Working Together Toward a Closer China-ASEAN Community with a Shared Future
By Mr. Deng Xijun, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to ASEAN
2021-11-23 15:20

China-ASEAN dialogue relations were established in 1991. The past thirty years, though a short stretch of history, have been a glorious chapter highlighted by friendship and cooperation between the two sides. Evolving from the dialogue partnership to the strategic partnership, China and ASEAN are about to embrace the comprehensive strategic partnership that is already the most dynamic, substantive and influential regionwide.

Over the past thirty years, China and ASEAN have deepened strategic mutual trust and enhanced good neighborliness. Leaders of the two sides have maintained close communication through multiple means. In recent years, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the ten ASEAN Member States and met with leaders of ASEAN countries many times, steering the course of China-ASEAN relations. Strategic communication on major issues between our two sides has been conducted in a timely manner through the multi-level dialogue mechanisms, including between the top leaders, ministers, and senior officials. With shared commitment to multilateralism, China and ASEAN jointly uphold the ASEAN-centered regional architecture that is open and inclusive. Together we have safeguarded regional peace and stability and properly managed our differences on the South China Sea issue through dialogue and consultation.

Over the past thirty years, China and ASEAN have offered each other much-needed support in the trying time. China and ASEAN have worked in concert to tide over crises one after another, for instance, the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the SARS in 2003, the bird flu in 2004 and the international financial crisis in 2008. Since the COVID-19 pandemic made the strike, we have done our utmost to render each other help. Urgently needed anti-COVID materials have been uninterruptedly supplied, experience in prevention and control shared, and cooperation in vaccine R&D, supply and production enhanced. China and ASEAN are proud to represent an exemplary effort of international anti-COVID cooperation.

Over the past thirty years, China and ASEAN have promoted development-oriented cooperation for mutual benefit. Our two-way trade grew from 8.36 billion US dollars in 1991 to 685.28 billion US dollars in 2020, and it totaled 630.5 billion US dollars in the first three quarters of this year. Last year, China and ASEAN became each other’s largest trading partner for the first time in history. The two billion population of China and ASEAN countries combined represent a huge consumer market and the largest free trade zone in developing countries. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), among other trade arrangements, opens broad, new prospects for our economic and trade engagement.

Over the past thirty years, China and ASEAN have drawn the peoples closer to each other. In 2019, 65 million mutual visits were made, and nearly 4,500 flights traveled between China and ASEAN per week. Exchange mechanisms have continued to expand in the fields of education, culture, tourism, youth, think tanks and media. Despite the adverse impact of the pandemic, our people-to-people exchanges on the “cloud” have been ever more robust.

The Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations is to take place in a few days. It will be an important milestone in our relations to build on the past and plan for the future. Our top leaders are expected to further deepen political mutual trust, enhance cooperation and map out the way forward. It is critical for China and ASEAN to seize the momentum, tap the full potential of our relations and build a closer China-ASEAN community with a shared future for the benefit of the two billion people in our 11 countries. I believe priority could be given to the following four areas:

First, to jointly defeat the pandemic and boost regional economy. Vaccine cooperation is of special significance, including by speeding up efforts to build regional vaccine production and distribution centers in Southeast Asia. The COVID-19 pandemic wouldn’t be the last one on the planet. To be well prepared in the future, efforts need to be made to enhance emergency response capacities through public health cooperation. In the meantime, China and ASEAN need to go all in to promote comprehensive, post-COVID recovery regionwide and steer our region back on a solid growth track, especially by keeping the industrial and supply chains unclogged.

Second, to foster new areas of growth in pursuit of common development. It is key for the two sides to improve regional connectivity by better synergizing development policies and advancing high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. China and ASEAN need to ensure the sound implementation of the upgraded China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, fully leverage RCEP, which will enter into force next year, and shape a free trade area in the Asia-Pacific. Innovation-driven growth also deserves more of our endeavors, and new areas of cooperation might be explored in smart cities, e-commerce, AI, new energy, and technologies for environmental protection.

Third, to nurture closer people-to-people ties. Exchanges await expansion in culture, education, media, think tanks, sports, women and youth. Mutual understanding between our young generations is to be further deepened through such flagship projects as the ASEAN-China Young Leaders’ Scholarship, the ASEAN-China Short Video Contest, the ASEAN-China Media Forum and Think-Tanks Forum. More also could be done to enhance mutual learning and nurture our shared East Asian values.

Fourth, to safeguard international justice through solidarity and coordination. It is of paramount importance for China and ASEAN to jointly safeguard the UN-centered international system and the basic norms governing international relations based on the principles and purposes of the UN Charter. We must join hands to champion the spirit of cooperation in East Asia and multilateralism with Asian characteristics, oppose zero-sum games and hegemonic bullying, and maintain a regional cooperation framework that is open and inclusive. As friendly neighbors, China and ASEAN need to maintain communication at all levels and continue to support each other on issues concerning each other’s core interests. Differences shall continue to be managed through dialogue and consultation, which is an important way of deepening strategic mutual trust.

As an old Chinese poem puts it, “The river is wide at full tide; a strong wind sends the sail surging forward.” I have full confidence that with our concerted efforts, the giant ship of China-ASEAN friendship and cooperation will sail ahead steadily and make greater contributions to peace, stability, development and prosperity of Asia. I look forward to another exciting 30 years for China-ASEAN relations!

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