A key initiative of President Xi Jinping’s government, first mooted when he was on a trip to Southeast Asia last October

China on Monday set up a 10 billion Yuan ($1.6 billion) fund to take forward its ambitious “maritime silk road plan” to build ports and boost maritime connectivity with Southeast Asian and Indian Ocean littoral countries.

The 10 billion Yuan (around Rs.10,000 crore) fund will support infrastructure projects under the umbrella of the silk road plan. The deal for the fund was signed on Monday in coastal Fujian province, one of three key regions tasked with pushing the silk road plan.

The maritime silk road plan has become a key initiative of President Xi Jinping’s government, first mooted when the Chinese leader was on a high-profile trip to Southeast Asia in October.

Releasing first details of the plan last month, state media reported the project will prioritise building ports and infrastructure in strategically important littoral countries in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region, including Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

China is also keen to set up free trade zones to link its coastal areas with countries in Southeast Asia and in the Indian Ocean, attempting to revive the ancient “maritime silk road” that connected China with the region. So far, countries ranging from India and Sri Lanka to Malaysia, Singapore and Gulf countries have been sounded out about the initiative.

The report last month said the project would focus on “infrastructure construction” in countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, where China is already involved in port projects in Gwadar, Hambantota and Chittagong respectively. However, a map of the plan published earlier this month on the website of China’s official Xinhua news agency earlier this month did not show Gwadar on the plan. It did show Kolkata and Colombo as cities with which China wanted to build closer trade linkages.

Officials in Fujian said on Monday the 10 billion Yuan fund would be supported by the China Development Bank (CDB) and the China-Africa Development Fund.

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