China's proposed Maritime Silk Road plan, along with other initiatives such as the Asean Community, could be one of the pathways towards a peaceful and prosperous Asian Community, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
To begin building up the Asian Community, Mr Goh put forward a vision he first broached in May this year of an "East Asian Prosperous Community" by 2050 that would "unite ourselves around a common vision and tap on the potential of East Asia and its 2.2 billion people".
"In essence, we need to first see ourselves as members of the same community who can and will work together for the common good," he said yesterday at a forum in southern China's Guangzhou city to discuss the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
The Chinese initiative envisages a China linked to Europe via South-east Asia and is part of President Xi Jinping's "One Belt, One Road" initiatives proposed in 2013 to revive two ancient trade routes. Another is the "Silk Road Economic Belt" connecting China with Europe via Central Asia.
For the Maritime Silk Road route to be an effective project, Mr Goh yesterday listed four suggestions, which include the need to complement existing regional integration efforts like the Asean Community in improving regional links such as virtual connectivity, electrical grids and financial connectivity.
"In doing so, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road not only amplifies its economic contributions to the region, but also strengthens the bonds between China and the other existing regional frameworks," he said.
He also called for the initiative to be kept open and inclusive, looking at how a similar approach in the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) helped it attract 57 members, which include Singapore and key Western states.
Besides boosting the Maritime Silk Road's legitimacy, the initiative will provide opportunities for more countries to contribute and enhance their stakes in it, he added, noting the number of developed countries in the region which possess the necessary expertise, technology and experience to carry out modern connectivity projects.
The Maritime Silk Road plan should also focus on mutually beneficial cooperation, said Mr Goh. It "should continue to develop in this direction such that it meets the overall needs of the region, while also addressing the specific concerns of its participants", he added.
Mr Goh also believes the scope of cooperation should be kept as broad as possible, citing how the Ancient Maritime Silk Road thrived because it embraced diversity.One way is to expand the "21st Century" dimension of the Maritime Silk Road, to include other modern connectivities such as air, financial and e-commerce connectivity.
Taking a broader perspective, Mr Goh said achieving progress towards an Asian Community is "not only about creating the right initiatives but also about strengthening the foundations for regional integration to take place".
To do so, he said the political leadership in each country needs to achieve two things: adopt a prudent and long-term view of national priorities fundamentally centred on improving the welfare of its people and pursue these priorities in a sustainable way that builds trust and goodwill between countries.
Mr Goh is on an eight-day visit to China and South Korea, which began on Thursday with a visit to the Guangzhou Knowledge City, a bilateral project led by private sectors and backed by the governments of Singapore and China.
Yesterday, he met Guangdong party chief Hu Chunhua. Mr Goh will meet Guangzhou party boss Ren Xuefeng today before travelling to Beijing, where he will attend a forum starting tomorrow and ending on Tuesday to discuss developments in China, in the region and globally. He and other conference participants will have a roundtable meeting with Mr Xi next week.