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A second wind for an ancient route(3)

2015-02-02 10:42 bjreview.com.cn Web Editor: Li Yan

China and the ASEAN countries have labeled the past 10 years the "Golden Decade" for their relations and have coined the term "Diamond Decade" for the next 10 years, which they hope will feature more practical cooperation and regional economic integration.

China is the largest trade partner of the ASEAN nations, while the ASEAN ranks as China's third-largest. Their bilateral trade amounted to $443.61 billion in 2013, around 5.7 times that of 2003.

Also in 2013, ASEAN received $8.6 billion of direct investment from China, a significant 60.8-percent increase year on year and representing 7.1 percent of total capital inflow to ASEAN. The two sides are determined to push this figure to $500 billion by 2015 and $1 trillion by 2020.

Chen Yingming, Executive Vice President of the Shanghai-based China Port and Harbors Association, said that as a majority of ASEAN nations have long coastlines and important regional ports, the new Maritime Silk Road will help link growth centers like Shanghai, Singapore and Penang in Malaysia, as well as develop new regional hubs, such as Jakarta in Indonesia and Danang in Viet Nam.

"From a long-term perspective, the new Maritime Silk Road will fully support trade, state and private investment, industrial productivity and the service industry," Chen said.

Lee said infrastructure in ASEAN countries, especially the ports which are essential for the international trade, are very poor and need to be upgraded.

"China has strong experience and technology in infrastructure construction as well as the capital, and ASEAN hails China's initiatives in establishing the AIIB," Lee noted.

He said that ASEAN is set to build a single market economic community spanning the 10-nation bloc by 2015 and ASEAN can benefit from building the Maritime Silk Road as it will spur the economic development of ASEAN.

"Besides, the Maritime Silk Road can also promote people-to-people exchanges and enhance understanding between China and ASEAN as well as countries among ASEAN itself," Lee said.

Luo Renjian, a researcher with the Institute of Transportation Research under the National Development and Reform Commission, said regional connectivity is a top priority for China and ASEAN members, with Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Viet Nam already upgrading their pipelines, port facilities, and land and sea telecommunications.

"With growing shipping activities between China and ASEAN members, big multinational corporations, especially from developed markets, could move manufacturing facilities to Southeast Asia to take advantage of cheaper labor and raw materials, and then sell the products back to China at a profit," said Luo.

Opportunities for all

In mid-December last year, the Maldives officially joined China's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative.

"Looking from a purely economic standpoint, the Maritime Silk Road will be a platform to exchange cultural values as well as be an asset for academic and research-orientated initiatives, whereby both countries can share expertise," said Ali Hameed, former Vice Foreign Minister of the Maldives.

"I believe strongly that the time is ripe for the ancient silk route to be reborn again and to develop a bridge of connectivity, friendship and mutual development between China and the Maldives," he added.

The Maldives was always an important stop along the ancient Maritime Silk Road. "China welcomes its active participation in the new maritime initiative," Xi said during his visit to the country in September last year.

Xi has pledged support for Chinese investors in the Maldives, and is considering investment in a bridge to link Malé, the country's capital, and its international airport.

In fact, China is already involved in many major maritime projects in South Asia. In Sri Lanka, state-owned China Harbor Engineering Co. (CHEC) has started a large project to help the country reclaim land for a new business district in Colombo. CHEC also signed a memorandum of understanding with Sri Lankan port authorities on the joint operation of Hambantota Port.

"In fact, the Maritime Silk Road initiative provides equal opportunities for all Asian countries, including China itself," said Liu Shuguang, a professor with Qingdao-based Ocean University of China.

Since the announcement of building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, China's coastal provinces have been trying to become the key hubs along the new Maritime Silk Road.

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