ICRC and China have common interest to work together in BRI economies

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/25 20:33:42

Pierre Dorbes Photo: Courtesy of ICRC

Editor's Note

Humanitarian threats such as armed conflict, other violence and tensions, natural disasters and uneven socioeconomic development are not uncommon in some countries and regions along the Belt and Road. As the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which kicked off in Beijing on Thursday, runs to Saturday, Global Times (GT) reporter Xie Wenting interviewed Pierre Dorbes (Dorbes), head of the Regional Delegation for East Asia of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to discuss how China-initiated BRI could play an active role to address humanitarian threats.

GT: How can China and the ICRC strengthen cooperation in regions that are haunted by humanitarian threats along the Belt and Road? What are the cooperation projects that are currently underway in these countries? What can we expect in the future? 

Dorbes: We know the Belt and Road is about economy, infrastructure, development and business opportunities, but we believe adding a humanitarian component to it is very important, as some of the countries along the BRI corridor are hosting populations that have humanitarian needs due to situations of armed conflict, violence and other instability with no short term political solution. 

Cooperation has already been going on along the Belt and Road. In the corporate sector for example, we are working with a Chinese enterprise to build a large water project in northeast Nigeria. The project has just been completed which is expected to provide clean water to 150,000 people affected by violence in the region. The ICRC has also installed water distribution points in the nearby camps for the internally displaced, all connected to the new water plant.

China is a major player in the region as well on the world stage, both financially and politically. As one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, China has dispatched peacekeepers to countries like Mali, Sudan, South Sudan. The ICRC also has humanitarian operations in those same countries. We see China is making an ever increasing contribution to peacekeeping. We hope to strengthen our engagement with Chinese peacekeepers in countries where they operate. The ICRC is also ready to continue its engagement with the People's Liberation Army with training and capacity-building on international humanitarian law (IHL) and through briefings to its peacekeeping contingents prior to their peacekeeping operations deployment.


GT: What are the challenges of cooperation between the ICRC and China in the countries along the Belt and Road? How to address these challenges?

Dorbes: Challenges are many, including political willingness, financial constraints, human resources, or understanding the fragility and complexity of the situation on the ground.

The Belt and Road Initiative is about development, and development requires stability, peace and security. Humanitarian action seeking sustainable humanitarian impact contributes to stabilization of societies in some of the most difficult circumstances. This is compatible with China's objectives. Therefore, we are convinced that the ICRC and China have a common interest to work together in those countries.

The ICRC has been working in more than 40 countries along the Belt and Road. Some of them are suffering from armed conflict and other situations of armed violence, tensions or unrest. It is in the mutual interest of China and the ICRC to enhance their dialogue on humanitarian issues often linked to development gaps, in order to address specific needs of people affected by violence, including along the Belt and Road.


GT: What agreements or contracts between the ICRC and Chinese government, organizations or companies have been signed? How can the ICRC contribute to the BRI? 

Dorbes: A number of agreements or MOUs have been signed between the ICRC and a number of stakeholders worldwide, which reflect our relevance and added value.

For example, in 2017 the ICRC signed an agreement with the Chinese authorities who provided financial support to healthcare services provided by the ICRC for civilians affected by violence in Nigeria.

The Chinese government has also made financial contributions to the ICRC's humanitarian activities in Syria.

About one month ago, the ICRC signed a framework agreement with the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals & Chemicals Importers & Exporters and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. The three organizations would pool and share their resources and experience to support Chinese companies operating in complex environments abroad, enhance their capacities in security management and help them improve engagement with host governments, public security forces, private security providers and local communities.


GT: How does the BRI influence the reconstruction task and humanitarian work of countries including Libya and Syria?

Dorbes: Both countries have been severely affected by armed conflict and other violence for many years. We hope the Belt and Road Initiative will bring more opportunities, such as jobs, improvement of livelihood, and education for people affected by the violence.

Business actors operating in fragile environments have to develop specific strategies to implement their Corporate Social Responsibilities. A license to operate from a government is not enough to gain acceptance by local communities and other stakeholders. Engaging all stakeholders is essential for ensuring the sustainability of their investments. This is one of the reasons why the ICRC engages a dialogue with the corporate sector.

The ICRC's longstanding experience in such contexts can help Chinese business stakeholders create a more conducive environment for their investments by sharing its understanding of the context and other undercurrents on the ground.


GT: Some Western media outlets accuse China of using the BRI to exploit local resources and bring no good to the locals. As an official from the ICRC which carries work all over the world, what's your take on it?

Dorbes: China is an important actor on the world stage and its positions and actions can have a great impact in war-torn countries as well as those affected by violence and unrest. The ICRC assists those affected by conflict in various parts of the world - this reflects a commonality of interests that the ICRC and China can jointly work on.



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