Public Lecture Series on the Belt and Road Initiative

14 and 22 November 2017 | Lecture Theatre 1, Cheng Yu Tung Building, The Chinese University of Hong Kong


On 14 and 22 November 2017, the Global China Research Programme (GCR) and the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies jointly organized two public lectures on the CUHK campus to promote public engagement and to facilitate communication between those from the land-based Belt and the Maritime Silk Road countries.

Prof. Wang Gungwu (University Professor, National University of Singapore) and Prof. Peter Frankopan (Professor of Global History, University of Oxford) were invited to give keynote speeches and to have a dialogue with Prof. Yuen-sang Leung (Dean, Faculty of Arts, CUHK) and Prof. David Faure (Wei Lun Research Professor of History, CUHK) respectively. Each lecture was attended by over 300 guests. Prof. Fanny M. Cheung (Pro-Vice-Chancellor of CUHK) delivered the introduction to both lectures.


Public Lecture on “Silk Roads and the Centrality of Old World Eurasia” by Prof. Wang Gungwu on 14 November 2017 

Video playbacks 

In this lecture, Prof. Wang elaborated on the role of “Eurasia”, which he defined as the combination of Europe, North Africa, and Asia, throughout world history. Long before the United States of America became the centre of the world, peoples of the Eurasian continent, with its four ancient civilizations, were involved in a period of wars, contacts, and connections. China, as one of the ancient civilizations, underwent a great deal of transformation, and learnt that only unity can bring progress to the country.

In Prof. Wang’s analysis, China faces two major challenges in its development: The “Thucydides Trap”, where the rising power will engage in an inevitable conflict with the established power; and the “Cold War Trap”, where a strategic effort was made by the United States to eliminate the opposing power (Soviet Union), and where the perception is that such strategies can be replicated and applied to China successfully if needed. Diplomatically, China adopted the BRI to avoid these two traps. The BRI can be adopted to link up the Eurasian countries with new technology, thus reaffirming and restoring a sense of continuity in historical Central Asia. Domestically, China promoted a “New Era for Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” as a banner for progress, to demonstrate that the Chinese have a willingness to learn, as well as to highlight the importance of historical continuity.

The dialogue between Prof. Wang and Prof. Leung focused on four aspects of the BRI: The economic nature of the BRI, the cultural influence and soft power of China, the role of overseas Chinese, and the renewal of China in the global community of nation-states.

They also conducted a question and answer session with the lecture audience. Various questions were posed by members of the audience, and Prof. Wang provided detailed answers. While local attendees were interested in Prof. Wang’s comments on the realities and practical challenges of the BRI, non-local attendees were interested in hearing Prof. Wang’s academic insights on the issue. Prof. Wang and Prof. Leung gave insightful responses and engaged in thoughtful discussions on the BRI, which made the question and answer session highly constructive.


Public Lecture on “Plotting the Future of the Belt and Road Initiative: Connections, Opportunities, and Challenges” by Prof. Peter Frankopan on 22 November 2017 

Video playbacks 

Prof. Peter Frankopan visited CUHK in 2015 as a keynote speaker of the International Conference on Hong Kong and the World under the Belt and Road Initiative. In the current lecture, Prof. Frankopan began with the background of the BRI with a focus on the uncertainty of global politics. Developing countries were attracted by the potential of trade, and placed equal importance on long-distance trade and short-distance exchanges along the Belt and Road countries. The BRI connections are expected to provide a wide variety of opportunities. They will help China to develop a forward vision on China’s domestic planning; sustain the demand for Chinese products; provide a direction for managing the transition of the domestic economy and the rebalancing of the distribution of China’s population, and assist China in its efforts to play a regional, continental, and global leadership role.

Nevertheless, Prof. Frankopan mentioned that the BRI faces four challenges: The discrepancy between the expectations and the reality of BRI investments outside of China; the asymmetry in the BRI caused by the domination of Chinese companies on most of the construction projects in the Belt and Road countries; a growing need for China to manage her image and aims abroad; and the necessity of identifying doctrines and unifying ideologies for better communication and exchanges. With regard to these challenges, Prof. Frankopan suggested that Chinese people change their mindset, from regarding the BRI as a “programme the world should be grateful for” to that of “mutually beneficial cooperation”.

The dialogue between Prof. Frankopan and Prof. David Faure began with the initial conceptualization of the BRI to the role of the BRI. Prof. Faure raised several questions that expanded the scope of the discussion about the BRI, from the opportunities for Hong Kong to take part in the BRI to analyzing the relationship between China and the countries of the modern Silk Road. Prof. Frankopan responded not only from the perspective of a historian, but also from his personal life experiences.

In the question and answer session, some members of the audience asked Prof. Frankopan to further elaborate on the historical significance and conception of the BRI. Some also asked Prof. Frankopan about his views on China’s soft power and the notions of nationalism and global citizenship and their relation with the BRI. Prof. Frankopan and Prof. Faure likewise offered insightful responses and engaged in thoughtful discussions on the BRI, which made the question and answer session highly illuminating.


The aim behind the Public Lecture Series is to promote public engagement with and education about the BRI, and also to serve as a platform for scholars, members of think tanks, and people from all walks of life in the Belt and Road countries and regions to enjoy intellectual exchanges. The guests at the lectures included Honorary Senior Research Fellows of the HKIAPS, Mr Woon-kwong Lam and Prof. Chack-kie Wong; Honorary Research Fellow of the HKIAPS, Dr Kin-shuen Louie; GCR Advisers, Prof. Siu-kai Lau and Prof. Siu-lun Wong, and others. Representatives of consulates-general from the Belt and Road countries, including Kuwait, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia; officers from the Education Bureau, the Principal of St. Paul’s College, Mr Dennis Yuen, and teachers and students from King George V School also attended the public lectures.

It is hoped that through these lectures, the public will gain a better understanding of the historical development of the BRI, and more discussions of the role of Hong Kong in the BRI will be generated.

Video playbacks of the Public Lecture Series:

Silk Roads and the Centrality of Old World Eurasia (by Prof. Wang Gungwu)

Plotting the Future of the Belt and Road Initiative: Connections, Opportunities, and Challenges 
(by Prof. Peter Frankopan