Significance of the Founding of the 21st Century Marine Silk Road and Collaborative Growth of the Asia Pacific Region

By Noriyoshi Ehara
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, February 9, 2015
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Since approximately 600 years ago (around the time of the Ming Dynasty at the beginning of the 15th Century), the world's largest sphere of commercial trading was shaped in the Asia-Pacific Region. That is to say, due to the voyages of Zheng He down the Western Seas (1405-1433 AD), China had been enthusiastically building partnerships, establishing free trade, and engaging in diplomatic interchange among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region. It can be said that the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) of today had already been shaped. Certainly, it happened 90 years or so before the western Age of Discovery had started.

In 2013, Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China, set forth development strategy of "One Belt and One Road", consisting of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. The "One Belt and One Road" strategy for development is the "Grand Plan" for cooperative development in an extensive region, ranging from the Asia-Pacific region and Central Asia, throughout Europe, and reaching as far as Africa.

Then, in November 2014, China dispatched her foundation plan of "One Belt and One Road" to the world, on the occasion of sponsoring the Beijing APEC forum as an APEC host country and soon after in Australia at the Brisbane G20 Summit meeting. There was an impression of a modern-day echo of "Voyages of Zheng He Down the Western Seas", as it were, with regard to the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road strategies. Currently, the Asia-Pacific region is the center of growth in the world's economy and the world is focused on that outcome.

Meanwhile, the largest influence that can be observed on the current world's development (economic, political, cultural, etc.) is in the future of regional economic partnership, as is represented by the Free Trade Agreements (FTA). Among the Asia-Pacific regional countries and areas represented in the FTA, there is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which China actively promotes, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) led by the United States, the Japan-China-Korea FTA, and others; all are competitive and there is yet no established formation.

The Asia-Pacific region is composed of countries and areas of differing belief systems, national identities, and levels of economic development. The path to cooperative development is not simple. Under these conditions, it is historically significant for China to advocate the building of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. At present, China is the world's second largest economy. Furthermore, in and around the Asia-Pacific region, there are many countries and areas that have made China their top trading partner. And there is a framework of regional cooperation in existence, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the EurAsian Economic Community (EurAsEC), and Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) supported by China. The 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road establishment proposes a path to new cooperative development in the Asia-Pacific region and can be an extension of the FTA.

Before everything else though is the specific plan for China to establish the 21st -Century Maritime Silk Road, with an emphasis in this novel plan of grasping cooperative development through the opening of connectivity or, in other words, infrastructure improvement. In order to achieve this, China is supporting the founding of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund.

The 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road has an inseparable relationship with the Silk Road Economic Belt. In the future, it is conceivable that the Silk Road (One Belt and One Road) FTA structure will become a super-mega FTA. Like the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), before a road map is written for Silk Road FTA implementation, there are certainly a lot of twists and turns to go through. It should be requested for the Silk Road FTA structure not only to apply standardized rules to all related countries and areas but to overcome imbalance of different development levels. With this in mind, perhaps there is a clue in the methodology of 15 types of partnership, which China has established with 58 nations and organizations (regions). There are certainly lots of countries and regions that expect China to show with the Silk Road FTA construction their partnership development.

Author Noriyoshi, Ehara is Chairperson of Japan-China Children's Friendship Interchange Center of Tokyo, Vice President of the Society of China-Japan Studies and Chief Economist at the Institute for International Trade and Investment. He once worked in JETRO's Japan-China Economic Association, Department of China and North Asia and Beijing Center. He also serves as Visiting Professor at Ritsumeikan University and Lecturer at Chuo University, and is Honorary Citizen of Dalian City and Overseas Advisor of Yantai Municipal government in China's Shandong Province.

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