Thursday, 20 November 2014

China's revival of 600-year-old links in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas

 Malaysia and China have great plans for a 21st century version of an ancient trade route from China that reached as far as Europe and the Americas

Maritime trade between China and other countries dates back to the Qin and Han dynasties.

Merchant ships that departed from China sailed into the South China Sea carrying silk, porcelain ware, tea and other commodities.

The ancient trade route reached as far as Europe and the Americas, forging friendships and exchanges.

Today, China has a grand vision: to revive a 21st century version of this ancient maritime corridor by inviting countries from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe to come on board the present-day route.

According to an article in the Asia Weekly of China Daily, an English-language newspaper, the proposed 21st century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) begins in Quanzhou in Fujian province, moves on to Guangzhou in Guangdong province and Beihai in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, and then heads south to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Continuing south to Kuala Lumpur on the Strait of Malacca, the MSR joins Jakarta, Indonesia, crosses the Indian Ocean to Nairobi, Kenya, and then links with Colombo, Sri Lanka and Male, the Maldives.

China has taken many initiatives to promote the 21st century MSR since its president Xi Jinping first brought up the idea during his visit to Indonesia in October last year.

One of the most recent efforts was the Guangdong 21st Century Maritime Silk Road International Expo, which brought together more than 40 countries and regions to seek cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, tourism and culture.

Guangdong party secretary Hu Chunhua, during the opening ­ceremony of the expo in Dongguan, touted the 21st century MSR as a road of peace and friendship that brings about mutual cooperation and benefits.

He said Guangdong is a convenient transportation hub linking China with countries along the MSR.

“The inland provinces join the MSR and venture out to the world through Guangdong, while Guangdong is also the entry point for resources to come into China from the outside world,” he said of the strategic location of Guangdong.

In the past, Guangzhou, the capital of the southern province, was a major stop on the ancient trade route. Records show that close to 90 per cent of the merchant ships from the West docked at its Huangpu Port from 1685 to 1757.

The glory remains today, with Guangdong ranking first among all provinces in China in terms of economic output, trade volume and population.

Last year, both its gross domestic product and total imports and exports exceeded US$1 trillion.

Trade between Guangdong and Malaysia, China’s largest trading partner in Asean, stood at US$26.81 billion.

Tourism Malaysia chairman Dr Ng Yen Yen said Malaysia’s participation at the expo, the ­largest among all countries, reflected our readiness for greater collaboration and cooperation with countries along the MSR.

In her speech at a forum held ­during the expo, she said ties between both countries can be traced back to 600 years ago when Admiral Cheng Ho visited Malacca during his seven naval expeditions to the Western Ocean.

On the tourism front, Dr Ng proposed a multiple-destination cruise route along the 21st-MSR that will provide vast opportunities for multi­lateral economic cooperation.

Meanwhile, an Institute of Maritime Silk Road Tourism and Culture was established during the expo.

A collaboration between the Guangdong Tourism Board and the South China Normal University, the institute will be a platform for academic research and exchange on topics related to the Maritime Silk Road, such as tourism, culture, education and regional development.

By Tho XIn Yi The Star/Asia News Network

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