Building Stronger ASEAN-China Relations in New Era
Huang Xilian, Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to ASEAN
The 22nd ASEAN-China Summit is to be held in Thailand on Sunday. Amid the profound and complex changes in the international and regional landscape, the following questions raise increasing attention in the East Asian community and beyond: How is the ASEAN-China relationship doing? What will the Summit do to ASEAN-China relationship and regional cooperation?
A review of history unveils the extraordinary journey of cooperation and development between ASEAN and China since the establishment of our dialogue relationship 28 years ago and our strategic partnership 16 years ago. As Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out in his congratulatory letter to the opening ceremony of the Year of ASEAN-China Media Exchanges last February, ASEAN-China relations have entered a new stage of all-round development.
Our relationship is forging ahead on a clearer path and with ever-growing strategic mutual trust. Leaders of both sides have been charting the course, for instance, President Xi's proposal of building a closer-knit ASEAN-China community with a shared future.
Our two sides enjoy frequent high-level bilateral visits. And a highlight moment came when leaders of all ASEAN countries and the ASEAN Secretariat attended the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation last April. Their collective attendance spoke volume of our deep mutual trust at the highest official level.
Economic and trade cooperation between our two sides has grown steadily. When global economic growth slowed down and trade protectionism gained track in 2018, the ASEAN-China trade volume reached a record high of US$587.8 billion, a year-on-year increase of 14.1 percent. In the first half of 2019, ASEAN overtook the United States to become China's second-largest trading partner for the first time, and our trade volume of the whole year is expected to reach $600 billion.
Friendly people-to-people exchanges are getting ever more prosperous. Last year saw a total of 57 million mutual visits and nearly 4,000 flights every week between our two sides. China is the largest source of tourists for ASEAN countries, and more people from ASEAN countries come to work or study in China.
Concrete steps have also been taken by China and ASEAN countries to enhance trust and manage differences in the South China Sea. We have been actively advancing the consultations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) and completed the first reading of the single draft text ahead of schedule. This is the latest major progress in the COC consultations and an important step toward the vision to conclude the consultations in three years.
ASEAN and China are working closely on international affairs. We have been jointly moving forward the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) – one of many efforts to uphold the rules-based multilateral trading system and oppose protectionism and unilateralism. We stay true to our common values of openness, inclusiveness and mutual learning between civilizations. We step up communication to address hot spot issues and maintain regional peace and stability. We are also joining hands at the subregional level to advance Lancang-Mekong cooperation and the cooperation between China and the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines – East ASEAN Growth Area.
The ASEAN-China Summit will contribute significantly to our strategic relationship, in the following five aspects in particular.
First, greater synergy between our development plans will be created. The ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 adopted at the ASEAN-China Summit last year unfolded a blueprint for the mid- and long-term development of our ties. Under its guidance, both sides are making great strides in the synergy and cooperation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025.
Second, new growth areas for cooperation will be cultivated. The two sides will declare the year 2020 as the Year of ASEAN-China Digital Economic Cooperation. It offers opportunities to expand cooperation in the emerging industries, such as the digital economy, e-commerce, smart cities and 5G. The two sides are exploring a blue economy partnership, with an aim to strengthening cooperation on marine environmental protection, scientific research, shipping and disaster relief. Cooperation in sustainable maritime development will also be a focus in the future.
Third, the momentum of people-to-people exchanges will sustain. A strong ASEAN-China relationship boils down to closer people-to-people ties. The ASEAN-China Young Leaders Scholarship established months ago is a flagship project run by the two sides, with support from the newly established ASEAN-China Cooperation Fund Management Team in the ASEAN Secretariat.
Fourth, determination to maintain regional peace and stability will be cemented. This is the common aspiration and a shared responsibility of ASEAN and China. China and ASEAN countries are committed to the COC consultations and the formulation of regional maritime rules.
Fifth, commitment to uphold multilateralism will be strengthened. In a world of rising uncertainties, protectionism and unilateralism, regional hot-spot issues have brought unprecedented challenges to this region. Championing multilateralism, openness, inclusiveness and win-win results is in the best interests of both ASEAN and China. Our two sides would make full use of the regional cooperation platforms to upgrade the free trade agreement protocol, conclude the RCEP negotiation as early as possible and facilitate free trade.
Toward an era of stronger cooperation, China is ready to work with ASEAN to develop an even-closer partnership of development, win-win results, innovation and mutual understanding and deliver more benefits to the peoples of both sides.