Premier Li: ASEAN now China's largest trading partner
Updated 09:10, 13-Nov-2020

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Thursday that ASEAN has become China's largest trading partner as he attended the 23rd China-ASEAN (10+1) leaders' meeting via video link. 

In the face of the sudden onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, China and ASEAN have worked together to strengthen cooperation in combating the virus, share experiences, take the lead in opening up fast-track and green channels, and promote the resumption of economic growth, Li noted. 

Against the backdrop of shrinking world trade, economic recession and serious impacts on people-to-people exchanges, China-ASEAN trade grew against the trend in the first three quarters of 2020.

According to Li, in the first three quarters, China-ASEAN trade reached $481.81 billion, up by 5 percent year-on-year, making ASEAN China's largest trading partner. 

China's industry-wide foreign direct investment in ASEAN topped $10.72 billion, jumping 76.6 percent year on year, he added. 

By the end of 2019, ASEAN was China's second-largest trading partner with more than $641 billion in trade volume during the year, only after the EU. 

Joint efforts

"Among ASEAN's dialogue partners, China has been number one on many fronts," Li pointed out. 

He added that China was the first to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the first to forge a strategic partnership with ASEAN, the first to start FTA negotiations with ASEAN, and the first to give unequivocal support for ASEAN centrality in East Asian regional cooperation.  

The premier said that China-ASEAN cooperation has maintained its momentum and played an important role in regional peace and stability, development and prosperity, which is inseparable from our joint efforts. 

He concluded that:

-- China and ASEAN are committed to good-neighborliness and friendship and to the path of unity and development. Whether faced with two financial crises, major natural disasters such as SARS or the tsunami, or the impact of this year's pandemic, the two sides have been able to stand by each other and overcome the difficulties together. 

-- China and ASEAN adhere to mutually beneficial cooperation and take the road of common development. China-ASEAN cooperation is mutually beneficial, open and inclusive. We regard each other's development as an important opportunity, dovetail development plans, strengthen connectivity and advocate multilateralism and free trade, thus not only realizing our own development, but also injecting strong momentum into the stable development of the regional and global economy. 

-- China and ASEAN adhere to dialogue and consultation and pursue the path of peaceful development. Peace and stability are the prerequisites for development and prosperity. We are unanimous in advocating mutual respect, seeking common ground while reserving differences, and resolving differences and disputes through friendly consultations, thus creating a peaceful and stable regional environment. 

-- China and the ASEAN pursue path of coordinated development by putting people first. For us, the fundamental interests of the two billion people of China and ASEAN countries are always the top priority. In the face of COVID-19, we have cared deeply about life and livelihood, extended a helping hand to those most in need and made joint efforts to protect the life, security and health of all our peoples. We have also facilitated practical cooperation to safeguard and enhance peoples' well-being in light of their real needs.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers a speech at the 23rd China-ASEAN Summit via video link at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, November 12, 2020. /Xinhua

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers a speech at the 23rd China-ASEAN Summit via video link at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, November 12, 2020. /Xinhua

What's next?

Saying joints efforts made by China and ASEAN will not only boost development on both sides but also facilitate economic recovery within the region and safeguard regional and global peace and stability, Li proposed that China and ASEAN should work together in the following areas:

-- China and ASEAN need to defeat COVID-19 together and upgrade public health cooperation. China is reaching out to several ASEAN countries on vaccine research and development (R&D) and production cooperation, and will actively consider ASEAN countries' needs when our COVID vaccines are developed and deployed.

-- China and ASEAN need to focus on economic cooperation and trade and boost regional economic recovery. China actively supports ASEAN in adopting and implementing the Comprehensive Recovery Framework and steadily reopening the economy. We welcome the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. We need to further implement our free trade agreement and the upgrading protocol, and promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation in the region.

-- China and ASEAN need to create highlights in digital economy and foster new sources of growth for cooperation. The two sides need to leverage the opportunities of the Year of Digital Economy Cooperation to synergize digital development strategies and boost infrastructure development and transformation in this field. We need to intensify cooperation on innovation in e-commerce, smart city, big data, 5G and other areas, and promote joint R&D, technological exchanges and human resources development.

-- China and ASEAN need to promote sustainable development and strengthen preparedness for risks. Pursuing sustainable economic and social development is our shared objective. The two sides also need to further enrich cooperation in other areas like social, cultural, security and defense.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers a speech at the 23rd China-ASEAN Summit via video link at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, November 12, 2020. /Xinhua

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers a speech at the 23rd China-ASEAN Summit via video link at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, November 12, 2020. /Xinhua

Advance COC consultations

Li also called for advancing the consultations on the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea. He said the COC, as an upgraded version of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, will be a more substantive, effective and operable document that provides further institutional safeguards for peace and stability in the South China Sea. 

Noting the situation in the South China Sea is stable on the whole, Li said it is attributable to the fact that China and ASEAN countries, bearing in mind the larger interests, have actively managed differences with the "dual-track" approach, deepened cooperation, fully and effectively implemented the DOC and steadily advanced the COC consultations. 

"The South China Sea is the shared home for countries in the region," the premier stressed, adding that China remains firmly committed and determined to conclude the COC consultations at an early date.  

"We call on all parties to overcome the impact of COVID-19, think creatively, and accelerate the consultations in a flexible and pragmatic way," he added. 

Li reiterated that China and the ASEAN countries have the wisdom and capability to properly manage the situation in the South China Sea and safeguard its peace and stability. 

He also said China will positively consider convening face-to-face consultations in China, as soon as the COVID-19 situation allows, to advance the second reading of the COC.  

"Safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea is the shared aspiration of countries in the region, and dialogue is the right way forward to resolve disputes," said Li.