The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative can play a positive role in helping bridge the divide in Europe, where development remains unbalanced despite years of economic integration and cohesion efforts, said former Slovenian President Danilo Turk.
Eastern Europe has generally been less developed historically and part of that problem has been addressed through movement of manufacturing as well as the cohesion policies that see investment in infrastructure and services in these regions, said Turk.
"If we are smart, if we are wise, we can use the Belt and Road (Initiative) as a third element in the picture," Turk told Xinhua in a recent interview after attending a forum named Belt & Road Dialogue co-organized by Cambridge Oriental Culture Association and Intellectual Forum of Jesus College Cambridge.
Turk, who was an honorable speaker at the forum held in Cambridge, said the Belt and Road Initiative brings additional investment in infrastructure and services, which helps inject fresh economic power into the less developed parts of Europe.
"Now the question is not if that is possible or not. It is possible. The question is how. Are we wise and smart enough to do it? And this is our test," said Turk, who served as president of Slovenia in 2007-2012.
Europe has seen increasing understanding about the potential and peaceful nature of the Belt and Road Initiative, he said.
The initiative, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to create greater trade, infrastructure and people-to-people links between Asia, Europe, Africa and beyond by reviving and expanding the ancient Silk Road routes. The modern version comprises an overland Silk Road Economic Belt and a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
For instance, the airport of Maribor, the second largest city in Slovenia, if invested and developed within the framework of the initiative, could become a logistics hub in Europe with its proximity to national and international highway and railway systems, said Turk.
"That is a very interesting project being discussed by relevant businesses and authorities in Slovenia. I hope it will work," said Turk.
One telling example of the Belt and Road Initiative projects is the port of Piraeus in Greece, which has become a vital point in the European system of infrastructure, he said, adding that the potential does not stop there.
The further growth of Piraeus port would require further investment in connectivity through modernization of railway systems through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and the much-anticipated high-speed rail line from Belgrade to Budapest, he said.
"Obviously one has to see this in the long-term context because it's sort of improvement (that) will have serious development impact in the coming years."
Turk, who was the UN assistant secretary general for political affairs from 2000 to 2005, admitted that there are still political reservations over the initiative in parts of Europe, which he said are understandable due to the scale of the new idea at the early stage.
The former president believed people's views will change when they see the actual results of the "demand-driven" initiative.
Practical change, improvement and transformation are the best testimonies to whether the initiative is helpful for Europe, he said.
The former president also welcomed the idea of dovetailing the European Union (EU) interconnection plan with the Belt and Road Initiative.
EU Ambassador to China Hans Dietmar Schweisgut has said recently that the EU is drawing its own interconnection blueprint for the Eurasian continent and would like to connect it with the Belt and Road Initiative.
"I see this as a promising sign," Turk said, noting that it would not be an easy task to dovetail the development strategies as both China and Europe have their own priorities.
"The important thing is to understand that now the time has come to do it, because everybody will benefit," he said.