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Cover Stories Series 2015> Strengthening Regional Partnership> Archives
UPDATED: February 2, 2015 NO. 6 FEBRUARY 5, 2015
Visions of the Maritime Silk Road

Thirdly, the amount of capital necessary to undertake the infrastructure projects in these regions is staggering. China made significant outlays--over $40 billion for the New Development Bank of the BRICS; about $42 billion for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; $40 billion for the Silk Road project and about $46 billion in Pakistan. While other countries and agencies will also contribute to the infrastructure projects, China--with nearly $4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves--has taken the lead. Nevertheless, given the relatively low per-capita income in the areas falling under the Silk Road projects, some concerns were raised on whether these stimulus packages are economically viable in the long run.

However, the major challenge for these projects comes from the geopolitical and geo-strategic issues--the responses of the major powers like the United States and Russia and regional powers. The United States first announced a "re-balancing" strategy in 2010, although it has struggled to gather steam and with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and focus on North Africa and the Middle East, China could still actively pursue its own strategy. Another major challenge stems from Russia, which has a strong position on CSTO. While China gathered strength in the Central Asian region through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Beijing was unable to replace Russian influence in the region as evidenced by little progress in free trade proposals or military security initiatives.

While India is one of the founding members of both the BRICS Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, it declined to endorse the Maritime Silk Road idea during former Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo's visit in early 2014 or during President Xi's visit to India last September--indicating a measured response. Indian responses are also concerned with its "strategic autonomy" principle, guarding sovereignty issues and diplomatic reciprocities. While India is keen to endorse mutually beneficial aspects of the Silk Road initiative, it is weighing the long-term geo-strategic impact of such projects.

Zamroni Salim (a researcher at the Economic Research Center under the Indonesian Institute of Sciences)

The idea of the Silk Roads is not a matter of who proposes it first, but is instead a matter of how we see the common goal to increase countries' welfare together. Cooperation and mutual trust should be developed by regional and global communities. The spirit of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and the efforts of connectivity development around the globe must be seen as a positive way to increase prosperity for all.

How can a maritime country like Indonesia share in the mutual benefits promised by the Maritime Silk Road? In recent times, Indonesia has neglected the development of its maritime sector. As an archipelago country, Indonesia has a great opportunity to seize its potential and provide a real improvement in the livelihood of its people.

Indonesia's prosperity and political sovereignty depend highly on maritime development. Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared at the Ninth East Asia Summit on November 13, 2014, that Indonesia should be the fulcrum of the maritime world. The two strategies outline key objectives; namely, developing inward maritime routes through the ocean highway or Tol Laut, in addition to its outward-oriented maritime strategy. Both of these strategies to achieve maritime sovereignty are coherent with the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

How can ASEAN countries in general--and Indonesia in particular--reap the mutual benefits by exploiting the Maritime Silk Road? Cooperation between China, Indonesia, and other countries geographically adjacent to the Maritime Silk Road may be implemented through, but is not limited to, infrastructure and connectivity development. The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road infrastructure and investment funds could be an alternative source of economic development in the ASEAN region.

China already pledged to provide a massive investment fund for the development of infrastructure and connectivity along the countries adjacent to the project. The total amount of around $50 billion will trigger the development of basic infrastructure and promote international trade and investment. The idea of taking part through production networks align with the characteristics of the ASEAN Economic Community as a single market and production base.

Specifically for Indonesia, the bilateral cooperation may be viewed as a framework for a much wider scope of cooperation beyond sea infrastructure and related industries, to also include railway and land transportation, logistics, fishery, etc. As part of the constructive efforts to manifest the maritime fulcrum, President Jokowi has proposed the development of around 24 sea ports to serve the ocean highway from the West to the East.

The promising 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative and Indonesia's Maritime Fulcrum should not been seen as political obstacles, and should instead be welcomed as ways to increase economic development and people's prosperity together without hindering the jurisdiction and economic autonomy of our neighbors.

From the perspective of game theory, the coherent efforts of China, Indonesia and other countries to achieve maritime prosperity should be seen as a cooperative project, not as a prisoner-dilemma game. Mutual trust, cooperation and conflict management should be at the forefront of our relations as we seek to increase prosperity for the people of our nations, including through the implementation of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. 

Email us at: liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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