Despite the fact that the Silk Road dates back to circa 300 BC, this international commercial line still figures prominently in discussions among economists and governments on stimulating the global economy through reviving historically proven initiatives. The ancient Silk Road served as an important enabler of great civilisations, including the Chinese Civilisation, the Egyptian Civilisation, the Indus Valley Civilisation, and the Roman Civilisation.
The Silk Road did not impact only cities of commerce, or those that were considered active markets - it also contributed to the prosperity of cities enroute that the merchants and commercial convoys passed. Merchants in the Arabian Peninsula played a major part in preserving activity on the Silk Road, by loading ships with their goods and sailing through ancient maritime trade routes towards the northern shores of India. There, they would meet Chinese merchants and trade Chinese silk for their incense, perfumes, copper and gum.
Later, Islam transformed the Arabian Peninsula and many other lands in Asia and Africa to one unified economic bloc. Muslim merchants significantly influenced all trading activity to and from the Silk Road. While Indian and Chinese merchants docked their ships on the shores of the Arabian Peninsula, it was the Arab merchants who moved goods on their boats or convoys of camels, using a vast network of land and sea routes to re-export merchandise across the ancient world.
The need to revive the Silk Road today, so that the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is one of its central links, is far more than a nostalgic sentiment - it is rather, a response to the recession that has dominated the world economy for over nine years.
The Chinese economy is the most important catalyst of world economy. If the former is stimulated, the latter will see a proportionate surge. This is one critical reason for the present and future of the Chinese economy dominating discussions at the recent Davos conference. The world today realises that rejuvenating the global economy starts with the recovery of the Chinese economy. The Chinese President, Xi Jingping, said during the G-20 Summit in Turkey in 2015 that despite its current temporary slowdown, the Chinese economy contributes more than 30 percent to the global economic growth. This single fact makes us realise the importance of driving trade with China and East Asian countries through reviving the Silk Road - given the high potential the trade line offers to enhancing prospects for the MENA region.
We must remember that President Xi Jingping's first visit, after launching the Silk Road initiative, was to Arab and Islamic countries signifying their important role in the success of the initiative.
Despite their risks and adverse effects on several markets around the world, the recent economic circumstances provided the world with an opportunity to reconsider the global economic structure, and revive global trade lines among economic hubs capable of adapting to new developments, and keen to contribute to the growth of the world's economy.
Given this priority, the Chinese President launched the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative that includes the Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road in October 2013. The initiative aimed at positively impacting development in more than 60 countries around the world and benefiting more than 63% of the world's population. In addition, it was projected to step-up global commercial activity, lead to a higher production capacity in major economies and stabilise the prices of raw materials used across industries, including oil, to reasonable levels. As the world's second largest consumer of energy, China imports nearly half of its energy requirements from countries in the GCC region.
The OBOR initiative was hailed by the members of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, most of whom enjoy strong and strategic relations with China.
Since 2012, trade exchange between the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and China has remained above US$500 billion. Moreover, the relationship between the two parties is based on more than mere economic interest - it is historically rooted in the exchange of culture and science. For decades, the Silk Road has contributed to the growth of movement of goods and people, improved documentation and a surge in publication of research studies by different civilisations along the corridor.
Let us examine some of the ways in which the revival of the Silk Road and the Islamic economy initiative can benefit each other:
• Through the years, many changes have occurred on the world economic map that eventually shifted the bulk of global production and trade towards the east - specifically, the markets of the Middle East and North Africa region. The transition brought with it anticipated benefits and responsibilities for the countries of the region. Today the fate and future of the global economy is closely linked with the economic performance of these countries.
• The launch of the Islamic economy initiative has resulted in fundamental changes in the economic and cultural structure of Islamic countries. These countries are gradually reaping the dividends of the initiative through the growth in their manufacturing abilities and greater focus on products and services compliant with Islamic sharia - such as food and beverages, clothes and family tourism.
• The One Belt One Road initiative will provide abundant opportunities to the main sectors of Islamic economy through facilitating the trade of halal products among countries that feature along the route of the Belt. Furthermore, there's a significant opportunity for Islamic finance to support infrastructure projects along this Belt.
• Principles of Islamic economy are consistent with the ambitions and aspirations of the Islamic countries for sustainable development and will contribute to strengthening the unity of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. For its part, the body aims to become a strong economic and cultural bloc on a global scale and contribute to the successful development of the Silk Road initiative.
• The changes in the region's economies, particularly among the GCC-member countries, after the fall in oil prices, has pushed them to diversify their economic activities and increase the contribution of non-oil sectors to the GDP. This has had a positive impact on the future of the people of the region and on the future of the global economy as a whole.
• Today, following the global financial crisis of 2008, the world is convinced that in order to avoid any future turmoil, it is required to rehabilitate infrastructure as well as social systems in the developing countries, particularly in countries that are on the Silk Road corridor and within the heart of the commercial and trade hubs.
Islamic countries today understand the significance of the new Silk Road and look forward to future cooperation and joint ventures that will no doubt drive the desired momentum in the world economy and provide global markets with that much-needed elevation of their fortunes.