CHANGSHA, HUNAN, CHINA: In a corner of a quiet fish port in Mawei District of Fuzhou in Fujian stands the China-Asean Marine Product Exchange, a maritime exchange route currently in an “experimental” stage that aims to boost maritime cooperation between Beijing and the 10-member bloc.
Jian Zhou, chairman assistant, told a Philippine delegation of media and think-tanks that the exchange was established in April 2013 in preparation for the 21st Maritime Silk Road put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping in October last year.
The exchange, which will go online in a month, aims to promote China-Asean maritime cooperation and guarantees the safety of the movement of sea products between China and its trading partners.
The “ultimate goal,” Zhou said, is to build a “mega database” which will clearly define the trade exchanges between China and each Asean country.
Asean groups the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam.
In terms of aqua products, Asean is the fourth largest trading partner of China. Last year, the bilateral trade with the bloc reached more than $446 billion.
About 60 percent of maritime exchange with Asean passes through the exchange, Zhou said.
“Maritime products that come from Asean countries are actually transported to different provinces of China through this exchange. This is the only one and the first [maritime exchange] in the world,” he added.
But Zhou said the exchange is not only focused on boosting maritime trade between Beijing and Asean. It will also prioritize improving maritime links of countries in South and Central Asia like India and Sri Lanka.
On November 8 this year, Xi announced that China will go on a $40-billion spree in South and Central Asia to bring new opportunities for infrastructure, resources and industrial development along the maritime silk road.
The 21st Maritime Silk Road is a trading route that will snake its way from China to South Asia to the Middle East and Africa to the canals of Venice in Europe.
It will meet the traditional land-based trading route used by China since ancient times.
Currently, no Filipino company has been in contact or in discussions with the China-Asean Marine Product Exchange, although Zhou said they are preparing to reach out to the Philippines once the exchange goes online in a month.
Australia and Japan have already voiced out their interest in joining the maritime exchange.
The exchange opens doors for maritime cooperation with the Philippines despite a worsening territorial dispute with China over islands in West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Beijing earlier denied a report by the Wall Street Journal that it excluded Manila from the map of the Maritime Silk Road because of the arbitration case it filed against China’s nine-dash line before the United Nations-backed International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (Itlos).
“China welcomes the Philippines to be a proactive and constructive partner of the 21st century maritime silk road, which serves the national interests of the Philippines and will contribute to the social and economic development of the Philippines,” the Chinese Embassy in Manila earlier said.
It noted the impossibility of China bypassing the Philippines in economic trade routes because both countries have had trade, cultural and personnel exchanges on the sea for more than a millennium.