20 Years of Boao Forum for Asia: Bridging Asia and the World

By Li Baodong

Born in 2001, Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) is a non-governmental and non-profit international organization for conference. Its original aspiration is to promote the integration of the Asian economy, while its current mission is to pool positive energy for the development of Asia and the world.

In the twinkling of an eye, BFA has developed into a premium forum that has an international reputation.all BFA has done in the past 20 years is to aim for development, foster development, and serve development. Such spirit is displayed not only in the orchestration of the BFA’s conferences but also in all respects of its work.


BFA was born at the turn of the century when globalization was sweeping across the globe. At that time, both Europe and North America had seen supranational sovereign regional cooperation organizations pop up one after another and hence made notable breakthroughs in regional integration. However, Asian economies, which had previously maintained rapid growth, suffered marked losses amid the financial crisis. Facing tremendous opportunities and challenges, 26 (later increased to 29) Asia-Pacific countries, with a sharp insight into the history, unanimously agreed to establish an Asian platform for political-business dialogue to discuss economic coordination and regional cooperation on an open and inclusive footing and to voice Asia’s view on global issues.

Over the last 20 years, BFA has borne witness to Asia’s take-off since the new century and has also joined emerging economies in pulling through a flurry of challenges. Since the Forum was incubated in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, it was born with a mission of responding to changes unique of varying times and boosting cooperation amongst countries across the world. It was for this reason that, at the very beginning, BFA has already excelled in seeking opportunities from crises and turning the latter into the former. In 2003, the newly-minted Forum encountered the SARS epidemic that had swept through Asia. In this predicament, the Forum organized discussions, ending up with a conclusion that the SARS impact on the economy of Asia and the world at large would be interim and reversible. Albeit feeble, this voice brought confidence and hope to Asia amid the panic of this epidemic, and it turned out to be correct and forward-looking. Since then, whether in the international financial crisis in 2008 or the European debt crisis in 2011, BFA always served as a critical platform for policy communication among countries in Asia and the rest of the world, and generated many far-sighted “Boao Plans” when countries encountered challenges in their development.

Today with the joint efforts of all sides, Asia has become a global economic engine on par with North America and Europe. As regional integration incessantly deepens, Asia’s demographic, resource, and reform dividends continue to be released, and the region plays an increasingly vital role in fostering common development and global governance. Coupled with the development of Asia, BFA has also entered a stage of swift development. From promoting Asian economic integration to pooling positive energy for the development of Asia and the world, what remains unchanged at BFA is its philosophy of seeking development and boosting cooperation. The venue for the annual conference, originally an obscure small fishing village, has grown into a renowned resort, connected to the rest of the world via expressway, high-speed railway, and a local airport. It was also on the Boao stage that many momentous cooperation achievements in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations, have been developed and improved. As such, they have altogether turned Asia into the most vibrant and promising region in the global economy.


Recently, profound adjustments have taken place in the international situation, and significant changes unseen in a century have been accelerated. In this context, BFA perseveres in the cooperative path of multilateralism as an indispensable platform for communication to address global challenges, maintains its cross-cultural, multi-disciplinary, and trans-sectoral edges, and remains committed to promoting the Boao spirit marked by inclusiveness, innovation, and win-win cooperation.

Since 2018, the Forum has established a development strategy of “one running theme and five focal areas”. While adhering to the theme of economic development, BFA broadens its vision into five focal areas, including technology innovation, healthcare, education, culture, and media, contributing “Boao Wisdom” to eliminating the world’s “governance deficit”, “trust deficit”, “development deficit” and “peace deficit” via “development-oriented approaches”. Under BFA’s framework, we initiated high-end thematic forums such as the “Global Health Forum”, the “International Science, Technology and Innovation Forum”, and the “Global Economic Development and Security Forum”. Such thematic forums have fostered international exchanges and cooperation in relevant domains and are positively echoed and extensively attended by the international community.

BFA also plays a proactive role in knowledge sharing and production as a think-tank. It compiled and unveiled a series of research reports around critical issues in the development of Asia and beyond and established a long-term partnership with world-class research institutions. Last year, for example, the Forum organized more than ten webinars and released six heavy-weight flagship reports, includingAsian Economic Outlook and Integration Progress Annual Report 2020,Asian Financial Development Report on Financial Inclusion,Report onthe First Conference ofthe Global Health Forum of Boao Forum for Asia,Asia Poverty Reduction Report 2020,Free Trade Agreements:Asia’s Choice,Boao Forum for Asia Innovation Report 2020and a special research report entitledThePandemic and the Changing World.As such, the Forum has become a vital platform for the international community to summarize and share experience in development, demonstrating its unique role as a weathervane for policy communication.

