The Maritime Silk Road

| by Victor Cherubim

( May 24, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lanka is an important partner in building the 21st Century “Maritime Silk Road,” said President Xi Jinping meeting Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Shanghai on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia a few days ago.

For us in Sri Lanka, what China says it does. We know that China is set to put up $1.6 billion fund to support the Maritime Silk Road, as part of an initiative to revive and develop the ancient Maritime Silk Road linking China’s coastal ports and areas with South East Asian countries. It was mooted by President Xi in his visit to Indonesia last year and soon this sea route will be operational.

This project is not a pie in the sky. Centuries ago as early as the 5th Century Fa Hsien known as Faxian, a Chinese Buddhist monk travelled the Silk Road from his home in Shang’an to the countries of Nepal, Pakistan, India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) between 399 and 414 AD. He travelled overland on the way and by sea on the way back. His last overland stop was what is today the island of Sri Lanka, where he visited the Abhayagiri Vihara Temple, with an image of the Buddha in jade green.

Today’s Silk Route will extend the construction of port projects in Gwadar, Hambantota and Chittagong respectively, thereby linking the ancient maritime Silk Road, with trade relations.

The Sea has always been important to merchant traders. It has also been vital in geopolitics. For Sri Lanka, what is fascinating is the historic link between our neighbouring countries, many of whom are Buddhist. For China, we hope it is not only trade but opening up China’s cultural traditions.

The proposed route could begin in Quanzhou in Fujian Province, through Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, Beihai (Guangxi) and Haikou (Hainan) before moving south through the Malacca Strait to Tanjong Priok (Jakarta) and Semarang (Indonesia) to Port Swettenham (Kaula Lampur) to Kolkata (India) then perhaps to Hambantota (Sri Lanka) and Gwadar (Pakistan) across the Indian Ocean to Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) Nairobi (Kenya) through the Red Sea into the Mediterranean and on the Athens before meeting with the land based Silk Road in Venice.

Some time ago, in distant memory, I did traverse some part of this route from Saigon (Vietnam) to Colombo (Sri Lanka) by freighter. As a Ship’s Agent, years later, I visited Chinese ports. To me it is common sense that China is investing so much human capital besides starting construction projects in this development. As an island nation we need the backing to open up Sri Lanka for tourism and for trade.

The meeting of East and West in the years ahead will be enhanced by trade and there is no doubt about it.