Reflections on Maritime Partnership: Building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road
by Liu Cigui
The “Silk Road” is a general term used to geographically describe ancient Chinese exchanges between Asia, Europe and Africa in the areas of politics, economics and culture. Starting on land and developing on sea, the “Silk Road” is a vehicle of historic importance for the dissemination of culture. The ancient maritime Silk Road was developed under political and economic backgrounds and was the result of cooperative efforts from ancestors of both the East and West. China’s proposal to build a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is aimed at exploring the unique values and concepts of the ancient road, enriching it with new meaning for the present era and actively developing economic partnerships with countries situated along the route. Specifically, the proposal seeks to further integrate current cooperation in order to achieve positive effects.
The ocean is the foundation and vehicle necessary to build a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It is China’s mission to understand the importance of building a Maritime Silk Road and take effective actions at present and for a certain period to come.
21st Century Maritime Silk Road from a Global Perspective
In the twenty-first century, countries have become more inter-connected by the ocean in conducting market, technological and information exchanges. The world is now in an era that values maritime cooperation and development. China’s proposal to build a Maritime Silk Road conforms with larger developments in economic globalization and taps into common interests that China shares with countries along the route. The goal is to forge a community of interest with political mutual trust, integrated economies, inclusive culture and inter-connectivity. The construction of a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is a global ini-tiative that pursues win-win results through cross-border cooperation. It is thus of great importance to view it from the perspective of multi-polarization, economic globalization and the co-existence and ba-lancing of cooperation and competition.
Building a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will help stimulate all-round maritime opening-up and benefit ASEAN and relevant countries.
Oceans contain a treasure trove of resources for sustainable development. China is currently at a critical stage in its economic reform process and must pay more attention to the ocean. As mentioned in the resolution of the Third Plenum, “[China] needs to enhance opening-up in coastal regions and boost the connectivity construction with neighboring countries and regions to spur all-round opening-up.”
The Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century will further unite and expand common interests between China and other countries situated along the route, activate potential growth and achieve mutual benefits in wider areas. The Maritime Silk Road will extend southward from China’s ports, through the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca, Lombok and Sunda and then along the north Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. In other words, the Road will extend from Asia to the Middle East, East Africa and Europe, and it will mainly rely on ASEAN countries. Building the Maritime Silk Road will connect China’s ports with other countries through maritime connectivity, intercity cooperation and economic cooperation. On the one hand, the Road will strengthen the economic basis for China to cooperate with countries along the route and better connect Europe and Asia. On the other hand, the Road will facilitate the development of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), bringing benefits to China, ASEAN and other countries along the road.
The Maritime Silk Road will increase trust and regional peace and stability.
As the world’s economic and political center shifts towards the Asia Pacific, the region has stepped into a stage of geopolitics characterized by intersecting, overlapping and conflicting interests. By facilitating communication between countries along the road, the Maritime Silk Road will help build a community that represents the common concerns, interests and expectations of all countries. The community is expected to guide and support a peaceful and stable Asia Pacific landscape.
Moreover, the Maritime Silk Road will further bring together the “Silk Road Economic Belt,” the “Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor” and the “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor” that together connect Europe and Asia. Such connections will greatly enhance China and other countries’ abilities to develop economically while limiting external risks. The Maritime Silk Road will also enhance cooperation in non-traditional security areas while maintaining maritime security.
Maritime Partnerships Are the Key to Building the Maritime Silk Road
At a speech before the Indonesian parliament in 2013, President Xi Jinping stated that Southeast Asia has become an important hub for the maritime silk road and that China is willing to enhance maritime cooperation with ASEAN countries, boost maritime partnerships and build a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. President Xi’s speech set forth a clear path for developing road. Enhancing maritime cooperation will be a priority task in building the Maritime Silk Road. The first step will involve China and countries along the route promoting pragmatic maritime cooperation.
Connecting multiple regions and uniting wide areas of co-operation, the tasks put forth in the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will not be achieved in the immediate future. Instead, these tasks call for China and relevant countries to work in a step-by-step and practical manner. Building the Maritime Silk road will require diverse forms of cooperation. With a focus on economic cooperation, the Road will give consideration to all parties involved. It will be based on the existing cooperation mechanisms and platforms and be promoted by China and other countries along the route.
The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will cover more than 20 countries and regions that share a broad consensus on enhancing exchanges, friendship, promoting development, safety and stability within the region and beyond. The Silk Road has already received positive responses and support from many relevant countries. Greek Prime Minister Antonidis Samaras, for example, made it clear that Greece will “support and actively participate in building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road proposed by China.” The Road runs through a region that is sensitive to international strategy and has complex geopolitics. The countries in the region differ in size, development, history, religion, language and culture. Therefore, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will accommodate various countries’ demands and apply suitable policies to each country. Meanwhile, the Road must change and consolidate new patterns of cooperation.
