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FOCUS | Duterte's China trip can help boost the new Maritime Silk Road in the region

ASEAN-China Centre Secretary General Yang Xiuping (center). PHOTO BY JOEL PAREDES, INTERAKSYON.COM
The online news portal of TV5

SUZHOU, China - As “good partners” again, the Philippines and China can renew ties that can boost Beijing’s economic offensive in Southeast Asia through its new “Maritime Silk Road” initiative.

“(Now) We are friends. No problem,” remarked an official of the Asean-China Centre, following President Rodrigo Duterte’s crucial meeting with his counterpart Xi Jinping and other leading Chinese officials in Beijing.

Before their meeting, the July 12, 2016 UN tribunal ruling that rejected China’s 9-dash-line was widely seen to be a major stumbling bloc to the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route Economic Belt, Beijing’s strategic initiative to increase investment and foster collaboration from China toward Asean member countries.

The ruling was triggered by the Philippines’ arbitration case amid tension in disputed areas in the South China Sea which Beijing claimed were part of their territory based on the 9-dash line, but which the Philippines and neighboring Southeast Asian countries disputed, as several of them fell squarely within the exclusive economic zones of these Asean countries, as provided by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The official, however, said they were refraining from commenting on possible new bilateral arrangements between the two countries, saying that the Beijing-based interorganization body, jointly established by the governments of Asean and China, was focused on promoting multilateral cooperation in trade ans investment, education, culture, tourism and information.

Still, ACC Secretary General Yang Xiuping, in an exclusive interview with China Report, was quoted as saying that both China and Asean “are standing at a new starting point.”

She cited the Belt and Road initiative that was proposed by Chinese President  Xi JInping  during his visits to Central Asia and Indonesia in 2013.

“Looking into the future, there are bright prospects for further cooperation between China and Asean. Joint efforts should be made to create a new closer community,” said Yang, who was China’s ambassador to Indonesia in 2013 when President Xi Jinping introduced in Jakarta the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

The initiative was named after the historic Silk Road, the ancient network of routes for the ancient silk trade, which became an extensive transcontinental network linking the East and West from China to the Mediterranean Sea.

An Economic and Technological Development Zone was set up in the port city of Taicang. The Taicang port (photo below) at the south bank of the Yangtze River estuary is the starting point of the original maritime route of the first Silk Road.

Yang, in the interview - copies of the transcript were distributed to journalists participating in the “China-Asean Media Journey on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road 2016” - noted that Chinese and Asean leaders have already identified directions for developing their relations.  This was outlined in the Action Plan to Implement the Joint Declaration on China –Asean Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity 2016-2020.

The veteran diplomat said that establishment of the China-Asean Free Trade Area, the launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Lancang Mekong Cooperation mechanism “have all lent new impetus to the further development of China-Asean relations.”

“My understanding of the Belt and Road initiative is that it is not a Chinese solo, but a symphony performed by all countries involved." Although first proposed by China, the construction of the Belt and Road is not only China’s business, she said.

Yang explained that the international community has come to understand the opportunities that initiative “will bring tangible benefits the countries and people along the route.”

For starters, it was gathered that while students from Asean member countries are being encouraged to study in China, there are also programs for Chinese universities to expand in the region.

In Laos, the 113 year-old Sochow University had set up a branch in Vientiane  in 2011 as the first overseas university founded by a Chinese university.

The move is expected to help China gain worldwide recognition in the education field, apart from assisting Chinese enterprises in overseas ventures.

An Economic and Technological Development Zone, on the other hand, was set up in the port city of Taicang at the south bank of the Yangtze River estuary, the starting point of the original maritime route of the first Silk Road.

Zou Liahong, the deputy director of the zone’s administrative committee, said that  as a platform for port logistics and trade, they are looking at the 261.8-square kilometer district along the Yangtze River for the expansion of new emerging industries.

Meanwhile, Niu Jian Ping, the vice director of the Taicang Port Administrative Committee, noted that that they intend to renew business transactions with the Port of Manila after being suspended for a while, with the renewed momentum in economic cooperation between the Philippines and China, 

But he quickly pointed out that there was “no politics” when the port’s transaction with the Philippines came to a halt.