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China's Maritime Silk Road
Apr 23, 2014

China has for the first time released details of its recently announced Maritime Silk Road plan, announcing that the Indian Ocean-focused initiative will prioritise building ports and improving infrastructure in littoral countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

China is also planning to establish free trade zones in Indian Ocean countries as part of the plan—a move that will reinforce China’s deepening economic presence in the Indian Ocean Region and in India’s neighbourhood.

The Maritime Silk Road plan was unveiled in October last year when President Xi Jinping travelled to South-east Asia. Nations from Malaysia and Singapore to India, Sri Lanka and the Gulf countries have all been sounded out about the plan. It had, however, remained unclear what the plan would actually entail.

In the first official details of the plan, it is said that priority of the initiative was port construction and free trade zones. The plan is expected to focus on infrastructure construction of countries along the route, including ports of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. China is already involved in port projects in the three countries, in Gwadar, Hambantota and Chittagong.

China hopes to coordinate customs, quality supervision, e-commerce and other agencies to facilitate the scheme, as well as set up free trade zones.

China’s southern provinces of Yunnan — which borders Myanmar and is at the centre of another economic plan to build a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor.

The initiative was first proposed by Chinese premier Xi Jinping when he visited South-east Asia in October last year. The plan was reinforced by Premier Li Keqiang, who also visited ASEAN countries last year and announced the setting up of a 3 billion Yuan (around $500 million) maritime cooperation fund.

The initiative, which will deepen Chinese economic and maritime links with both South-east Asia and Indian Ocean Region countries, is being seen as to assuage regional anxieties about China’s growing military and naval presence amid a number of disputes. But Chinese officials only said about general contours of the initiative such as boosting regional maritime connectivity, and cooperation on disaster mitigation and fisheries development.


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