By Wang Fengjuan, Liao Bowen
“Since ancient times, Southeast Asia has been an important hub along the ancient Maritime Silk Road,” declared Chinese President Xi Jinping in a speech at the People’s Representative Council of Indonesia, at the invitation of Speaker Marzuki Alie of the House of Representatives, on October 2, 2013. “China will strengthen maritime cooperation with ASEAN countries to vigorously develop maritime partnership in a joint effort to build the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.” Xi became the first foreign head of state to address Indonesia’s parliament, and his speech effectively provided a blueprint for win-win cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
For more than five years now, the BRI has facilitated numerous projects such as roads, ports and industrial parks. In October of last year, China and Indonesia signed an MOU on promoting the BRI and the Global Maritime Fulcrum, marking a new stage of the synergy of development strategies.
On the eve of the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, we traveled to Indonesia, where the grand vision of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road was first proposed, to see the latest Belt and Road developments there.
At the Indonesian National Museum in Jakarta is an exhibition of many ancient Chinese porcelain pieces that hearken to the prosperity of the ancient Maritime Silk Road. During the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, large amounts of silk, tea and porcelain from southern China were exported from Quanzhou, Fujian Province, the largest foreign trade port at the time.
The Indonesian city of Semarang was named after Zheng He, an early 15th Century Chinese navigator who led the world’s largest fleet on seven expeditions to the Western Seas, in the native language. On each of the expeditions, he sailed to islands of the Indonesian archipelago including Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan. The Belitung shipwreck discovered in Indonesia evidences that exciting period of history.
In 2015, the leaders of China and other Asian and African countries gathered at the heritage city of Bandung to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the historic Bandung Conference. History has preserved the traditional friendship between our countries.
In his speech at the Indonesian parliament, President Xi noted that China will strengthen maritime cooperation with ASEAN countries. He spoke highly of the friendly exchanges between the two peoples, which hearkened to the Chinese saying, “A bosom friend afar brings a distant land near.” The legacy of cultural exchanges between China and Indonesia since ancient times has become an important link on the Maritime Silk Road between China and Indonesia.
Southeast Asia was an important hub on the ancient Maritime Silk Road. As a maritime power in Southeast Asia, Indonesia manages strategic points of Malacca, Wangkasi, Longmen and Sunda. Despite changes in political situations over the centuries, Indonesia has always secured China’s sea line of communication, while China has always cooperated with Indonesia to achieve win-win results and maximize respective comparative advantages. More importantly, Indonesia is a strategic hub on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and a leading member state of ASEAN, creating the potential for demonstration effects in construction of the Belt and Road.
China has called for synergizing the BRI with the development strategies of neighboring countries. Indonesia has proposed the strategy of the Global Maritime Fulcrum. Both countries attach importance to infrastructure connectivity, which meets the strategic needs of both sides and the entire region. Multi-level cooperation between China and Indonesia can have an exemplary effect on bilateral, regional and cross-regional cooperation between China and Southeast Asian countries. Therefore, Indonesia has tremendous potential value in building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Luhut Panjaitan, Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Law and Security Affairs, commented that the industries of Indonesia and China are highly complementary. Indonesia welcomes the BRI proposed by China. Within the framework of the initiative, bilateral cooperation in all areas is promising.
Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian noted that cooperation between the two countries is rapidly expanding from traditional areas of infrastructure, resources and communications to emerging realms such as industrial manufacturing, finance, e-commerce and artificial intelligence. Exchange and cooperation in tourism, education, culture, media, think tanks, youth, religion, science and technology and sports have been fruitful. China has become Indonesia’s largest source of overseas tourists and second most popular destination for Indonesian students studying abroad. In 2017, Chinese pandas Cai Tao and Hu Chun settled in Indonesia under a 10-year breeding loan agreement, building another bridge of friendship.
Brought Together by Sea
China and Indonesia are neighbors across the sea. From maritime strategy to industrial capacity cooperation, the sea has become a blue link between the two countries to build a community of common interests.