China has been building friendships and partnerships with nei-ghboring countries and developing maritime partnerships with its ocean neighbors, providing a solid foundation for cooperation with ASEAN and countries in the region. The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road requires the following efforts: First, consensus must be reached between major countries along the route to enhance maritime cooperation. During high-level dialogues in recent years, the Chinese leadership made maritime cooperation an important topic of bilateral discussions and established the China-ASEAN and China-Indonesia Maritime Cooperation Fund. At the same time, China has actively promoted maritime cooperation between Southeast Asia, South Asia and African countries and established high-level mechanisms between various national maritime departments.
Second, countries must engage in pragmatic cooperation along the route in the areas of trade, the economy, culture and infrastructure. In 2012, the trade volume of countries along the route accounted for 17.9 percent of China’s total trade. The contracted turnover in countries along the route accounted for 37.9 percent of China’s overseas contracted turnover. People-to-people exchanges between China and ASEAN recently topped 15 million, while two-way students reached more than 170,000.
Third, countries along the route must engage in effective cooperation on ocean and climate change, marine disaster prevention and mitigation, biodiversity preservation and other areas of maritime policy. In 2010, the Indonesia-China Center for Ocean & Climate (ICCOC) was established. In 2013, the China-Thailand Climate and Marine Ecosystem Joint Lab were both launched. In 2012, the Chinese government set up a Marine Scholarship, and from that year onward, the scholarship will sponsor young people from developing countries in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America to obtain a master’s degree or doctorate in China to enhance the marine capabilities of their own countries.
Focusing on Developing Partnerships Along the Maritime Silk Road
The Maritime Silk Road is in line with the development of national economies and the improvement of welfare. China must follow the new perspectives on value, cooperation and development featuring equality, cooperation, mutual benefits, win-win results, inclusiveness and harmony. Guided by President Xi’s desire to “expand the scale of cooperation and gradually foster regional cooperation,” China must make use of its comparative advantages and promote communication, connectivity, trade flow, currency circulation and consensus among people. China needs to target common interests between countries along the road and map out long-term plans and execute its plans in a step by step manner.
The Road will connect the Pacific and Indian Oceans. China will focus on upgrading the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area and extending it to the coastal regions of the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. By virtue of connecting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the “Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor” and the “Silk Road Economic Belt,” China will build an open, safe and effective maritime road that can facilitate trade, transportation, economic development and the dissemination of culture.
The Road will also make good use of the China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund and enhance pragmatic maritime cooperation. By prioritizing cooperation in inter-connectivity, the maritime economy, marine environmental protection and disaster prevention and mitigation, China aims to improve the welfare of countries along the route and share the benefits of the Maritime Silk Road.
The Road will also make use of existing bilateral and multilateral marine cooperation mechanisms and frameworks. By making use of the existing and effective marine cooperation platforms, China will improve the area’s marine partnership network, forge closer ties between countries along the route and finally create a cooperation landscape in which marine resources, industries and culture are all reasonably distributed and mutually reinforcing.
The construction of a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road the development of marine partnerships call for the following measures:
First, it will call for better marine connectivity. Infrastructure connectivity is the priority of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Countries need to focus on building key pathways, points and major projects, and China needs to work with countries along the road to build marine infrastructure, improve law enforcement abilities, provide public goods of marine security and guarantee the security of marine pathways. China needs to support the construction of ports, wharves and information networks to ensure the open flow of goods and information. It must also enhance communication on marine cooperation policies to facilitate marine investment and trade.
Sea lane safety is the key to sustaining the development of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, while ports are the foundation of sea lane safety. Like posts along the ancient Silk Road, ports along the new Maritime Silk Road will act as “posts on sea” that handle cargo and resupply ships and people. Such “sea posts” also must provide safe and convenient sea lanes for all countries to make use of. These posts can either be built by individual countries or built with the help of China and other countries, or even be leased in other counties. The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will thus able to cover and drive more countries to create “sea posts.”
Second, it will call for strong cooperation on marine economy and industry. Many countries along the route strategically exploit the ocean, develop their maritime economies and sustain marine development. Strengthening cooperation on marine economics and industry will help push forward modernization and promote the upgrading and optimization of industry. Such cooperation will better integrate China’s economy with those of countries along the route.
Closer cooperation in the marine industry will require domestic industrial restructuring according to market demands, require prioritized cooperation in marine fishery, tourism, desalination and marine renewable resources and require Chinese enterprises in this industry to go global. China encourages enterprises with intellectual property and sophisticated desalination technology, marine renewable resources and marine bio-pharmaceutical technology to invest and build their own businesses in countries along the route.