The Covid-19 pandemic that broke out last year brought new challenges to globalization, and it also presented the Forum with new ideas on the long-term development of itself and the world. Whether admitted or not, human beings have de facto become a community with a shared future where no country can preserve itself from the global challenges. Only by sticking to multilateralism and fortifying international cooperation shall we better respond to these challenges. Through organizing extensive discussions and taking proactive steps, the Forum took crises as opportunities. It leveraged its strengths, mobilized resources from the political, business, academic, and media circles, and further consolidated consensus on development amid the pandemic. Not only does this coincide with the original aspiration of the Forum to facilitate economic globalization, it also serves as the guiding mentality that the Forum follows when planning a variety of activities, such as the Annual Conference 2021 (AC2021) and the BFA 20th Anniversary Commemorative Meeting in April.


The annual conference is the Forum’s flagship meeting and also its most significant event every year.Against the special backdrop featuring changes and a pandemic both unseen in a century, this year’s annual conference carried the ardent anticipations of the international community to explore how the world will evolve after Covid-19. With the enormous support of the host country and all parties, the annual conference was successfully convened in Boao, China, from April 18 to 21. The theme of AC2021-“A World in Change: Join Hands to Strengthen Global Governance and Advance Belt and Road Cooperation”-was highly recognized by leaders and delegates from many countries that participated in the event.

Despite Covid-19, AC2021 still stood out amongst the world’s most crucial international meetings. The 4-day event was honored by many preeminent figures, including the heads of state or government from 15 countries, 99 senior officials and former officials above the ministerial level, 29 directors of international and regional organizations, nearly 100 executives from the Global Fortune 500 and renowned companies, prominent experts, scholars, and cultural figures. Their extensive and profound discussions gave birth to many important consensuses.

The attendees generally contended that Covid-19 had accelerated the evolution of major changes globally and exposed new development issues. They agreed that the world is confronting massive challenges not merely in the health sector, but also in the economic and social respects. Strengthening global governance and international cooperation is more imperative than ever. Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed a video keynote speech at the opening plenary, putting forward four proposals on the major proposition of “Where should humanity go from here?” He proposed that countries should consider consultation on an equal footing to create a future of shared benefits; adopt openness and innovation to create a future of development and prosperity; explore solidarity and cooperation to create a future of health and security; be committed to justice to create a future of mutual respect and mutual learning. These proposals have guiding implications for all countries to work in unison to handle the major crises facing humanity and to turn the global governance system fairer and more equitable. Leaders and guests from other countries argued that international collaboration and globalization should serve as the core components of the world economy and the development of mankind as a whole. All countries worldwide should abide by the basic principle of multilateralism, advance global governance more effectively, and deem international collaboration as their obligations rather than one of their alternatives.

It is broadly agreed that the Belt and Road cooperation had played a positive role in ramping up regional connectivity and fostering economic recovery. President Xi Jinping put forth four partnerships for the high-quality construction of the Belt and Road, including a closer partnership for health cooperation, a closer partnership for connectivity, a closer partnership for green development, and a closer partnership for openness and inclusiveness. Through this speech, he pointed out the path ahead of the Belt and Road cooperation at the next stage that inspired all parties. Participants at the conference all commended the marked achievements and positive impact of the Belt and Road cooperation. They argued that, as a crucial supplement to the global governance mechanism, multilateral initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative might help the international community better achieve common development.

All attendees also conducted in-depth discussions on many concrete topics around post-Covid-19 world development. For example, they believed that the international anti-pandemic cooperation at the next stage should focus on ensuring that countries, especially developing countries, have fair access to affordable vaccines. They suggested that developing countries possess tremendous potential for development when it comes to reinstating the world economy in a green, inclusive and sustainable manner and revving up economic restructuring and digital transformation. All parties were rather optimistic about Asia’s robust driving force behind the development and its unremitting efforts to continue the economic integration. They argued that Asian countries were united at the difficult juncture during the pandemic, which displayed the value of seeking common ground while shelving differences and the importance of win-win cooperation.

With the active participation and concerted efforts of all parties concerned, AC2021 has generated notable results.It has built a consensus on working in unison to fight against the pandemic, enhancing global governance, upholding multilateralism and stepping up exchange and collaboration. As Covid-19 rages all over the world, these discussions showcased the solidarity and development status of Asia, and have helped boost the global economic recovery and the common development of the world.


In his keynote speech at AC2021, President Xi pointed out that BFA had witnessed the extraordinary journey of China, Asia, and the world over the past two decades, and has exerted a significant influence in boosting development in Asia and beyond. On its 20th anniversary, the Forum demonstrated its unique role again through the exceedingly impressive line-up, all-around detailed discussion, and far-reaching results brought by AC2021. Its impact on responding to development challenges, stepping up development momentum and directing development is both distinctive and irreplaceable.

Looking forward, the Forum will continue to uphold the banner of globalization and multilateralism and stand ready to join people of vision from political, business, and media circles across the globein making the global governance system fairer and more equitable, and pooling more positive energy for the development of Asia and the world at large. We are convinced that with the collective efforts of the Boao Family, more wisdom would be brought on the BFA stage. In the 20 years to come, the Boao Forum for Asia would be even more closely linked with Asia and the world.

Li Baodong is Secretary General of Boao Forum for Asia.