Working Together to Elevate China-ASEAN Relations to Higher Level
Chinese Ambassador Deng Xijun to ASEAN
8 September 2020
The 2020 series of Foreign Ministers’ Meetings on East Asia Cooperation will start tomorrow. This is the first time in history for the Meetings to be held via video link, due to the still raging COVID-19 pandemic. Faced with a pandemic rarely seen in a century and the complex changes in the regional landscape, people in our region might be keen to know more than ever how China-ASEAN relations are going and what signals will be sent on anti-pandemic cooperation in the upcoming meetings.
China and ASEAN are among the main drivers of East Asia cooperation, which has been fully evidenced by our joint fight against the pandemic in recent months. President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang conducted frequent “cloud diplomacy” with leaders of ASEAN countries to provide confidence, support and political guidance when they are most needed. The Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on COVID-19 and the China-ASEAN Special Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on COVID-19 were held at critical junctures, boosting confidence and directing the right way forward for regional anti-pandemic cooperation. To work concertedly against the pandemic and stabilize economic and social order, China and ASEAN have carried out regular exchanges at multi-levels in health, economy, trade, transportation, information, disaster management, among others. All these efforts point to the building of a comprehensive anti-pandemic cooperation front.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Chinese central and local governments, the military, the business community and private entities donated a large number of anti-epidemic materials including masks, protective clothing and testing kits to ASEAN countries. China sent medical expert teams to five ASEAN countries, namely Cambodia, the Philippines, Myanmar, the Lao PDR and Malaysia, and helped the Philippines and Myanmar build urgently needed virus-testing labs.
China keeps in mind the needs of ASEAN countries for vaccine R&D and application and supports cooperation in these areas between Chinese enterprises and relevant ASEAN countries. In the meantime, it is of paramount importance to take care of social and economic recovery both during the pandemic and in the post-pandemic era. Toward this end, China and ASEAN countries including Singapore, the Lao PDR, Myanmar and Indonesia have established “fast lanes” and “green lanes” for personnel and goods movement respectively. China has resumed direct international flights with Vietnam and some other ASEAN countries. China has been actively exploring with ASEAN countries the establishment of fast and green lanes networks between China and ASEAN and in East Asia at large. Together we are also working on a regional financial safety net that stabilizes regional supply and industrial chains as well as the financial sector.
These anti-pandemic endeavors lead us to see the larger picture of China-ASEAN cooperation that is comprehensive, multi-tiered and covers a wide range of areas.
China and ASEAN enjoy solid political mutual trust. Regional development today is being challenged not only by COVID-19 but also by the upsurging currents of unilateralism, protectionism and hegemony. In response to the rising uncertainty and instability across the region, China firmly stands on the right side of history to call for common development for all. China champions and acts upon the vision of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits in global governance. China stands together with ASEAN to uphold multilateralism and build a closer China-ASEAN community with a shared future, injecting sustained positive energy in the evolving regional architecture.
Regarding the South China Sea issue, a few external forces are determined to interfere for the sake of their domestic political and geopolitical agenda. They attempt to stir up troubles in our region by driving a wedge between China and ASEAN. This goes against the will of the people in our region and will in no way gain any support. China and ASEAN share the conviction that peace and stability in the South China Sea is in our biggest, shared interest. We hold the handling of the South China Sea issue firmly in our own hands, uphold the “dual track approach” and actively engage each other in dialogue and cooperation.
Despite the inconvenience caused by COVID-19, China and ASEAN countries have managed to hold a joint working group meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) via virtual link a few days ago. Our joint effort to promote the implementation of DOC and the consultation of Code of Conduct (COC) speaks volume of our resolve to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.
China-ASEAN economic cooperation has enjoyed remarkable growth against strong headwind. Despite COVID-19 and the sluggish global economy, China-ASEAN foreign trade in the first eight months of 2020 reached to 2.93 trillion yuan with a year-on-year increase of 7 percent, making ASEAN China’s largest trading partner in goods, and China and ASEAN each other’s largest trading partner, indeed a milestone in history. In the first half of this year, China-ASEAN two-way investment soared by 58.8 percent. The China-ASEAN Free Trade Area celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2020, and the China-ASEAN FTA Upgrading Protocol is in sound implementation after coming into full effect last year.
The just-concluded Economic Ministers’ meetings between ASEAN and partner countries yielded rich fruits as well, including reaffirmed commitment to signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement by year-end, improving regional economic structure and upholding the multilateral trading system of our region.
China-ASEAN high-quality cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) continues to generate good progress. Greater synergy between the BRI and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 (MPAC 2025) is being created. Steady progress has been achieved in flagship projects despite the impact of COVID-19, including the Jakarta-Bandung high speed railway, China-Laos railway and Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway, adding more solid underpinning of economic recovery in regional countries.
China-ASEAN cooperation in digital economy is unleashing great potential. Our two sides are making the most of the 2020 China-ASEAN Year of Digital Economy Cooperation. Institution building is improving, and communication mechanisms are expanding. Experience-sharing is growing in areas of pandemic control, infrastructure construction, industrial transformation and poverty reduction through digital means. Cooperation is strengthening in e-commerce, smart cities, 5G networks. These encouraging interactions significantly energize the shaping of a China-ASEAN digital economic partnership.
Flourishing China-ASEAN people-to-people and cultural exchanges lead to deeper mutual understanding. China and ASEAN countries boast unique, diverse, yet inclusive cultures and a time-honored history of friendship among the people. The closeness and dynamism are unrivaled in Asia.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the peoples of China and ASEAN countries have supported each other through financial and material donations or expression of sympathy and blessings in videos. Our hearts are brought closer. The China-ASEAN Young Leaders Scholarship is in sound implementation. People from media outlets, think tanks and other walks of life have also maintained dialogue, learnt from each other and deepened friendship through digital means.
As people often say, the rainbow appears after the storm. China-ASEAN relationship is cleaving the waves in the stormy COVID-19 pandemic and will usher in its 30th year in four months. It is our fervent hope that the rainbow appears sooner rather than later. By then the testing time will be seen to have made the foundation of China-ASEAN relations stronger, driving forces greater and prospects brighter. It is critical for China and ASEAN countries to stay clear of noises and disruptions in the upcoming Foreign Ministers’ meetings, stay focused on building more consensus in combating the pandemic and boosting post-pandemic economic recovery, and stay determined and confident to elevate China-ASEAN relationship to a higher level.