Maritime strategies are of common concern to both China and Indonesia. As the largest country in Asia, China has a long tradition of maritime trade. As the largest country in Southeast Asia and the largest archipelagic country in the world, Indonesia is in urgent need of accelerated development in its shipping, fisheries and marine industries to become a maritime power. The characteristics of the two countries create a lot in common between the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum.
In November 2012, the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) presented the strategic objective of “building China into a maritime power.” In Indonesia, Joko Widodo has vigorously promoted the maritime power strategy since his presidential campaign in 2014. At the East Asia Summit in Naypyidaw, Myanmar in November 2014, Widodo expounded in detail on the connotations of the Global Maritime Fulcrum program.
In 2013, Sino-Indonesian relations were upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership. During the annual Bo’ao Forum for Asia from March 25 to 28, 2015, China and Indonesia issued a joint statement on strengthening the comprehensive strategic partnership, stating that the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road dovetails with the Global Maritime Fulcrum.
With the synergy of development strategies and frequent strategic communication, China and Indonesia have achieved much in trade, investment and cultural exchange through pragmatic cooperation in infrastructure, energy, ports and industrial parks. With a long history, this mutually complementary cooperation is serving as a paradigm for construction of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Indonesia’s Minister of Finance Sri Mulyani believes that the BRI will not only promote Indonesia’s infrastructure and connectivity with other ASEAN countries but also upgrade its software including trade facilitation measures such as improved customs clearance. By participating in the Belt and Road construction, developing countries can accelerate their economic development with higher quality and inclusiveness.
Agustinus Wibowo, a young Indonesian Sinologist, thinks that as an initiative designed to achieve lasting win-win results through cooperation, the BRI is in lockstep with Indonesia’s national interests and development needs.
Inclusive Maritime Cooperation
China-Indonesia cooperation has been fruitful in political realm. China and Indonesia have established three dialogue mechanisms at deputy prime ministerial level for political security, economics and cultural exchange. The leaders of the two countries have agreed to build three pillars of comprehensive cooperation at bilateral, regional and global levels under the framework of the China-Indonesia comprehensive strategic partnership to better support development of bilateral relations. Several demonstration projects will upgrade bilateral cooperation in sectors of textiles, automobiles, electronics, chemicals and food and beverages.
Many demonstration projects have been built already. Construction of the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, which will connect the Indonesian capital with its fourth largest city, is proceeding at top speed. Jatigede Dam, the second largest irrigation project in Indonesia, will nourish irrigation area of 90,000 hectares. The China-Indonesia Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone is hosting nearly 20 Chinese companies including China XD Group and China Mengniu Dairy. Morowali Industrial Park has become a major industrial base of nickel and stainless steel from a remote fishing village. In Indonesian shopping malls, Chinese mobile phone brands such as VIVO, OPPO and MI are common. They have earned a solid reputation in the local market, seizing more than a third of the market share.
In the future, Sino-Indonesian cooperation in various sectors will continue to boom. Indonesian Ambassador to China Sugeng Rahardjo believes that Indonesia has recognized the need for partners in marine infrastructure construction with various cooperation models such as public-private partnership (PPP) and build-operate-transfer (BOT). The China-proposed 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will undoubtedly help Indonesia achieve its transformation from largest archipelagic country to “Global Maritime Fulcrum.”
Bilateral cooperation between China and Indonesia has been a win-win relationship between two maritime powers with effective policy communication, infrastructure linkage, trade flow and friendly exchanges between the people. According to Professor Wang Yiwei at Renmin University of China, the 21st Century is an era for ocean development. The grand visions of the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” and the “Global Maritime Fulcrum” are expected to promote inclusive maritime development for all mankind.
Jusuf Wanandi, vice president of the Indonesian Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), thinks the guidance of such grand visions creates broad prospects for cooperation. The world and the region both face great uncertainty today. The synergy of the development strategies of two important Asian countries will make a positive impact on the overall development of the region.