Well known 15th Century Mariner & Explorer Admiral Cheng Ho’s legacy is the game changer that set the foundation for China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative, according to academics and historians.

Speaking at a Seminar held in conjunction with the International Cheng Ho Festival here recently, they said the Chinese policy’s roots can be traced to Cheng Ho’s voyages which saw him building diplomatic relations with the countries he sailed to.

China’s Belt & Road Initiative is an ambitious Development Strategy aimed at boosting trade and stimulating economic growth across Asia and beyond.

Prof. Tao Yi Tao, Dean from Belt & Road Research Institute (Shenzhen) for International Cooperation and Development, said Cheng Ho’s experiences proved that interactions between civilisations and cultures should be mutually beneficially, instead of favouring only one side.

The same goes for the Belt & Road Initiative which, she said, is all for inclusive development where prosperity is shared among all the participating nations.

Inclusive development, she added, is founded on recognising and supporting each other’s developmental efforts and accepting and respecting national differences, and not on destructive competition or using universalism to constrain or deny national peculiarities.

The International Cheng Ho Festival was hosted by the Malacca state government and organised by the Malacca Museum Corporation and Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture.

Symbol of Friendship

Tao said One Belt, One Road is not a short-term project but instead a plan to transform the politico economic circumstances of the world. Its implementation requires the establishment of mutual trust and this trust between nations can emerge through cultural and value inclusiveness.

“Perhaps, it is only under such circumstances that civilisations and people can create resources that beget more resources, and wealth that generates more wealth,“ she added.

Associate Prof Choirul Mahfud of Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember in Surabaya, Indonesia, said Cheng Ho was well known as a symbol of friendship from Asia to Europe.

“In discussing his Maritime Civilisation legacy in the Malay and Indonesian archipelago, it is necessary to understand in advance the definition of inheritance. In general, inheritance is a legacy left by the testator to the heir.

“In the context of Cheng Ho, his legacy had been beneficial in the past and is still benefiting us at present and will continue to be beneficial in future. I suppose we are all recipients of his inheritance, directly or indirectly,“ he said.

Choirul said in Indonesia and Malaysia, Cheng Ho is not only remembered for the role he played in spreading Islam but also for the mosques, temples, shrines and museums he had built.

Strait of Malacca

Prof Wan Ming from the History Institute of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, China, said when talking about Cheng Ho’s legacy, the Strait of Malacca has to be mentioned because its rise was closely related to the noble admiral.

“The rise of the strait was inseparable from the rise of the Malacca sultanate and was closely related to Cheng Ho’s seven voyages to the ‘western’ sea, namely the Indian Ocean. How did Cheng Ho’s voyages change the world? This would be understood from the rise of the Malacca Strait,“ she said.

She said Cheng Ho’s voyages to the ‘Western Ocean’ eliminated the problem of piracy and made the strait safer for seafarers.

The rise of the Strait of Malacca came about during the heyday of the Maritime Silk Road in the early part of the 15th century and it served as a successful example of how a region can benefit from mutual cooperation, she said.

Holder of Kursi Za’ba at the Institute of Malay Civilisation at Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris Prof Datuk Dr Awang Sariyan said although China had the military resources to conquer other nations as the western explorers did, it chose to forge peaceful relationships with others using Cheng Ho as its diplomat.

He said during the period between 1405 and 1433, Cheng Ho had commanded seven expeditions with 41 to 317 ships and accompanied by 27,550 to 30,000 sailors.

“The armada was seen as big enough to colonise Malacca but China through Cheng Ho chose to carry out diplomatic missions that later had a significant impact on trade, culture, the spread of Islam and international relations, the effects of which can be seen even to this day,“ Awang said.

It is clear that Cheng Ho brought friendship, peace and honour of the Chinese dynasty to other countries or governments, he added.

“This spirit should be the cornerstone of China’s Belt & Road initiative, which involves 124 countries around the world,” he said.