China has put forward plans for three ocean-based “blue economic passages” in a bid to advance maritime cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, and one of the economic passages will link with Europe via the Arctic Ocean.
China’s economy keeps highly dependent on foreign trade since China became the world’s largest country of goods trade in 2013. 90 percent freight volume of China’s foreign trade is finished via marine transportation, which is the most important transportation channel, and this is the reason why the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is regarded as important as the Silk Road Economic Belt.
After the Belt and Road Initiative was launched about four years ago, a plan detailing emphasis of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road has taken shape. The proposal for three ocean-based “blue economic passages” was included in the Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative. The passage linking with Europe via the Arctic Ocean was officially raised for the first time, which will bring new commercial opportunity for China’s marine trade in the future.
The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and State Oceanic Administration (SOA) jointly released the Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (hereinafter referred to as Vision) yesterday. This is the first time that Chinese government comes up with its maritime cooperation plans under the Belt and Road Initiative since it unveiled the Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (hereinafter referred to as Vision and Actions) on March 28, 2015, and it is also one of the outcomes of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.
The three blue economic passages, namely China-Indian Ocean-Africa-Mediterranean Sea passage, China-Oceania-South Pacific passage, and the passage linking Europe via the Arctic Ocean, will be priority maritime cooperation tasks in the Vision. They will target marine ecological environment protection, blue economic development, maritime security, deepening marine scientific research and building multilateral cooperation mechanism.
“Marine cooperation is based on the financial trade network and economic belt which is connected by harbors along the routes and radiates harbor cities and their hinterland. It offers an opportunity for industrial upgrading in China’s coastal cities.” Liu Zongyi, a research fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the reporter from National Business Daily.
To jointly build 3 blue economic passages
In comparison with land, ocean provides human activities with larger blue space. SOA’s deputy director Fang Jianmeng said that ratio of dependence on foreign trade of China has reached as high as 60 percent, and 90 percent freight volume of China’s foreign trade is finished via marine transportation. 19 percent of bulk cargos from global shipping markets are shipped to China and 22 percent of export containers come from China.
As a part of the Belt and Road Initiative, it was put forward in the Vision and Actions in 2015 that the development directions of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will run from China’s coastal ports to the Indian Ocean through South China Sea and extends to Europe, and go from China’s coastal ports to the South Pacific Ocean through South China Sea.
But China released the Vision on June 20 to further detail the development direction and cooperation priorities about the Maritime Silk Road.
The two development directions in the Vision and Actions were detailed into three blue economic passages in the Vision, including the China-Indian Ocean-Africa-Mediterranean Sea blue economic passage, the China-Oceania-South Pacific blue economic passage, and the passage linking Europe via the Arctic Ocean.
It can be found out that the China-Indian Ocean-Africa-Mediterranean Sea blue economic passage is closely connected with the Silk Road Economic Belt. It will link with China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor, and connect with the China-Pakistan, and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridors. The China-Oceania-South Pacific passage will connect with countries like Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.
However, the economic passage linking Europe via the Arctic Ocean was not mentioned in the Vision and Actions. Building this economic passage can not only boost opening development of regions along the route but also shorten the shipping distance from China to Europe.
It is stated in the Vision that the country will support countries surrounding the Arctic Ocean to improve transportation condition of arctic route and encourage Chinese enterprises to take part in the commercialized utilization of arctic route.
The Maritime Silk Road will build smooth, safe and high-efficient transportation channel with important harbors as joint points. Liu remarked that the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is the financial trade network and economic belt which is connected by harbors along the routes and radiates harbor cities and their hinterland. Construction of interconnectivity infrastructure of harbors and roads plays a leading position in the development of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Coastal cities welcome opportunity for industrial upgrading
China’s maritime trade enjoys rapid development since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed. According to the Maritime Silk Road Index released by Ningbo Shipping Exchange, China’s import and export trade index closed at 121.00 points in April, up by 16.71 percent year on year. Breaking down the number, export trade index gained by 12.52 percent year on year to end at 134.79 points, and import trade index moved up by 23.67 percent from a year earlier to settle at 104.75 points.
In terms of maritime cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, the Vision mentions a batch of demonstrative cooperation projects will be implemented.
The Vision puts forward five cooperation priorities about adhering to the rule of green development, creating maritime prosperity, building safety guarantee, establishing wisdom innovation, and seeking cooperative governance.
As to the green development, Chinese government proposes blue carbon plan for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. According to the plan, China will carry out research on monitoring of blue carbon ecosystem of ocean and coastal zone, standard specification and carbon sink together with countries along the routes.
Jiao Nianzhi, an academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences and a professor at Xiamen University, introduced that the blue carbon plan covers many aspects including land and see management, energy saving and emission reduction, and economic and social sustainable development of coastal regions. The plan will also directly face many difficult problems such as loss of tremendous coastlines, excessive emission of land resources and fishery resource exhaustion.
In terms of jointly creating maritime prosperity, the Vision proposes to jointly build ocean industrial zones and economic and trade cooperation zones, boost maritime interconnectivity, improve shipping facilitation, and boost interconnected establishment of information infrastructure.
Liu analyzed that maritime cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative will boost development of China’s coastal cities and harbors. It is a good opportunity for industrial upgrading in cities like Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai and Zhanjiang, which are well developed in marine ships, marine engineering equipment and other industries.
According to the Vision, a batch of demonstrative projects on blue economic cooperation will be implemented to support developing countries along the routes to develop mariculture, improve living standard and alleviate poverty. China will jointly develop oceanic tourism route, forge ocean tourism products and set up tourism information exchange and sharing mechanism with these countries.