep knowledge of the complex factors that are driving instability, conflict and violence.
I can see the huge potential of the Belt and Road initiative in terms of development, trade and connectivity but I also know that for it to be a full success there are key challenges to be overcome.

As you know, the ICRC operates in situations of conflict and violence, often in many places where wars never seem to end and violence proliferates into society. Protracted conflicts, as we call them, have a dramatic negative and cumulative impact on infrastructure and essential services, which affect the lives and the dignity of millions of people.

In these protracted wars, ICRC delivers immediate aid as well as long-term humanitarian assistance. For example, ICRC fixes and sets up water and energy infrastructure, and we support hospitals and orthopedic centers. We train locals to develop skills and not rely on foreign experts; and we help people start sustainable small businesses.

In doing so we build stability, and we prepare the ground so that when the fighting stops, recovery, reconstruction, development and economies can more quickly restart.

Our long-term assistance is similar to development work, but implemented in unstable and violent contexts, it follows a specific modus operandi. In his speech to the UN last January, referring to the Red Cross, President Xi Jinping rightly stated that: "we should uphold the basic principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence".

Those principles are at the core of the ICRC action.

The Belt and Road Initiative is about development, and development requires stability and peace. Humanitarian action is contributing to stabilize societies in some of the most difficult circumstances; it prevents violence to destroy development gains.

That's why I'm deeply convinced this initiative should add a humanitarian dimension, which will be an important building-block to deliver on the SDGs.

That's also why I'm convinced the ICRC can share its experience and knowledge and bring added-value.

My organization is investing in building systems and vital infrastructure mostly in the most remote and dangerous places. I personally foresee a real prospect in engaging with the AIIB where for security reasons, development actors are not in position to invest in infrastructure.

I ask that this Forum fully recognize the important contribution of humanitarian organizations to :

  • One: uphold the basic humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence through their relations with States and non-state actors.
  • Two: contribute, through short and long-term humanitarian assistance, to the stabilization of countries or regions affected by protracted conflicts and therefore provide the conditions for future development.

Inclusiveness is also a key factor for the success of the Belt and Road. To achieve great success, a diversity of stakeholders needs to be involved. For example, business actors operating in fragile contexts need to develop strategies to implement their Corporate Social Responsibilities and "do no harm" in order to gain acceptance by local communities and others.

Last but not least, I'm honored to address the panel devoted to People-to-People contact. Of 16,000 ICRC staff, 13,000 are recruited from the countries they work in. Additionally we are part of the larger Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, with more than 17 million volunteers in 190 countries. This is an incredibly powerful movement of dedicated and courageous humanitarians.

In its people-to-people dimension, the Belt and Road Initiative should recognize the power of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and others to bring together large numbers of dedicated people.

To conclude, let me quote once again President Xi Jinping's strong words and wish that the Belt and Road Initiative can "champion the spirit of humanity, compassion and dedication and give love and hope to the innocent people caught in dire situations".

"One Belt, One Road" Conference, Beijing, 14-15 May 2017. Speech given by Mr Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC.