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Spotlight: China strives for Asia-Pacific prosperity by advocating connectivity, digital economy

source:Xinhua News Agency

Think of the vast Pacific Ocean, where thousands of commercial ships are moving the best of what Asia-Pacific countries produce to and fro among them at any moment of the day.

Meanwhile, scientists from a private firm in China's eastern city of Shanghai are working on a sea lander named Rainbow Fish, which they plan to use to explore seabeds near the New Britain Trench off Papua New Guinea in 2019. They had conducted a joint maritime environment survey with engineers from an Australian firm in the waters in 2016. It was commissioned by a local firm.

In Singapore and Malaysia, business leaders are discussing cooperation to roll out projects in the region aimed at boosting infrastructural connectivity and growing the digital economy -- a new sector that now often allows regional countries to transcend barriers of development.

Countries in the Asia-Pacific region have been striving to promote innovative cooperation in their pursuit of inclusive growth, a trend reflected in the theme of "Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future" of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea (PNG).

A key player in Asia-Pacific cooperation, China, while pursuing its own development, has contributed its wisdom and opportunities to propelling regional countries towards shared prosperity within the APEC framework.

PURSUING COMPREHENSIVE CONNECTIVITY

China plays an especially important role in the drive to enhance regional infrastructural connectivity. The approach partly derives from its own development experience, as infrastructural development, sometimes far ahead of its development in other respects, often proves to have led the way.

"Infrastructural connectivity does strike a good point in galvanizing the economic development, as many countries in Asia, actually the Asia-Pacific region, has a huge demand for infrastructure," said Dr. Kong Tuan Yuen, a research fellow at the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.

China has made clear that it is open to other parties joining the drive to promote growth through increased connectivity or dovetailing their own development plans with the Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has proposed the Global Maritime Axis.

Such efforts are already producing tangible benefits to people in regional countries. In Fiji, another island country in the Pacific, the Nabouwalu road in the north has gone through an upgrade by China Railway First Group (Fiji) Co., Ltd. to become a modern and quality highway, cutting the travel time on the route by more than half to around two hours.

"We are very happy the traffic is now very convenient and local people like me have really benefited from it," said Osea Raula, a 39-year-old resident.

EMBRACING DIGITAL FUTURE

Going side by side with the drive to boost physical infrastructural connectivity are joint efforts to build a digital future, as modern technologies inherently call for and enable countries to be better integrated.

Building a digital future topped the agenda of this year's APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting. Internet, e-commerce and digital technologies have not only become major drivers of the modern economy but often allow the developing economies to leapfrog and transcend their development barriers.

The use of smart phones in the Asia-Pacific economies is growing fast. In Indonesia, where regional telecommunications firms have been helping build the network, such a trend has brought about a sea change by allowing users to jump on the digital wagon without first having a computer.

In September, Alipay, a mobile payment leader instrumental in China's surprisingly fast transition to a cashless society, brought its popular e-payment APP to Singapore, one of the top destinations for Chinese tourists. Taxi drivers now accept payments made through the APP, which allows conversion between the Chinese yuan and the Singapore dollar.

The cooperation goes further. Alibaba, the e-commerce giant from China, has acquired a minority stake in established logistics player SingPost in recent years, paving the way for further collaboration in e-commerce.

"We recognize the importance of the Internet, digital economy, as well as e-commerce and digital trade. Driven by technology and innovation, they are changing the pace of global trade and fostering innovative and inclusive growth in the Asia-Pacific region," said a statement from the 24th APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting in Port Moresby in May.

MAINTAINING MOMENTUM FOR OPEN ECONOMY

The consensus-based cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region continues to grow fast, even against the backdrop of rising trade protectionism.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which groups the ten member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its six dialogue partners, is aiming to conclude a free trade pact soon. Other multilateral initiatives are ongoing.

Observers have set their eyes on the next step, which should eventually lead towards the Free Trade Agreement of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

Statistics from APEC show its 21 member economies are home to around 2.8 billion people and represent approximately 59 percent of world gross domestic product and 49 percent of world trade in 2015.

China, committed to globalization and free trade, deems APEC as a platform to demonstrate its faith in an open economy and economic integration.

"China is open in terms of trade and is pursuing regional integration," said Kong from the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.

Zhai Kun, a professor at the School of International Studies, Peking University, said it is good to let connectivity and digital economy take the lead in APEC cooperation.

Regional cooperation is moving fast forward multi-thronged and in both directions. In Fiji, Chinese scientist and entrepreneur Lin Zhanxi has introduced a technology to grow edible or medicinal mushrooms using a grass. In Brunei, cooperation projects are ongoing to drive the country's efforts to diversify its economy beyond the oil and gas sectors.

Ling Shengli, a scholar from China Foreign Affairs University, said China's firm advocation of the FTAAP will help reduce the "spaghetti bowl effect" resulting from overlapping trade arrangements.

"I think the connectivity in various fields will strengthen economic interdependence and facilitate the building of an economic community," he said.

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