Why the Boao Forum is more relevant than ever
Yuan Sha
The venue for a sub-forum of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference in Boao Town, south China's Hainan Province, April 17, 2021. /Xinhua

The venue for a sub-forum of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference in Boao Town, south China's Hainan Province, April 17, 2021. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Yuan Sha is an assistant research fellow at the Department of American Studies, China Institute of International Studies. A former Fulbright scholar at Columbia University, she has a PhD in International Politics from China Foreign Affairs University. Yuan has published several papers on China-U.S. security relations in Chinese academic journals and is a regular contributor for many Chinese media outlets. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The Boao Forum for Asia conference is celebrating its 20th anniversary from April 18 to 21. Born in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the Boao Forum was founded in 2001 as a non-governmental organization dedicated to facilitating exchanges among stakeholders in Asia and beyond. Confronted with another global crisis inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the relevance of the Boao Forum is more pronounced than ever.

Meet common challenges

The world is witnessing mounting challenges which are cross-border in nature and require joint efforts of governments, the corporate sector, nongovernmental organizations and private citizens. With the theme, "A World in Change," this year's forum is aimed at providing an inclusive platform to discuss challenges of common concern, build consensus and boost confidence for the region and beyond.

During the past two decades, the Boao Forum has become a flagship forum in Asia and earned the reputation of "Davos for Asia." The forum features a combination of online and offline panels to facilitate dialogues among participants from around the world. After a pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the resumption of the forum is a powerful signal of robustness and optimism in the region. In fact, it will be the largest on-site international forum in 2021, with around 2000 guests gathering for the event. 

The participant list unveiled a diverse group, including leaders of international organizations, national governments as well as the business community and academic circles from both the region and around the world. It demonstrates the shared interest of stakeholders to engage in dialogues and coordinate efforts in responding to common challenges and promoting stability and prosperity in the region and the world at large.

The scenery of Boao Town, south China's Hainan Province, April 8, 2021. /Xinhua

The scenery of Boao Town, south China's Hainan Province, April 8, 2021. /Xinhua

Identify shared opportunities

The forum is a perfect place to discover opportunities and serve as an incubator of initiatives for Asia.

This year's forum features new developments in digital economy and carbon neutrality. Supply chain resilience as well as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also expected to be issues of interest since they are the key driver of jobs and growth in the region. The forum has also expanded from trade to diverse areas of common concern. For example, it held special forums dedicated to global health as well as science and technology.

The Belt and Road Initiative will be a hot topic in this forum. Asia is vibrant, but still lags behind in quality infrastructure which is key to economic growth, poverty reduction and social development. It needs not only hard infrastructure such as roads, bridges and ports, but also soft infrastructure in areas such as public health, digital facilities, resources preservation and environmental protection, which requires heightened attention and adequate investment.

Headquartered in Hainan, the forum also serves as a window into China's policies. Last year has witnessed the successful launch of the Hainan Free Trade Port, and the forum is at a vantage point to demonstrate the promise of China's high-quality opening-up and the "dual-circulation" economic policy.

Promote regional integration

Despite the robust development and growing inter-dependence of Asia, the region lags behind in institutional building. More disturbingly, the regional integration process is confronted with a global tide of rising protectionism, as well as deliberate disruptions by outside forces. Thus, it is imperative for Asian countries to demonstrate the shared interest and strong will in promoting common development and safeguarding regional stability and prosperity.

As the most influential economic forum in Asia, the Boao Forum is committed to facilitating exchanges and promoting economic integration in the region. Such calls for integration are even more prominent at this time of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The region is in urgent need to coordinate effort in distributing vaccines, resuscitating the battered economy and building a true community of a shared future for Asia.

The forum is not confined to Asia but oriented towards the world. Over the years, the forum has attracted partners from around the world and hosted seminars in places beyond Asia. With the world standing at a critical juncture, participants need to demonstrate wisdom and courage to chart a new course toward a more promising future.

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