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Xinhua Insight: New momentum over China-Singapore economic corridor

NANNING, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) -- There is new momentum behind a proposed economic corridor between China and Singapore after mayors of cities along the route reached a consensus on the initiative at the ongoing meeting between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Consensus on the logistical and industrial network was reached at the China-ASEAN Expo, which opened on Tuesday in Nanning of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, one of the country's gateways to Southeast Asia.

The corridor will promote the "co-construction of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area and the Maritime Silk Road" and be conducive to regional prosperity and beneficial to people along the route, according to a document issued after the mayors discussed the initiative on Wednesday.

The plan is for the corridor to start from the south China cities of Nanning and Kunming, running through the Indo-China Peninsula and linking countries including China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore with highways and railroads.

The idea has taken shape gradually since 2010, initially seen merely as a small program to help merchandise trading rather than a country-level operation. However, it has attracted interest from national leaders, who have begun to pin high hopes on the corridor to strengthen regional bonds and provide growth impetus during the global depression.

China and the ASEAN have become significant economic partners. Trade between China and members of the association amounted to 443.61 billion U.S. dollars in 2013, nearly five times that of 2003.

Addressing the expo, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said the corridor will "facilitate the trans-regional and trans-national flow of various resources and factors of production."

Xu Ningning, executive president of the China-ASEAN business council, compared the corridor to the Eurasian Land Bridge, or the railways moving freight and passengers overland from Pacific seaports in east Russia and China to seaports in Europe.

Despite rapid trade growth, economic collaboration between the two sides still faces the bottleneck of poor infrastructure and a lack of capital, especially in Southeast Asian countries.

The mayors therefore vowed to improve transport and logistics infrastructure in the peninsula, strengthening the interconnection of highways, railways and airlines.

Once the corridor is completed, a rail and road network stretching thousands of kilometers will link south China with Singapore.

Do Tien Sam, former director of the Institute of Chinese Studies of the Vietnam Academy of Social Science, predicted that the corridor will create jobs and alleviate poverty.

Through the scheme, China aims to elevate bilateral trade with the ASEAN to 500 billion U.S. dollars by 2015 and one trillion U.S. dollars by 2020.

WHY SINGAPORE?

Singapore, at the southernmost tip of the peninsula, has favorable characteristics including a highly developed economy and close trade ties with China.

The country's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said at a round-table meeting during the expo that Singapore boasts the most convenient investment environment among the ASEAN member countries, which -- combined with good infrastructure -- can help reduce investment costs.

Currently, over 5,200 Chinese companies have financial interests in Singapore. Chinese players in Singapore like Sinochem, COSCO, Huawei, Wanke, and e-commerce leaders Alibaba and Jingdong hope to use the economic hub as a springboard to explore the larger Southeast Asian market.

In 2013, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's branch in Singapore was designated as the clearing bank for the Chinese currency RMB. It became the first clearing bank outside of China markets in a big step for Singapore as it seeks to establish itself as an RMB offshore clearing center.

China became Singapore's largest trade partner last year, while Singapore is China's second-largest trading partner among ASEAN countries.

As the destination of the corridor, Singapore is likely to benefit as investment and goods will roll to the country more easily. Its position as a regional economic center will be reinforced.

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