The Silk Road is an ancient trade route connecting the West and East, a German researcher named Von Richthofen named it The Silk Road in the 18th century CE. The name of the Silk Road is taken because Chinese commodities trade in a lot of silk. Frances Wood in his book The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia says the path of the Silk Road has many branches from the Chinese Tang Dynasty capital in the east to Rome, the capital of Italy to the west. The line was opened by a general named Zhang Qian from the Han Dynasty. Tracing the road will pass through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, and up to Alexandria Egypt. Also found other branches that pass through Pakistan, Kabul, Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf .
There is also the Silk Road by sea. The sea line originated from Guangzhou, southern China, to the Malacca Strait, and continued all the way to Sri Lanka, India and the east coast of Africa. The Sea Silk Road occurred during the Song Dynasty of China based on cultural objects found in Somalia. China has opened the Silk Road about 2000 years ago is one of the important path for dissemination of ancient Chinese culture to the West, as well as a liaison of economic exchange and culture of China-West . Later this path did not reuse because of a split in the Mongol kingdom causing major political forces along the Silk Road to be separated, Turkmen troops seized the western part of the Silk Road and the destruction of the Byzantine Empire. The Silk Road stopped serving silk delivery routes in the 1400s .
The triumph of the ancient Silk Road instructed Chinese President Xi Jinping to reopen the path. China’s ambition to start this mega project has been announced since 2013. Chinese President Xi Jinping called it the ’21st Century New Silk Road’ or The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road. The purpose of this project is to create several economic corridors which connects more than 60 countries around the world . The Silk Road project will be divided into two, land and sea. The land trade track is known as the Economic Belt Road, crossing from Europe to Central Asia and East Asia. Then the sea lane is known as the Maritime Silk Road, connecting Chinese ports with a number of ports along the route from the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden .
In realizing the One Belt One Road (OBOR) program the Chinese government is ready to pour funds of US $ 124 billion or about Rp. 1649 trillion to support the New Silk Road program. The funds are ready to be channeled to build infrastructure to connectivity with countries along the Silk Road . There are concerns from some Western states about the summit titled Belt and Road held in Beijing on May 14, is a Chinese effort to master the economy globally . However, Xi Jinping dismissed the allegations. Through Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, OBOR is a product of inclusive cooperation, not a geopolitical tool, and should not be viewed using an old-fashioned Cold War mentality .
ASEAN countries hold important positions in the Maritime Silk Road, especially Indonesia which was chosen as the first place to operate the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. This situation also coincides with President Joko Widodo’s policy of making Indonesia the World Maritime Shaft . The vision of Indonesia into a World Maritime Ax synergizes with the idea of One Belt One Road initiated by China . The OBOR program discussed some time ago in Beijing, China. On that occasion President Jokowi and 30 heads of state participated in signing this program essentially promoting an open, multilateral trading system under the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) .
The New Silk Road Program in ASEAN is designed to be in line with the vision of ASEAN 2025 connectivity covering land and sea connections with Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia . Mega Project China One Belt One Road which bridges the Western region of China with Southeast Asia, Indian Ocean and headed to Eurasia, demands a more active role of Indonesia as a leader in Southeast Asia, so that the centrality of ASEAN remains a priority in the synergy of the New China Silk Road with ASEAN Connectivity, whose development is quite slow .
ASEAN faces quite difficult challenges, among others, due to internal disagreements resulting from the unevenness of development policies among members as well as economic imbalances between northern and southern members. Like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam need help with infrastructure improvements to attract foreign investors, so it can catch up with other ASEAN members . Therefore, Indonesia as a leader in Southeast Asia should be able to strengthen intra-ASEAN coordination in order to accelerate equitable economic growth, so as to harmonize ASEAN’s relationship with the New Silk Road.
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Ilustrasi : “Caravan on the Silk Road” (1375) dalam Katalanischer Weltatlas / P.M. History 2/2011 oleh Abraham Cresques.
This article was written by Tri Inov Haripa (in Indonesian), International Relations student, Islamic University of Indonesia, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).