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Jointly Build the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road By Deepening Mutual Trust and Enhancing Connectivity


Speech by State Councilor Yang Jiechi

At the Session of "Jointly Building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road" And Launching of the Year of China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation

28 March 2015

General Tanasak Patimapragorn, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Thailand,
Mr. Fidel V. Ramos, Former President of the Philippines,
Mr. Kevin Rudd, Former Prime Minister of Australia,
Minister Tram Lv Tek of Cambodia,
Minister Qiu Yuanping,
Governor Liu Cigui,
Secretary General Zhou Wenzhong,
Minister Wang Hong,
Distinguished Guests,
Dear Friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to join you at this session. This auditorium reminds me of last year's session on the silk road, which sparked lively discussions among so many attendants. This year, the session on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road has touched off more extensive discussions by even more participants, which fully testifies to the appeal and influence of China's "Belt and Road" initiative. I believe the fact that we are having the discussion in the beautiful province of Hainan, a place surrounded by the sea, gives our meeting exceptional significance. On behalf of the Chinese government, I wish to extend my warmest congratulations on the opening of this session and the launching of the Year of China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation and my heartfelt welcome to all the distinguished guests from other countries and friends of various sectors.

The Silk Road has long been known for its overland and maritime routes since the ancient times. The two routes complemented each other with flying colors, adding a brilliant chapter to the annals of human civilization.

The ancient maritime Silk Road was opened and operated by the people of Asia, Europe and Africa. For hundreds of years, a large number of ports thrived along the coastlines on the West Pacific, the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Calling on these ports were not only ships carrying silk, but also those loaded with porcelain, ironware, spices, precious stones and books. Crew and passengers included Chinese, Europeans, people from Southeast and South Asia, Arabs and Africans, who came to each other's aid readily as travellers in the same boat.

In the early 15th century, the great Chinese navigator Zheng He who led the world's biggest fleet at the time on a total of seven expeditions, reaching as far as East Africa, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. They did not invade, colonize or swindle, but went for trade along with spreading amity and cracking down on piracy. Zheng He's fleet received welcome and assistance from the countries along the route and touching stories about Zheng He are still being told to this day.

In 2013, President Xi Jinping put forward the major "Belt and Road" initiative. Countries and people along the route have applauded it. We all agree to make the building of a community of common destiny for win-win cooperation the goal of our endeavor. And we all agree to move forward the building of overland and maritime silk roads in tandem.

Building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is the continuation and development of the ancient maritime Silk Road. What we want to continue pushing forward is the Silk Road spirit featuring peace, friendship, openness, inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit. What we want is to properly design cooperation pivots and economic corridors on the sea for all-round maritime cooperation in this age of economic globalization and multipolarity. While upholding its own maritime rights and interests, China stands ready to work together with other countries to build maritime partnerships of win-win cooperation.

Thanks to the joint efforts of China and some other countries in the past year and more, the building of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road has made steady headway and entered a new stage of practical cooperation. China held a successful APEC Ocean-Related Ministerial Meeting. Good progress has been made in the development of China-Laos and China-Vietnam cross-border economic cooperation zones, the China-Laos railway project, the railway project in Thailand, and the stage II dredging of international waterways of the Lancang-Mekong River. China and Kazakhstan have jointly launched the logistics terminal at Lianyungang. China has worked with Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Greece respectively in deepening cooperation on port construction and operation. China has engaged in active discussions with ASEAN, the Gulf Cooperation Council and Sri Lanka on establishing or upgrading FTA, and signed agreements with Indonesia and others on industrial park cooperation. The Qinzhou Industrial Park and the Kuantan Industrial Park jointly created by China and Malaysia are good examples for such cooperation. China has also carried out a variety of ocean-related cooperation with Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka while steadily pushing multiple projects supported by the China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund and the China-Indonesia Maritime Cooperation Fund.

The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road foresees an extensive and open-ended coverage. Linking European and Asia-Pacific economic rims across four oceans, the Road focuses on the Southeast Asian countries, connects South Asia, West Asia and some African and European countries and naturally extends to the South Pacific. All countries around the world, international organizations, multinational corporations, NGOs and all ocean-loving people from various sectors can join and play a constructive part in its development.

