The Jakarta Post
A Maritime Silk Road is both a new and ancient concept. Six hundred years ago, during the Ming Dynasty, the great Chinese navigator Admiral Zheng He went on seven expeditions via the Maritime Silk Road, during which he made stops in many places that are now within ASEAN countries. As many Indonesians may know, the Central Java capital of Semarang was actually named after him.
Visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech at the Indonesian House of Representatives on Oct. 3, 2013, during which he first proposed building a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road with ASEAN. On March 28 this year, China issued the 'Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road', in which it outlined the cooperation priorities and mechanisms for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
ASEAN has been a priority in China's neighborhood diplomacy, and is considered a key starting point for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. In building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, China, together with ASEAN, will provide a new platform and opportunity for forging a closer community and shared future between China and ASEAN.
Building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will further promote mutual political trust between China and ASEAN. Mutual political trust is the basis and safeguard for the sustained, healthy and stable growth of China-ASEAN relations.
The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will focus on people-to-people exchange and cooperation. It is consistent with the principles of China's neighborhood diplomacy, namely, affinity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness.
Nowadays, there are thousands of flights to and from China and ASEAN countries every week. Every year there are 18 million personnel exchanged between us, and the number of Chinese students studying in ASEAN countries and ASEAN students studying in China now exceeds 180,000. The workforce exchange between China and ASEAN has never been so large. With the building of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and increased connectivity in particular, the cultural and people-to-people exchange between us stands to grow even further.
China has proposed to designate next year as the Year of China-ASEAN Education Cooperation. We will actively implement the commitments of the 'Double 100,000 Students Plan' and 15,000 government scholarships, and work together with ASEAN countries to plan activities for the education year.
China is willing to take building the 21st Maritime Silk Road as an opportunity, to further advance our cooperation in areas such as culture, science and technology, environmental protection and tourism;
enhance exchanges among our youth, media, think-tanks and local provinces; make good use of such platforms as the China-ASEAN Center, the China-ASEAN Education Cooperation Week and the Network of ASEAN-China Think-Tanks; and build tourism circles in Pan-Beibu Gulf and along the Maritime Silk Road.
Meanwhile, China will send more volunteers to ASEAN nations to support the development of education, health and medical treatment.
Building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will further tighten the economic and trade relations between China and ASEAN. Since the establishment of dialogue and partnership between China and ASEAN 24 years ago, functional cooperation between us has progressed rapidly. The trade volume between China and ASEAN surpassed US$480 billion and increased by 8.3 percent year-on-year in 2014.
At present, the two sides are moving towards the goals set by our leaders, according to which the trade volume should reach $500 billion in 2015 and $1 trillion in 2020. Building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will help to achieve these goals, and lift our economic and trade relations to a new high.
Trade and investment facilitation is a priority in building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Currently China and ASEAN are negotiating on an upgraded Free Trade Agreement.
The two sides are expected to further open their markets and bring down the tariffs, which will greatly deepen economic and trade relations as well as investment cooperation between them. China supports Chinese companies to conduct overseas investment and cooperation with ASEAN countries.
We will continue to promote the establishment of industrial parks, economic and trade cooperation zone in ASEAN countries. Meanwhile, we welcome the investment from ASEAN countries to establish industrial zones in China. China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park and Tianjin Eco-city projects are good examples of cooperation between China and ASEAN countries.
Connectivity is part and parcel of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. On the basis of ASEAN's needs and master plans, we can work together to build up a safe and efficient integrated connectivity network, including the network of sea and water transportation, express highway, high-speed railway, aviation and communication optical cable.
Meanwhile, we will speed up the setting up of the China-ASEAN Port City Cooperation Network as well as the China-ASEAN Port Public Logistics Information Platform and actively promote early operation of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) so as to resolve financing bottlenecks in the area, especially those in Southeast Asia.
Furthermore, we need to further expand the size and scale of bilateral currency swap arrangements, increase the RMB settlement for cross-border trade, establish the currency market trade center between RMB and currencies of ASEAN countries, and promote the development of financial infrastructure and trans-border cooperation of financial services.
Maritime cooperation is inherently a must in building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. We are ready to work together with ASEAN countries to enhance maritime cooperation, which will be yet another highlight and a new engine for the growing China-ASEAN relations. Having declared 2015 the Year of China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation, we will further enhance communication between our marine departments, step up exchanges and coordination in our marine policies and explore the possibility of establishing communication and cooperation mechanisms between the maritime enforcement agencies of the two sides.
Meanwhile, we will take full advantage of the China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund to accelerate the communication and cooperation in such areas as marine economy, maritime connectivity, marine environment, marine safety and security, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges on the sea.
In the process of which we will gain experience and set a good example for the Maritime Silk Road for all the countries along the route.
The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is a platform based on wide consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. China will use this platform to boost its communication with the ASEAN countries, align our economic development policies, share resources and optimize our industrial structures and specialization, all with a view to further improving the competitiveness of our region.
The writer is Ambassador of China to ASEAN.