Relying on existing Economic and Trade Cooperation Zones between China and other countries, as well as marine demonstration zones in Tianjin, Shandong, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong, the government will play a leading role in the initial stages, guide enterprises with mature technologies in iron and steel, shipbuilding, fishery and aq-uaculture to establish production bases and extend industrial chains to countries with rich resources and huge demand.
China needs to work with countries along the route to facilitate regional cooperation, building industrial parks, enhancing investment and cooperation in the marine industry, building marine economic demonstration zones, marine technology parks, economic and trade cooperation zones and marine training bases. Through such industrial cooperation, China will forge an investment cooperation platform in which Chinese enterprises can gain international competitiveness and participate at a higher level of the industrial echelon.
China needs to build a cooperation belt to enhance the marine industry and set up cooperation networks to facilitate marine tourism. A sustainable Maritime Silk Road will not be achieved without the help of port economic zones. As a result, China must develop its port economic zones and free trade zones to provide a platform for the Maritime Silk Road. China will focus on eliminating systematic and mechanistic barriers, lowering market thresholds and facilitating the opening-up of major areas.
Third, it will call for all-round cooperation in marine fields. In recent years, non-traditional security issues such as piracy, maritime terrorism, cross-border crimes and maritime disasters have loomed large. Countries along the route share a common interest in addressing these problems. Naturally, fighting against non-traditional security challenges will become an important part of the Maritime Silk Road. As such, China must promote exchanges and cooperation between countries along the route in the areas of marine technology, environmental protection, marine forecasting and rescue, disaster prevention and the mitigation and climate change.
Putting the “Marine Technology Partnership Plan” into practice. Based on existing marine cooperation centers and observation platforms, China will focus on promoting marine technology cooperation networks and building the China-ASEAN Marine Cooperation Center, the Indonesia and China Center for Ocean and Climate, the China-Thailand Climate and Marine Ecosystem Joint Lab, the China-Pakistan Joint Marine Center, the China-Sri Lanka Marine and Coastal Zone Joint Research Center and other ocean stations.
Building “marine ecological partnerships.” By paying more atten-tion to an ecological civilization, China needs to enhance cooperate with countries along the route to build a green Silk Road that addresses the marine ecological environment and climate change. China must set up an effective dialogue mechanism, map out major projects in which all parties can get involved and make comprehensive plans for regional ecological and environmental protection. China must work more closely with Southeast Asia and South Asia to protect biodiversity, build a cross-border bio-diversity corridor and establish marine conservation areas.
Conducting the regional marine research. By building cooperation networks for marine disaster preparedness, providing marine forecasting products and releasing marine disaster warnings, China will increase marine benefits for relevant countries.
Fourth, it will call for expanding cooperation in marine culture. Marine culture is the foundation of building a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. When talking about the Silk Road Economic Belt, President Xi has stated that “amity between people holds the key to sound relations between states.” He also highlighted the importance of “common aspirations,” given that the Silk Road will be supported by countries only if it is able to benefit people. China will inherit and pro-mote friendly cooperation along the Maritime Silk Road and develop a proposal with international consensus so that marine cooperation and partnerships will be firmly supported.
The plan will also call on countries to increase marine awareness and achieve common aspirations. China needs to make full use of the geopolitics and culture of Maritime Silk Road to promote exchanges in marine culture, tourism and education to make the Road a key link for friendly exchanges. By “going global” and “going local” at the same time, China needs to carry out exchanges and cooperation in marine culture, in areas such as cultural or art exchanges, archaeological exchanges, marine tourism cooperation, education and training.
China will guide and encourage the community to conduct various cultural exchanges and offer tours and products with distinct Silk Road features. In such a way, China will be able to expand the cultural influence of the Maritime Silk Road, push the Road into the new century and promote general marine cultural diversity.
On June 20, 2014, Premier Li Keqiang spoke at the China-Greece Marine Cooperation Forum, stating, “We stand ready to work with other countries to boost economic growth, deepen international cooperation and promote world peace through developing the ocean, and we strive to build a peaceful, cooperative and harmonious ocean.” China’s proposal to build a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road suits the current era and is characterized by peace, development, cooperation, innovation and opening-up. With the goal of building a harmonious ocean, the proposal rests on opening-up and innovation and aims to achieve “harmony between humans and the ocean, peaceful development, safety and convenience, cooperation and win-win results.” A 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will enhance cooperation between China and other countries, increase mutual trust, create a stable environment for cooperation and bring new opportunities for regional stability and prosperity.