Mike Harris: Belt and Road Initiative to benefit humanity
Mike Harris: Belt and Road Initiative to benefit humanity

Hollywood producer and maritime historian Mike Harris said on Monday in Beijing that he believes the Belt and Road Initiative will not only benefit the Chinese people, but also all of humanity. 


Mike Harris, 83, a writer, explorer, film producer and international maritime historian, led major expeditions around the world, including the first-ever expedition to search for the Titanic. 


On Harris' first expedition, he led a group of divers to Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands where they explored American, German and Japanese warships that were sunk by atomic bomb tests after World War II. In 1980, Harris assembled a group of marine scientists and oceanographers and led them on the first-ever expedition to search for the Titanic in the North Atlantic. His film "Search for the Titanic" featured legendary actor Orson Welles as his on-camera host and narrator. On his second Titanic expedition, Harris produced "Return to the Titanic." He is a member of The Explorer's Club of New York and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London. 


This year marks the sixth anniversary for China's Belt and Road Initiative since it was first proposed in 2013. The second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held in Beijing in April. The Pangoal Institution, a renowned Chinese think tank, invited Harris to Beijing to give a speech at a lecture on "The Grand Voyage of Zheng He and the Development of the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road." 


Zheng He, the Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat and naval fleet admiral during China's early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), commanded voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, and East Africa from 1405 to 1433. Yu Hongjun, a senior academic advisor to the Pangoal Institution, the former Chinese ambassador to Uzbekistan and a member of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said Zheng's voyages were a monumental maritime achievement that took place decades before the great discoveries of Western explorers. Zheng's expeditions opened up a new era of marine diplomacy in the ancient world, and promoted the development of the Maritime Silk Road. 


Remembering how he first heard of Zheng He, Harris recounted, "One day, a fellow explorer came up to me and said, 'Mike, you lead expeditions and produce films of your expeditions, why don't you produce a film on the greatest explorer who ever lived!' I had no idea who he was talking about, but asked if he was talking about Marco Polo," Harris recollected. "The fellow explorer said 'No' and clarified that he was talking about a Chinese admiral named Zheng He. I still had never heard of him, but I became intrigued. " In 1981, Harris started to work with Chinese experts to conduct extensive research on Zheng He and related historical developments. He now chairs the Zheng He International Development Research Institute. 


Starting in 1983, Harris began making trips to Beijing and speaking with Ming Dynasty historians who told him all about China's great maritime explorer. He also learned more about Zheng after reading a Chinese report by Ming Dynasty experts. Much to his amazement and interest, he learned that Zheng was a Muslim and a eunuch for Zhu Di, also known as Yongle, the Third Ming Emperor of China, and led seven trade and exploration expeditions sixty years before Columbus discovered America. 


"His achievements show that China had the ships and navigational skills to explore the world," he said. Harris believes the voyages and legacy of Admiral Zheng He still live on today. 


"The voyages of Admiral Zheng He started important trade with foreign countries, which exposed people to new ideas. It also provided them with new food, clothing, utensils and taught them scientific advancements they certainly would not have known about if not for the seven expeditions of Admiral Zheng He," Harris said. He also stressed that what started during the Ming period lives on today through the Belt and Road Initiative, which "continues to help millions of people achieve better lives while helping to protect our environment." 


One example Harris cites is how Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Arabia, Africa and other countries and regions along the Maritime Silk Road have a growing need for renewable energy. The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation is in association with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which is dedicated to helping provide affordable and clean energy throughout this large part of the world.

  

"I'm delighted that China was inspired by the voyages of Zheng He to develop the Belt and Road Initiative, not just to initiate trade with countries along the Maritime Silk Road, but also to support the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations." Harris said. "These are very important goals that will not only help the people of China but will also help all of humanity on our fragile planet Earth." 


As a famous maritime achievement in Chinese history, Zheng He's voyages were not only a major accomplishment of Chinese civilization, but also an important spiritual heritage. The Pangoal Institution held the symposium because the Belt and Road Initiative cooperation projects involve deep partnerships with countries along its route, and the world needs to have an open and inclusive attitude for this initiative to create win-win outcomes for all. 


During the symposium, Chinese and foreign experts, scholars and guests had in-depth and extensive discussions on topics such as the development of the Belt and Road Initiative, the role of China, and China's cooperation and exchanges with countries along the Maritime Silk Road. Experts agreed that the construction and development of the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road" is critical in pushing forward the Belt and Road initiative. They also concluded that by reflecting on the ancient Chinese maritime diplomacy practiced by Zheng He, it will be more conducive to promote future cooperation between China and neighboring countries and build a more open and inclusive platform for regional cooperation.

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