As China's economic growth slows down to 6.5% for this financial year, and its domestic demand slumps - it is pushing hard to expand its industry and investment beyond its boundaries, especially in steel, concrete, housing and infrastructure sectors. The country is also trying to change the pivot to a "China First" policy of economic relations with the rest of the world. The 21st century Maritime Silk Route together with the One Belt One Road (OBOR) is being pitched as a signature foreign policy initiative of President Xi Jiinping. As part of its strategy, China wants to develop ports, roads, railways and energy corridors across South Asia all the way up to Europe and Africa.
Why is the strategic access to these routes important to China? Will it enhance its security and political might? China says its main emphasis is economic cooperation- strengthening maritime, scientific and environmental cooperation.
The proposed silk route will cover South Asia, Central Asia, Europe and Africa. The Maritime Silk Route (MSR) begins in the country's Fujian province in Quanzhou city, which is the starting point of the silk route; passes through Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hainan before heading to the Malacca Strait. From Kuala Lumpur it heads to Kolkata and Colombo and then crosses the rest of the Indian Ocean to Nairobi from there it moves along the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and ends up in Venice.
Quanzhou's Municipal Office, Vice President Ali Ji Ping tells NDTV that trade between India and the port city Quanzhou was 320 million USD in 2016. He "certainly hoped there would be greater cooperation between the two countries on the proposed silk route. As 30 countries including in Asia like Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore had built maritime relations with China" and "shutting up trade is doomed to fail".
He also said, "they could also certainly hope for more cooperation from the developed nations as well".
The project will receive funds from banks such as AIIB, BRICS, the SCO Development Bank which is why many believe India should be part of the initiative and "cherry pick areas of cooperation" as stated by Manoj Joshi of Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
While it can provide an opportunity for China to restructure its economy, labour market and investment abroad, many developed nations are circumspect that it will further deepen the trade imbalance. Disputes with neighbours in the South China Sea cannot be ignored either.
India is opposed to the CPEC corridor which is being developed jointly by China and Pakistan as part of the larger Silk Route and OBOR initiative and cuts through PoK.
Xiamen, which NDTV also visited along with Quanzhou is among the 12 cities in China that have opened rail services to Europe and Central Asia. Reports say, goods worth 1.69 billion have been exported through the EU-China rail link in March.
"Xiamen has the largest shipyard for car carriers to Europe," Says Chen Yiduan. Deputy Director, Xiamen port authority. It's a city that is seeing massive development ahead of the BRICS summit here. While Quanzhou, the neighbouring city has the largest GDP figures in the Fujian province.
In May, China will host its first OBOR summit and is expected to be attended by at least 20 countries. India, therefore cannot completely ignore OBOR as "there is a danger to be left behind" while China "manages consensus" on the issue. India could join OBOR keeping in mind its own "look east" policy through the Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, China corridor. Speaking to NDTV, Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs Vice President Peng Keyu said China believed PM Narendra Modi "is a strong leader who should join OBOR as the proposed corridor was all about economics not creating political hegemony."