The realization of an Asian century will be made possible through the physical, digital and people-to-people connectivity provided by the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a former Malaysian minister told a conference here on Thursday.

Delivering the theme address at the New Inclusive Asia Dialogue, former Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry Mustapa Mohamed said the BRI is key to integrating Asia, a key element to ensuring a stable and sustainable future of the continent.

“The center of gravity in global geopolitics and geo-economics is increasingly moving back to the East, away from the West. And as this rebalancing unfolds, many are calling the 21st century the Asian Century,” he said.

“Asia remains a continent with socio-economic and cultural divides. To overcome these divisions, and to advance an inclusive Asia, it is important to promote integration in Asia, across all fronts. And to facilitate this inter-connectedness, we must engage in three modes of connectivity: physical, digital, and people-to-people connectivity,” he said.

Mustapa said that one only needs to look at China’s achievements in recent times to understand and appreciate what the BRI would bring to Asia as the country had successfully closed the gap between its various regions.

“With the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, the success in bringing about more inclusive development in China through closer connectivity could be duplicated in some parts of Asia,” he said.

“Indeed the maritime infrastructure network which could result from the BRI initiative could be one of the catalysts for a pan-Asia economic rejuvenation,” he added.

Proposed by China in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road, which aims at building trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Center for New Inclusive Asia Ong Tee Keat told the audience during a dialogue session that China’s successful pitch of the BRI to participating countries stemmed from its willingness to provide a level playing field for smaller countries.

“BRI is successful in drawing international support due to the willingness of the Chinese leadership to be engaging, to stress on inclusiveness and providing this ‘level playing field’ that the current world order has failed to provide,” said Ong, who was the former Malaysian transport minister.

Ong’s fellow panelist and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project director Hassan Daud Butt said that BRI would prove to be a game changer for Pakistan’s economic development and the future of South Asia.

“We see real socio-economic benefits with BRI and these positive advantages have naturally spurred our involvement, from interest, to support and now participation,” he said.

Hosted by the Center for New Inclusive Asia, a Malaysia-based think tank, the two-day dialogue aims to foster better understanding of connectivity as a means to promote inclusive growth in Asia, bringing together prominent scholars, senior government officials and corporate leaders from some 10 countries and regions.