The central government is backing a series of infrastructure and transport projects costing 1.5 trillion yuan (HK$1.72 trillion) in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to improve links with Southeast Asia.
'We will build and upgrade railways, roads, airports, ports, electricity and water supply in Guangxi in the next three to five years,' Chen Ruixian, deputy director of the management committee of the Pan-Beibu Gulf Economic Zone, told a press conference yesterday.
Despite recent tensions between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, Beijing will sign several port agreements with Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia at the 5th Pan-Beibu Gulf Economic Co-operation Forum in Nanning which starts today.
Launched in 2006, the forum is an economic partnership of the three southern provinces of Guangxi, Guangdong and Hainan with the 10 Asean nations of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.
During the forum, Guangxi will sign partnership agreements with Jurong Port and IMC of Singapore, RCL of Thailand, the Sihanoukville Port of Cambodia as well as ports in Guangdong and Hainan.
Guangxi plans to build three ports each with an annual cargo capacity of 100 million tonnes. 'We hope to accelerate the development of the ports, logistics and marine industries,' Chen said.
So far, 24 highways between Guangxi and Vietnam have been approved by Beijing, of which 10 are operational, while two expressways between Guangxi and Hanoi will be upgraded, Chen said. A railway between Nanning and Hanoi began operating last year.
The aggressive roll-out of transport links between Guangxi and Vietnam comes despite tensions between the two countries that were heightened this week with military exchanges between Vietnam and the United States.
In June, a cross-border yuan settlement trial system began in Guangxi to facilitate trade with Asean.
'I hope the Nanning-Singapore Economic Corridor will be completed as soon as possible,' Chen said.
The corridor includes a highway between Nanning and the Lion City as well as a railway that is already under construction.
In July, a team of Chinese officials travelled the corridor, stopping at various Southeast Asian cities along the way to consult with government officials on closer ties.
Since 2006, 378.2 billion yuan has been invested in 43 major projects in the Beibu Gulf Economic Zone in Guangxi, involving various industries including steel and petrochemicals.
'The Guangxi Beibu Gulf Economic Zone is accelerating the construction of a cross-border transport network, a coastal industrial belt and bonded logistic zones, to expand its role as the front line of China-Asean co-operation,' Chen said.
He pointed out that the China-Asean Free Trade Area established in January is the world's largest free trade area with a population of 1.9 billion, total output of US$6 trillion and trade of US$4.5 trillion. Last year, China's trade with Asean reached roughly US$208 billion.
The China-Asean free trade area has total output of US$6 trillion
China's trade with Asean last year amounted to about, in US dollars: $208b