China has been busy over the last few days deepening its ties with Southeast Asia and the Arab world. The China-ASEAN Information Harbor Forum was held from Sunday to Monday, to great acclaim. The choice of Nanning, capital of south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, to host the summit was no coincidence — Guangxi lies in a key area along the Belt and Road route, serving as a gateway for cooperation with Southeast Asia, said Peng Qinghua, the region’s Communist Party chief.
Guangxi reported $33 billion in e-commerce trade volume last year, up 65.9% from 2013. And in the first half of this year, that volume surged 84.7% from the same period last year, already exceeding $30 billion. Peng credited this spectacular growth to China’s ever-deepening cooperation with ASEAN members, which collectively have 200 million internet users.
To further boost trade and friendly relations, Beijing announced it will set up a special fund for Internet and telecom infrastructure to link China and ASEAN. It is also planning to build a joint technology center, consisting of 34 projects worth a combined $3.3 billion.
According to Lu Wei, minister of the State Council’s Cyberspace Administration of China, a total of 700 million Chinese and 400 million people in Southeast Asia today have no access to the Internet. He noted that accelerated infrastructure construction will bring about closer and more efficient cooperation for sharing information on finance, education, scientific research, health care, and disaster prevention and relief. “Cooperation cannot exist without sharing information,” Lu emphasized.
In this light, on Sunday, from the sidelines of the summit state-run telecoms firm, China Unicom announced it is building the country’s first underwater cable, in cooperation with Myanmar’s telecommunications operators. Although details weren’t disclosed, the cable will carry information between China and members of ASEAN, like a separate overland cable also being constructed between China and Myanmar at a cost of $50 million.
And from Thursday through Sunday, the China- Arab states expo was held in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. 163 deals worth $26.8 billion were signed in the fields of technology, agriculture, and transportation. For example, a deal to facilitate the export of Chinese automobiles and parts to Arab countries via Jordan was signed at the expo between the China Council for Promotion of International Trade, Ningxia Silk Road ePath Co., and Aqaba National Real Estate Projects. “We welcome Chinese automakers to build assembling factories in our bonded area in Aqaba, which can save tariffs for them,” said Sharif Kamal, a board member of the Jordanian firm.
According to Xinhua News, Yin Liming, CEO of China Great Wall Industry Corporation, a national satellite service provider, said tapping the Arab market is a “new and important direction.” He added that Chinese companies have advanced aerospace technology with relatively low prices, and Arab regions need satellite services, making them a perfect match. “China Great Wall Industry Corporation is working with some Arab countries on research, testing and launching of satellites,” said Yin.
China also agreed to establish “a technology transfer center” in its northwest to “facilitate collaborative innovation” with Arab countries. Together they will jointly establish national laboratories, with China’s Ministry of Science and Technology providing funding, equipment and staff. The Arab states were particularly enthusiastic about this, since most developed countries keep their technological know-how secret.
China is willing to share some technology with ASEAN and the Arab world because of the benefits of friendly relations and increased trade, confident that those other countries will never out-compete the Chinese in manufactured goods. At least for the foreseeable future, they won’t be able to match the scale and efficiency of China’s industrial output. So it’s win-win for everyone.