The ASEAN Link in China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Crucial Position of ASEAN in both the Land and Sea Routes

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement of the creation of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road during a speech to the Indonesian parliament in October 2013 is seen as an indication of the important role that ASEAN plays in China’s belt and road asean. In March 2015, when China issued The Vision and Actions on Jointly Building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road policy initiative, it came as no surprise that strong emphasis was placed on orienting the trade routes towards ASEAN countries with a proposed China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor.

ASEAN countries have long been the key trading partners of China. Since the launch of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA) in 2010, improved institutional co-ordination and increasingly sophisticated intra-regional supply chains have driven China-ASEAN bilateral trade to new heights. Bilateral trade has grown significantly at an average annual rate of 18% between 2009 and 2014. To deepen multilateral co-operation, China and ASEAN began negotiating an upgrade of the existing CAFTA pact in 2014, with a focus on strengthening investment, trade in goods and services, and economic and technology co-operation. The discussion, likely to be concluded by the end of 2015, is expected to further enhance ASEAN’s crucial role in the Belt and Road Initiative and to facilitate further regional integration.

Mainland Southeast Asia, or the Indochina peninsula, is connected to China by land. The transnational transport network of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), of which Guangxi and Yunnan provinces are members, in combination with the proposed maritime silk road that will link major sea ports along the coasts of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar, will intensify China-ASEAN trade and industrial co-operation. It will also extend the economic benefits further afield to South Asia and Western Asia when the new multimodal transportation networks are in place.

Transportation Network in the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor

In building the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor, China will piggyback on the economic co-operation mechanisms of the GMS. During the Fifth Leaders Meeting on Greater Mekong Sub-regional Economic Co-operation, held in Bangkok in December 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang put forward three suggestions with regard to deepening the relations between China and the five countries in the Indochina Peninsula. These were: (1) to jointly plan and build an extensive transportation network, as well as a number of industrial co-operation projects; (2) to create a new mode of co-operation for fundraising; and (3) to promote sustainable and co-ordinated socio-economic development. Currently, the countries along the Greater Mekong River are engaged in building nine cross-national highways, connecting east and west, and linking north to south.

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