Since its announcement, backers of the Master Plan for ASEAN Connectivity 2025 (MPAC 2025) have called for cooperation between it and China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR). The ASEAN Ports Network, a facet of MPAC 2025 intended to connect 47 ports across the 10 ASEAN nations, would seem to be a perfect point of infrastructural cooperation between China and ASEAN. But the shift in geopolitical calculations resulting from such a partnership could cost ASEAN more than it bargained for.
ASEAN has not yet promoted transportation infrastructure projects as part of the MPAC 2025 because of a lack of funding. During the ASEAN summit in November 2016, experts estimated that the region would require up to $110 billion in infrastructure investment yearly in order to bridge the infrastructure gap between developed and developing economies in the region. This figure was twice the amount put forward by the Asia Development Bank (ADB) in 2015, which was about $60 billion per year.
Under such circumstances, the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative of China, together with financial institutions such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund, breathes new life into ASEAN’s connectivity hopes. During the 17th ASEAN – China Summit in 2014, ASEAN officials said they “appreciated China’s continued support” in realizing MPAC, while at the same time “expect[ing] AIIB to provide financial support to regional infrastructure projects, with an emphasis on supporting the implementation of the MPAC.”
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