Date: 22 November 2021
Picture Credit to: Xinhua (http://english.www.gov.cn/news/topnews/202111/22/content_WS619b8df5c6d0df57f98e54c6.html)
BEIJING — China and ASEAN on Nov 22 agreed to elevate their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership, as President Xi Jinping attended and chaired a special summit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations via video link.
"This is a new milestone in the history of our relations and will inject new impetus into the peace, stability, prosperity and development of our region and the world," Xi said, commenting on the partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The summit was co-chaired by Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, who is also the ASEAN chairman for 2021.
Noting that China-ASEAN dialogue relations have gone through an extraordinary journey over the past three decades, Xi summarized the four-pronged experiences gained over the past 30 years, including mutual respect, win-win cooperation, mutual assistance and inclusiveness.
The two sides have accommodated each other's major concerns, properly handled disagreements and problems by seeking common ground while shelving differences, taken the lead in establishing free-trade areas, promoted high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, and jointly concluded and signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
China and ASEAN have stood with each other through the Asian financial crisis, the international financial crisis, COVID-19 and other challenges, and forged friendships that are open, not exclusionary, with an inclusive attitude.
"China was, is, and will always be ASEAN's good neighbor, good friend and good partner," Xi said.
He reaffirmed that China will unswervingly treat ASEAN as a high priority in its neighborhood diplomacy, unswervingly support ASEAN unity and ASEAN Community building, unswervingly support ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture, and unswervingly support ASEAN in playing a bigger role in regional and international affairs.
JOINTLY TACKLING CHALLENGES
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging across the world, Xi announced that China is ready to work with ASEAN countries to jointly build a "health shield" for the region.
Under this initiative, China is ready to donate an additional 150 million doses of COVID vaccines to ASEAN countries to support higher vaccination rates in countries in the region.
China will also contribute an additional $5 million to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund, step up joint vaccine production and technology transfer, and collaborate on the research and development of essential medicines, so as to help ASEAN increase self-reliance.
China will also support ASEAN in strengthening primary-level public health systems and cultivating human capital for ASEAN to build a stronger capacity in response to major public health emergencies.
"China has played various crucial roles in mitigating the pandemic domestically and regionally through vaccine and medical supplies to ASEAN countries, which helps facilitate the process of reopening borders, resume other economic activities and strengthen the resilience of supply chains," said Thong Mengdavid, a research fellow at the Phnom Penh-based Asian Vision Institute.
At the summit, Xi announced that China is ready to provide ASEAN with another $1.5 billion of development assistance in the next three years to support ASEAN countries' fight against COVID-19 and boost economic recovery.
Xi said China is ready to open a dialogue with ASEAN on climate response, increase policy communication and experience sharing, and synergize plans for sustainable development.
"China is ready to launch the Action Plan on China-ASEAN Green Agriculture to make our countries' agricultural sector more resilient and sustainable," he said.
ECONOMIC, TRADE COOPERATION
Economic and trade cooperation has been a highlight in China-ASEAN cooperation. Trade volume between the two sides jumped from less than $8 billion in 1991 to $684.6 billion in 2020, an increase of more than 80 times. The two sides became each other's largest trading partner for the first time in 2020.
Xi called for harnessing the role of the RCEP, beginning work toward a new round of upgrading of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area at an early date, and enhancing the level of trade and investment liberalization and facilitation.
Signed in November last year, the RCEP, a mega trade deal between 10 ASEAN member states plus China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand, will enter into force on Jan 1, 2022.
"These are economically very dire times in the aftermath of the pandemic..., and the RCEP is one such accelerating agent because it enables us to practice a broader and deeper degree of free trade of both goods and services," said Oh Ei Sun, principal advisor for Malaysia's Pacific Research Center.
Xi urged the two sides to expand cooperation in new areas like digital and green economy and build joint demonstration zones for economic innovative development.
"China has a vast domestic market that will always be open to ASEAN countries. China is ready to import more quality products from ASEAN countries, including buying up to $150 billion worth of agricultural products from ASEAN in the next five years," he said.
Despite the impact of COVID-19, the people-to-people and cultural exchanges between China and ASEAN have maintained a strong momentum.
The personnel exchanges exceeded 65 million in 2019, and there were nearly 4,500 flights between China and Southeast Asia every week. Meanwhile, the two sides have exchanged more than 200,000 students and formed more than 200 pairs of sister cities.
"We need to actively consider the orderly resumption of the flow of people post the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to promote exchanges in areas such as culture, tourism, think tanks, media and women to build better understanding, bring hearts closer together and form one big family between our peoples," Xi said.
He said China will enhance cooperation with ASEAN in vocational education and mutual recognition of diplomas, increase the number of recipients of the China-ASEAN Young Leaders Scholarship, and organize events like youth camps.
China will launch the China-ASEAN Science, Technology and Innovation Enhancing Program, and will provide 1,000 items of advanced and applicable technology to ASEAN and support a program for 300 young scientists from ASEAN to come to China for exchanges in the next five years.
"We support the establishment of a China-ASEAN Knowledge Network for Development," Xi said, adding that China is also ready to strengthen exchange and cooperation with ASEAN on poverty reduction to promote balanced and inclusive development.
COMMUNITY WITH SHARED FUTURE
Xi made five proposals for developing future relations between China and ASEAN, including building a peaceful, safe and secure, prosperous, beautiful and amicable home together.
"China stands ready to work with ASEAN to grasp the overriding trend, remove interference, share opportunities and promote shared prosperity. We will implement in earnest our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, and make new strides toward building a closer China-ASEAN community with a shared future," he said.
ASEAN leaders attending the summit hailed the formal establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership between ASEAN and China, saying it is a milestone of great historical significance.
ASEAN is willing to make joint efforts with China to strengthen all-round cooperation, usher in the next 30 years of better ties, and make greater contributions to regional peace, stability and prosperity, they said.
To uphold regional peace and stability, Xi called for pursuing dialogue instead of confrontation, building partnerships instead of alliances, and making concerted efforts to address the various negative factors that might threaten or undermine peace.
President Xi also called for deepening cooperation in areas such as defense, counter-terrorism, joint maritime search, rescue and exercise, countering transnational crime, and disaster management.
"Joint efforts are needed to safeguard stability in the South China Sea and make it a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation," he said.
A joint statement on "comprehensive strategic partnership for peace, security, prosperity and sustainable development" was released during the summit.
In the statement, the two sides emphasized the need to maintain and promote an environment conducive to the negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC), and look forward to the early conclusion of an effective and substantive COC that is in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, within a mutually-agreed timeline.