Mr. Liu Zhenmin Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Belt and Road Legal Cooperation Forum

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honored to speak at the Belt and Road Legal Cooperation Forum. Trained as a lawyer and growing up from this community, I feel very much at home.

I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of my reflections on this topic from two perspectives: first is about cooperation; second is about the legal framework. I speak both from my current position as the United Nations Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and from my early experience working as a professional in international legal affairs.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The world today is at a critical juncture.

In recent decades, significant progress has been achieved in human development worldwide. The proportion of the world’s population living under extreme poverty has dropped by more than half.

Yet more than 10 per cent are still entrapped in abject poverty; large inequalities both within and between countries are causing serious tensions; conflicts and terrorism are on the rise around the world; and our planet’s ecosystems are degrading at an alarming rate.

Here I quote the State Councillor Wang Yi from his recent remarks at the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of BRICS, “the world is witnessing unprecedented changes in a century and is faced with three most pressing challenges, namely, governance deficit, trust deficit and development deficit”.

It is true that we are facing unprecedented challenges. But, not only challenges, we are facing unique opportunities as well, including the fourth industrial revolution.

We have, dear colleagues, for the first time in human history, sufficient resources to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities, and place the planet on a trajectory of sustainable development.

The different path we are choosing now will present us with the possibility of widely contrasting futures. As the United Nations Secretary General noted, ‘we must act as one, because only together, as united nations, can we fulfill the promise of the Charter and advance human dignity for all’.

That is why, in this broad context, we have the universal and transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, endorsed in 2015 by all member states of the United Nations.

That’s why, we, at the United Nations, welcome the Belt and Road Initiative, which exemplifies a new inclusive platform for international development cooperation and presents a far-reaching vision of building a community of shared interests.

Dear colleagues,

The Belt and Road Initiative originated from Asian region, but its immensity goes beyond it.

At the global level, the United Nations is still the most representative and authoritative intergovernmental platform to coordinate the efforts of the international community and make collective decisions.

Therefore, it will be critical to understand the Belt and Road Initiative in the context of a series of international arrangements which consist of the United Nations System.
The Charter of the United Nations, particularly in the Preamble and its Article 55 and Article 56, provides a strong legal foundation for the initiative. Indeed, the Belt and Road Initiative serves the exact purpose of the UN Charter through its objectives of promoting shared development and prosperity, peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, and mutual understanding and trust.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, provides a broad scope for the growth of the Belt and Road Initiative, and for the UN system to be closely engaged with the Initiative.

More specifically, the five priority areas as defined in the Belt and Road Initiative, or the “five types of connectivity” – namely, connectivity in policy, facilities, trade, finance and among peoples – are intrinsically linked and can effectively advance the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

For example,

• connectivity, including infrastructure investment, can play a crucial role in promoting productivity and sustainable economic growth.
• Infrastructure investment is also a catalyst to accelerate the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.
Thus, linking the efforts of the Belt and Road Initiative to the implementation of the universal, ambitious and overarching 2030 Agenda will lead to a stronger joint force for international development cooperation.

International arrangements may also take shape through UN Treaties, Conventions and General Assembly resolutions. These can range anywhere from the Law of the Sea and protocols under Maritime Conventions … to enhancing infrastructure investments and connectivity, regional and interregional economic cooperation, as called for in UN General Assembly resolutions on strengthening sustainable transport to achieve the SDGs.

Abiding by these important Principles and arrangements – which are echoed strongly by the Belt and Road Initiative, means that the Belt and Road shall place a huge priority on policy coordination and intergovernmental cooperation as foundational objectives.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I said, the Belt and Road Initiative originated from the region.

As more countries and international institutions join the Belt and Road Initiative, it will be important to bear in mind that the different regions and countries can embody very different situations. For example, legal regimes and frameworks vary considerably in the countries along the Belt and Road. I refer to common law systems, civil law systems, and Islamic law, with the legal systems in some countries remaining generally weak.

Indeed, we should learn from the past. In this regard, I highly commend the efforts by some institutions to put together case studies for lessons learned and experience sharing. They will be the practical guide book for the Belt and Road countries and their enterprises to effectively resolve disputes and conflicts emerging from activities, through laws and institutions.

We should also look at the present. The Belt and Road will benefit from existing bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanisms.
In fact, most trade disputes could be resolved through the existing WTO mechanisms, or regional and bilateral trade agreements. However, international mechanisms for resolving investment issues are mostly bilateral based. And, still, some countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative do not have bilateral treaties with China.

The Belt and Road Initiative could be an opportunity to further harmonize legal systems related to foreign investment treatment and dispute settlements, thereby strengthening multilateral systems and boosting implementation of Article 33 of the United Nations Charter on the Settlement of Disputes.

And, we should be forward-looking and well prepared to address emerging issues and challenges, whether cross-border activities, technology standardization, currency arrangements, commercial interests, or varied contract models.

In the United Nations, when we talk about challenges brought by frontier issues like artificial intelligence, robots, Nano and bio technology, I am always reminded to draw lessons from the history of the Internet, which still does not have a governance structure or legal framework in place after more than 30 years!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Developing a framework of rules and coordination to promote Belt and Road Initiative is critical, but will be a gradual process. In such an endevour, a few key elements should be taken into account.

First, to ensure the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative in strict conformity with principles and rules of international law, including the UN Charter;

Second, to align Belt and Road Initiative with the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development;

Third, to foster synergy between Belt and Road Initiative and the regional cooperation arrangements, such as ASEAN-China cooperation, Lanchan-Meikon Cooperation, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China-Arab Cooperation Forum, and China-Africa Cooperation Forum.

Fourth, to help Belt and Road countries develop their national strategy, which will be essential to facilitate investment and prevent investment risks.

Fifth, to reinforce accountability framework for corporations. Enterprises should be encouraged to observe rules on environmental and social obligations, as these factors might affect their long-term profits. In this area, guiding principles have been in place, such as those of the UN Global Compact, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights, and the principles of Responsible Investment.

Sixth, to facilitate convenient process for the settlement of disputes between investors and the host states, and disputes among states.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Embarking on an undertaking of this scope is unprecedented in our modern era. As a new model of global governance going forward, the Belt and Road Initiative shall join the efforts of the international community to ensure a robust structure that speaks to the common concern of countries at all levels of development, and signifies a win-win cooperation.

I look forward to listening to your insights.

I wish the Forum a great success!

Thank you.

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