The coast of South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region was once crammed with Chinese merchant ships ready to carry ceramics and silk to the Malay Peninsula, Myanmar and India.
National and business leaders from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gathered in regional capital Nanning on Sept 16 to discuss how to reestablish this ancient maritime route.
The four-day expo has attracted over 2,300 companies from China and the ASEAN.
Addressing the opening ceremony, Vice-premier Zhang Gaoli called for China and ASEAN member countries to join hands to build a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, referring to the initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping.
Zhang said this is a road for win-win cooperation based on common development and prosperity. It is also one of peace and friendship based on deeper mutual understanding, trust and stronger all-around exchanges, he said, promising that it will develop “new areas for economic growth.”
The vice-premier also proposed the two sides to strengthen the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, enhance maritime cooperation and increase cultural and people-to-people exchanges.
BACKED BY LEADERS
China’s proposals were welcomed by leaders from ASEAN countries along the route.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was looking forward to working closely with China to thrash out the details.
Singapore has benefited from Asian growth, especially trade with China. Trade between the two countries grew to $92 billion in 2013, more than 20 times that of 1990.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn said he wants to see closer cooperation between the ASEAN and China as the country’s trade, commerce and prosperity depend heavily on maritime connectivity.
As the world economic recovery dawdles, leaders are hoping that the Maritime Silk Road will facilitate economic integration and help Asian nations resist downward pressures.
Asia has remained a resilient growth engine and a significant part of this growth can be attributed to China’s dynamism and regional integration, Lee said.
Lee expressed hope that momentum can be sustained despite regional frictions, not letting “disputes overshadow the positives of ASEAN-China cooperation.”
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 ASEAN’s largest trade partner, 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.
The two sides are determined to push this figure to $500 billion by 2015 and $1 trillion by 2020.
Zhang Gaoli said that China will import more than $10 trillion worth of goods in the next five years and that its direct outbound investment will surpass $500 billion.
“The sustained and sound growth of the Chinese economy will continue to drive the world economy and bring benefits to people of ASEAN countries,” he said.