Wherever the international arbitration focuses its rulings on the West Philippine Sea dispute, one thing is clear: we need to find new shipping lanes for our products. A full third of the world’s shipping uses the old straits in which trade flows from Malacca through the West Philippine Sea. Obviously, China’s nine-dash line and the buildup of offshore facilities threatens the freedom of navigation in the area.
Is it time to build new shipping corridors? These refer to shipping lanes bypassing the West Philippine Sea taking the eastern route from North Sulawesi in Indonesia through Celebes and out over the Philippine trench all the way by North Luzon and on to Taiwan. Even without the West Philippine Sea dispute, this lane is vital to developing the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) trade and growth. Here are three specific reasons:
- This reduces travel time for products destined for Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Cargo ships can take less time through this corridor to reach Taiwan, Japan, and Korea, which are strong manufacturing hubs needing raw and semi-processed material coming from the BIMP-EAGA regions like Mindanao, North Sulawesi and West Irian in Indonesia, and Sabah in Malaysia, not to mention New Guinea. These regions are arguably the less affluent parts of these countries needing the economic growth that market access brings.
- This reduce double handling of goods through large ports where they frequently have to travel through. Currently, products from the BIMP-EAGA region need to go through Port Klang, Johor, and Singapore before travelling to the East Asian markets. This adds travel time and cost as the possibility of double handling by transferring cargo to other larger ships adds to the freight costs.
- It delivers the BIMP-EAGA growth promise by encouraging trade and investment in frontiers.
Doubtless, getting trade through this new corridor will require ASEAN cooperation and even strengthens the interest of Japan, Korea, Australia, and yes, even China, which requires millions of tons of raw material from ASEAN and Oceania for its manufacturing activities. Unhampered shipping lanes facilitate trade, investment, and growth. Multiple lanes spread this opportunity.