China’s ‘silk road’ ambition tests maritime fulcrum for Indonesia

By C. P. F. Luhulima ,The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

The South China Sea conflict has been raging for years with no solution in sight. At a forum on maritime cooperation in East Asia held by the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council (APRC) on Dec. 2, it was said that finding a solution to the South China Sea conflict would be difficult as the conflict related to the issue of sovereignty. The only way to manage the conflict is apparently to persevere in building confidence among the parties involved in the dispute. China has consistently objected to ASEAN consolidating itself on the South China Sea issue and insist that parties involved in the dispute have to resolve the sovereignty and jurisdictional issues bilaterally, not multilaterally. But ASEAN has always insisted on consolidating its position first before meeting with China.

ASEAN could, however, not stick to its 10 plus 1 position as China continued to oppose it. China has always persisted on negotiating South China Sea issues among relevant parties, not with ASEAN as a whole.

On Oct. 31 President Xi Jinping proposed the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) of the 21st Century in Indonesia, in an attempt to transform the conflict into a constructive scheme, simultaneously to highlight Indonesia and ASEAN’s crucial significance in the initiative. It forms a new part of ��China’s new foreign cooperation strategy under the new Chinese leadership,�� writes the scholar Yu Hong.

By promoting ports and other forms of infrastructure cooperation, Yu Hong writes that China ��seeks to ease its territorial disputes with other ASEAN claimant states and strengthen mutual trust.�� The MSR is also meant, ��to narrow the huge infrastructure development gap among ASEAN members … Expanding bilateral cooperation with ASEAN is contingent on the smooth settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.�� Given the magnitude of this scheme, China will indeed have balanced its argument on regional economic cooperation and apprehensions of its Southeast Asian neighbors about its determination. Simultaneously, to finance the initiative, President Xi Jinping proposed the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), primarily meant to support connectivity, integration and boost economic development to increase the competitiveness of Asia’s economies and to finance their infrastructure build-up.

Indonesia’s hope for AIIB

Indonesia is active in initiating the ASEAN Caucus on the establishment of the AIIB. In May 2014, ASEAN-5, the original members of ASEAN, agreed to become the founding members of AIIB as a unit. ASEAN-5 agreed to set the minimum amount of contribution to AIIB with their contribution to the Asia Development Bank as the benchmark. Their agreement also took into consideration the ASEAN Infrastructure Fund (AIF) with the view that at a later stage AIIB could become one of AIF’s shareholders.

At the bilateral meeting between President Xi and President Joko ��Jokowi�� Widodo on Nov. 9 during the APEC forum in Beijing, both discussed Indonesia’s participation in the AIIB, in which Jokowi reemphasized Indonesian’s intention to sign the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the AIIB.