Ambassador Xu Bu: When the OBOR Initiative meets ASEAN Vision 2025

On May 12, 2017, Indonesian English newspaper the Jakarta Post published the article “When the OBOR Initiative meets ASEAN Vision 2025” written by Dr. Xu Bu, Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN. The full text is as follows:

This weekend, the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be opened in Beijing. Attending are heads of state and government of 28 countries, including President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo of Indonesia and six of his ASEAN counterparts.

The joint initiatives of the "Silk Road Economic Belt" and the "21st-Century Maritime Silk Road", also known as the “Belt and Road Initiative”, or OBOR, was put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 during his state visit to Kazakhstan and Indonesia. It has since become the flagship public goods China offers, having rallied support from over 100 countries and international organizations.

More than 40 bilateral agreements have been signed in this connection. Early harvests abound in the otherwise brief 3 years since OBOR met the world.

The list is getting longer and includes the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) launched last year, the Silk Road Fund and several other bilateral cooperation funds, a number of connectivity and production capacity cooperation projects including the High-speed railway from Jakarta to Bandung, and railway lines connecting China, Laos and Thailand, linking Hungary and Serbia, and the Egypt Suez Canal Economic Zone.

 China has signed agreements with more than 20 countries on production capacity cooperation.

Trade and investment are growing robust. China's imports from countries along the Belt and Road reached over 100 billion USD in the first quarter of 2017, a year-on-year increase of 42.9 percent. Chinese enterprises have built 56 economic and trade cooperation zones in more than 20 countries along the routes with a combined investment surpassing 18.5 billion USD, generating nearly 1.1 billion USD in tax revenue and 180,000 jobs for the host countries.

ASEAN countries, where the land meets the sea, are primary partners for the realization of the OBOR initiative.

With the ASEAN Community formally launched at the end of 2015, a higher level of regional economic integration and connectivity is the core of ASEAN community building, which aligns with the OBOR objective on promoting regional integration through infrastructure development and other priortities.

The Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025 distinguishes the three pillars of physical, institutional, and people-to-people connectivity. It also lists five strategic areas: sustainable infrastructure, digital innovation, seamless logistics, regulatory excellence and people mobility, which directly correspond to the five major goals of the OBOR Initiative, namely policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds.

Policy coordination focuses on effectively docking development strategies of different countries along the routes, such as Indonesia’s  so-called Global Maritime Fulcrum, Laos’ strategy of turning the land-locked nation into a land-linked one, Cambodia’s Rectangular Strategy, AmBisyon Nation (Our Ambition) 2040 of the Philippines and Vietnam’s Two Corridors and One Economic Circle. All of these strategies, integrated and working together, will optimize the top-tier design for the region.

ASEAN has a shortfall of more than 120 billion USD each year in infrastructure investment, making it a major obstacle to growth of the region. The leaders of China and ASEAN countries have agreed to explore synergies between the OBOR Initiative and the MPAC 2025, as stated in the Joint Statement of last year's China-ASEAN commemorative summit.

The partnership will also boost the development of related industries such as logistics, real estate and retailing in ASEAN countries.

Unimpeded trade and financial integration will bring more business opportunities to ASEAN. The McKinsey Global Institute reported that China and ASEAN’s cooperation on building the Belt and Road will promote ASEAN's integration and community-building process, especially in the field of investment.

The OBOR initiative, together with RCEP and other regional economic and trade frameworks, will give strong boosts to trade and investment and create diversified resources in the region.

Top Chinese high-tech companies, such as Alibaba Group, HUAWEI and ZTE, are heavily investing in Indonesia and other ASEAN economies. Their localized operations are not only creating new job opportunities and fueling economic growth, but also building up the regional supply chain, industrial chain and value chain, advancing the ASEAN standing in the global economic map.

The key of people-to-people bonds is to constantly strengthen exchanges. China-ASEAN people-to-people exchanges have entered into the era of 30 million a year. China has become the largest source of foreign tourists to Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia.

The tourist arrivals have deepened mutual understanding, and brought economic benefits. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics of Indonesia, 1.43 million Chinese tourists travelled to Indonesia in 2016, spending over 1100 USD per person.

The core concept of the OBOR initiative is openness, inclusiveness and mutual benefits.

At a time when global economic recovery is still fragile and protectionism and anti-globalization noises are picking up momentum, China and ASEAN countries need to build on our partnership to tackle the challenges head on and walk our way toward a brighter future.

The forum and its outcomes represent an opportunity for China and ASEAN. Together, we have greater strength and wisdom to secure the ASEAN Community as well as a closer China-ASEAN community of shared future.

(The author is Ambassador of China to ASEAN)

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