21st Century Maritime Silk Road


By T. K. Premadasa

The two day historical visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping  who arrived in the island on September 16th ended with a new milestone further strengthening Sri Lanka-China relationship. The main objective of this tour as opined by political analysts and professionals was to share cooperation and support from Sri Lanka and Maldives to elevate initiatives of Chinese 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The support and cooperation of both countries would be very essential as it is situated in strategic location in Indian Ocean.

The famous Silk Road crossed from China to Asia, Africa and Europe as the main vehicle of trade, commerce and communication for thousand years even beyond Christian era.

Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the concept of New Silk Road in 2013 with objective to rebuild and strengthen Chinese relationship with countries situated across the ancient Silk Road and to share the benefits of the new concept with these countries. This relationship covers wider area such as economic, trade, political and social etc complied with modern scenario. This new Silk Road concept was initiated into two ways as per the routes spread on the ancient Silk Road. The first one was the initiatives under the name of Silk Road Economic Belt concept which applied to the route spread through land from China to Europe via Central Asia.

The concept of the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road was included by China in China’s 2013 Annual Report on Government Task to accelerate speedy implementation.

China has given highest national priority to implement this 21st Century Maritime Silk Road with promotional steps taken in all aspects.

It makes lightly essential to consider how this Silk Route concept is important to China. 200 km of the littoral area is inhabited by 40% of Chinese population. In addition 70% of Chinese GDP, 84% of direct foreign investment and exports trade are generated through this coastal area. Nearly 85% of imports to China are transported along the maritime silk route including 85% of the energy imports. Under these reforms of Deng Xiaoping in 1992 China established special economic zones in coastal provinces, opened new coastal cities and eastern comprehensive development zones. The boats and ship building is a leading industry in China. Over the five years through 2013, the Ship building industry in China has been growing at an annual rate of 9.9% to US$79.1 billion.

On the other hand approximately one third of maritime route of the world covered by this silk route, which is important area in global politics. Similarly there is nearly a population of three billion people in the area and 25% world economy is covered by Asia. The most notable fact is the oil and gas, fishery products and other resources that has been found in this region.

In view of the above, it is evident that the maritime sector plays a significant role in Chinese international politics and economy.

It is necessary to look into the importance of Sri Lanka in the 21st Maritime Silk Road concept, since ancient era Sri Lanka has been an important maritime hub through a major sea route.

Presently. Trnicomale Habour which is the third largest port in the world and Colombo Habour are being developed as a resource hub for marine science and explorations. Lucrative importance of constructing Hambantota New Harbour is the natural location of the tip of the South Sri Lanka and the large number of vessels sailing through the area. On account of the development of maritime activities in Sri Lanka and its convenient locations it is valued extensively important to initiatives of 21stCentury Maritime Silk Road of China.

Today China is not only the leading investor in Sri Lanka; but also the number one importer and 5th largest tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka. It is a well known factor that China became largest lender recent years providing more than US$ 6 billion for construction of ports, air ports, highways, new towns, towers, theaters etc.

The President of China during his recent visit to Sri Lanka launched reclamation of artificial port city in Colombo as part of his agenda. This is the single largest project in Sri Lanka to attract US$ 5 billion investment. This will be initiated with US$ 1.4 Billion loan from China. This will improve step by step with Colombo port development. China also granted financial assistance of more than US$ 1.3 billion to coal power plant which is located in the littoral area.

This environment make avenue to Sri Lanka to play active role in the new concept of Silk Road as expected by China. China believe that Colombo Port City will be a main hub on the maritime Silk Road and position itself as the preferred global tourism destination in Asia.

Chinese new Silk Road Diplomacy has drawn different views from the world. Some professionals opine that this concept came to light with the fall of Soviet Union. Another view is the investment made by China largely for the development of ports in Asian countries to facilitate of Maritime Silk Road concepts.

According to IMF recent press release, that for the first time China becomes the world’s largest economy with $17.6 trillion compared to USA’s $17.4 trillion putting USA in second place for the first time in 142 years.

Even through countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan Maldives and Cambodia support the New Silk Road, other Asian giants India, Japan and some other ASEAN countries are not committed to favour to the new Silk Road concept as the new trend might be a challenge to their maritime and economic activities. Therefore some political analyst observes that this concept opens opportunities to China to control the entire Maritime activities and also make possibilities to maintain its economic powers.

Sri Lanka government under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa displayed Sri Lanka’s fullest cooperation and support for the Chinese initiatives on 21stCentury Silk Road. At this international political environment and Sri Lanka’ willingness to support this new Chinese concept, Sri Lanka should toil every effort to achieve the maximum benefit on economic political cultural and social field. It behooves the Sri Lankan Government to open avenues of opportunities to more investment in export oriented projects and new technology transfers. On the other hand, steps should be taken to implement the proposed Free Trade Agreement within a very short period and develop strategies to minimize the unfavorable trade balance with China.

Sri Lanka should make use of this opportunity to further gain Chinese support to protect Sri Lanka’s interest at the international political arena.

However the international community wishes well being of the mankind by implementation of New Silk Road concept.

( The writer is the retired former Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications- Sri Lanka Export Development Board and Ex-Director of Sri Lanka Trade Centre in Maldives . He can be reached at

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