The launch of Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative
DI Francesca Manenti

On Tuesday 20th of June, China’s National Development and Reform Commission and the State Oceanic Administration jointly launched the Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, the first document in which Beijing describes its maritime cooperation plan. According to the Vision, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road will be composed by 3 corridors, called blue economic passages:

  • the China-Indian Ocean-Africa- Mediterranean Sea Blue Economic Passage, which will link the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor and run westward from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean, connecting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor;
  • the China-Oceania-South Pacific Blue Economic Passage, which is set to head south from the South China Sea into the Pacific Ocean;
  • the blue economic passage leading up to Europe via the Arctic Ocean.

The proposal call for enhancing the maritime industry cooperation and the blue economy, promoting the maritime connectivity and facilitating maritime transport, as well as collaborate more for maritime safety and security, in order to realize a multidimensional interconnections among the concerned nations. However, the Vision highlights two important aspects of China’s strategy. Firstly, the central role played by the South China Sea in two of the new Blue Economic Passages allows to think that Beijing will reinforce its assertive stand in the maritime disputes that concerned the area, in order to assure the control of the routes crossing it. In a moment when China is being harshly criticized by littoral States (like Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia) and other actors (like Japan and US) that considers Chinese behavior as a challenge for the stability in these waters, China could try to use the appeal of the construction of the new routes to influencing the consensus on its attitude in the region.

Secondly, even if it is just mentioned and not deeper explained, Beijing’s choice of forecasting the realization of an Arctic route joining Far East with Europe shows China’s interest in becoming an active part in the international competition for the Pole. Become an observer of the Artic Council in 2013, Chinese government is trying to gain a political role in the region in order to assure both a share in the exploitation of  natural resources and the control on the plausible route crossing the Arctic arch, that would be the fastest and most convenient way for trade and interconnetction between Asia and the Old Continent.