The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will present a rich and colorful program of cooperation. In addition to maritime transport and resource development, it will involve research, environmental protection, tourism, disaster reduction and prevention, law enforcement cooperation and people-to-people exchanges on the sea. Not only will it look at the development of the blue economy and building of oceanic economic demonstration zones offshore, it will also build onshore industrial parks, marine science and technology parks and training bases for ocean-related personnel. Not only will we go utilizing the oceanic resources, we will also protect well our oceanic environment. Not only should we deliver a good life to our people along the coast, we should also bring about an interconnected development of the hinterland and coastal regions to achieve common prosperity.

As for how to advance the development of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, China is ready to listen to suggestions and proposals from other countries, ASEAN countries included. As I see it, a good job in this regard requires that we bear in our mind three key words.

The first word is mutual trust. Asia on the whole enjoys stability with relations between countries growing steadily. Of course, there is the need for some neighbors to further enhance trust and dispel misgivings. Asian countries enjoy bright propects for win-win cooperation. Let us take forward our maritime cooperation with confidence and sicerity. And through building the Maritime Silk Road, we can deepen our mutual trust and work together to maintain peace and development in the region.

Let me reiterate here that as the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road focuses mainly on economic and people-to-people cooperation,it will not, in principle, involve issues of controversy. The "Belt and Road" initiative is consistent with the principles of China's neighborhood diplomacy, namely, affinity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness. The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is by no means a tool for any country to seek geopolitical advantages. Rather, it is a public good for all countries. It will tolerate no monopoly or coercion of whatever form. Rather, everyone is equally treated while business is conducted through consultation.

The second word is connectivity. Countries along the Belt and Road differ in national conditions and vary greatly in level of maritime development and protection. It is neither realistic nor advisable to measure them against the same set of ideas, plans and model of cooperation. One of the original features of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is its much stressed connectivity. It is not about one party accepting the plan made by another or one party following the rules set by another. It is instead an exercise of looking for common ground and areas of cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, leading to the formulation of a joint plan.

Connectivity is needed in many areas. Take connectivity of development strategies for example. President Joko Widodo of Indonesia has talked about building a maritime power with a maritime highway. This is very much in line with the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative. Maritime cooperation, therefore, is becoming a new engine for the bilateral cooperation between China and Indonesia. The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road can also be aligned with the blueprints for the ASEAN Community.

Next, with respect to project and enterprise matching. Quite a few Asian and European countries are stepping up port and infrastructure development, expanding shipping, fishing and fish processing industries and planning industrial parks, special zones, bonded areas and free trade zones near their ports. There are many such projects in the pipeline and with good market prospects. Chinese companies have both experience and capability in these fields. We suggest that our governments facilitate business partnerships by helping our enterprises to match up their projects so that they can complement each other while sharing risks and gains.

There is also a need for institutional connectivity. The region already abounds with bilateral and multilateral mechanisms and platforms on maritime cooperation. In addition to Boao Forum for Asia, we have ASEAN Plus China, APEC, ESCAP and so on. It is necessary to enhance communication and coordination among these mechanisms so as to improve integration of resources and collaboration on the basis of proper division of labor.

The third word is early harvest. Only when countries along the route reap the benefit from the development of the Maritime Silk Road at an early date will they become more enthusiastically involved. China hopes to work with countries along the route in identifying some demonstration projects, getting them started once conditions are ripe so that results can be gained at an early date. China is ready to work with ASEAN countries to conclude without delay an inter-governmental cooperation document on jointly building the Maritime Silk Road, and start to draw up cooperation plans and identify key cooperation projects.

This year is the Year of China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation. China and ASEAN countries will carry out practical cooperation on marine economy, maritime connectivity, marine science research and environmental protection, safety and security, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges on the sea. We will open a China-ASEAN maritime cooperation center, set up a China-ASEAN maritime emergency helpline, and launch the China-ASEAN Ocean College. Today, we are gathered here to launch the Year of Maritime Cooperation and kick off the year's events. We hope that maritime cooperation will become yet another new highlight and a new engine for the growing China-ASEAN relations and the all-dimensional maritime cooperation between China and ASEAN will become a model for the development of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

This morning, President Xi pointed out in his speech at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual conference 2015 that the "Belt and Road" initiative follows the principles of wide consultations, joint contribution and shared benefits. It will be a real chorus comprising all countries along the routes and represents real work that can be seen and felt. It is bringing and will continue to bring tangible benefits to countries in the region. We look forward to seeing more friends join in the building of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in various ways. I sincerely hope and truly believe that all of us will seize this opportunity and work in concert towards the promising prospects of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Thank you.

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