ASEAN will gain from Maritime Silk Road

China Daily | 作者: Jiang Zhida | 时间: 2015-03-31 | 责编: Li Minjie
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Will China's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative benefit the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' member states? The answer is "yes", because it is a win-win initiative based on equality. By joining the initiative, the developing countries in the region will get funds for improving their infrastructure, deepening investment cooperation, and increasing cultural and personnel exchanges, which are necessary for their economic development.


According to Asian Development Bank's estimates, Asian economies need $8 trillion between 2010 and 2020 to improve their infrastructure in order to ensure sustained economic development. Most of the economies cannot fully self-fund such projects, but China can, through the proposed Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.


The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will facilitate more exchanges on the education, tourism, personnel training and cultural fronts, which, in turn, will enhance understanding between the peoples of different countries and promote inclusive development.


ASEAN member states have the geographical advantage to benefit from China's initiative. ASEAN and China have a long history of economic and cultural exchanges. They already have several effective cooperation mechanisms, including the 10+1 (10 ASEAN members plus China) mechanism. The sound investment environment and political stability that ASEAN economies have will also help them attract more funds and investments from China, making them big beneficiaries of the new Maritime Silk Road.


China's initiative will open a new cooperation road that can respond to the multiple development needs of Asian economies. And owing to its multiple cooperative mechanisms, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will be compatible with other regional economic cooperation mechanisms.


The new Maritime Silk Road is open to all, and about 60 countries, developing and developed both, have already welcomed it. Besides, many developing and developed countries have expressed willingness to join the AIIB and the Silk Road Fund.


Some people may be worried that the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will eventually benefit China alone. But such concerns are baseless, for its success depends on the equal participation of other countries. And it cannot succeed without using the existing mechanisms for cooperation or without being flexible enough to suit the development levels and specific requirements of the participating countries.


The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is a cultural exchange road that will link many nationalities, ethnic groups, religions and customs, which is important to increase people-to-people exchanges so as to promote greater understanding between the peoples of Asia and consolidate the cultural and social foundations of regional cooperation.


ASEAN can get maximum benefit from China's initiative by becoming part of it as early as possible, for that would give it greater access to the infrastructure development fund. Also, the Southeast Asian bloc should integrate the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road into its "Post-2015 Vision", which is likely to succeed the ASEAN Community's economic and socio-cultural blueprints at the 27th ASEAN Summit in November 2015.


Moreover, cooperation between ASEAN and China can prevent the disputes between Beijing and some ASEAN members from creating obstacles for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. This is important especially because the two sides have agreed to use dual tracks to deal with the South China Sea disputes to maintain peace and stability in the region.


Over the past decades, ASEAN has maintained its independence and centrality in East Asia through its multilateral diplomacy and regional frameworks such as the East Asia Summit, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the ASEAN Regional Forum. Some ASEAN members are worried that the new Maritime Silk Road could compromise ASEAN's centrality in the region. But that will not happen given ASEAN has successfully built a regional economic community and is leading it toward broader East Asian integration.


The author is an associate research fellow at the Center for the Belt and Road Initiatives, China Institute of International Studies.

 Source: China Daily, March 31, 2015.