Fruitful China-ASEAN cooperation and partnership with promising development prospects
The Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, June 27, 2023. /CFP
The Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, June 27, 2023. /CFP
Editor's note: Song Qingrun, is a professor at the School of Asian Studies, Beijing Foreign Studies University. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN. It has been translated from Chinese and edited for brevity and clarity.
This year is the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative, the proposal of building a closely-knit China-ASEAN community with a shared future, and the 20th anniversary of China's accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. China has consistently prioritized ASEAN as a crucial region for its neighboring diplomacy and high-quality Belt and Road Initiative. In turn, ASEAN views China as a vital partner. Since 2014, both sides have jointly organized various events, such as the cultural exchange year, the maritime cooperation year, the education cooperation year, the tourism cooperation year, the innovation year, the media exchange year, the digital economy cooperation year, the sustainable development cooperation year, and the China-ASEAN year of agricultural development and food security cooperation. The comprehensive bilateral cooperation has yielded fruitful results, and the prospects for their relationship are promising.
At the political level, interactions between Chinese and ASEAN leaders have been warm and cordial. China has consistently supported ASEAN's central role in the ever-evolving regional architecture, making their relationship one of the most dynamic, substantial, and mutually beneficial among ASEAN's partners. At the ASEAN-China Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN-China Diplomatic Relations in 2021, both parties established a comprehensive strategic partnership that is meaningful, substantial, and mutually beneficial. Over the years, China and ASEAN have maintained good communication and cooperation under various frameworks, including the ASEAN Plus Three, the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
On the economic front, China has signed bilateral cooperation agreements with all the ten ASEAN member states for Belt and Road cooperation. The China-ASEAN Free Trade Area has upgraded from version 1.0 to 2.0. The China-ASEAN Expo has been held for 19 years, with over 1.1 million participants. In 2022, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) came into full effect, making it the world's largest free trade area. Sub-regional cooperation, such as the Brunei Darussalam－Indonesia－Malaysia－Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP－EAGA) and the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation, is steadily advancing. These events have injected strong momentum into China-ASEAN regional cooperation, making economic cooperation between the two sides highly resilient, overcoming the impacts of the global economic downturn and achieving growth amid the economic downtrend. In terms of trade, both sides have solidified their positions as each other's largest trading partners. China has been ASEAN's largest trading partner for 14 consecutive years, while ASEAN has been China's largest trading partner for three consecutive years. In 2022, bilateral trade reached $975.3 billion, an increase of 11.2 percent year on year, more than 2 times the $443.6 billion recorded in 2013. Regarding investments, as of July this year, China's cumulative bilateral investment with ASEAN countries exceeded $380 billion. In 2022, China became Malaysia and Thailand's largest foreign investment source. Among ASEAN countries, Singapore has been China's largest source of new investments for nine consecutive years as of 2022.
In 2019, both parties issued the ASEAN-China Joint Statement on Synergising the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025 and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Connectivity partnership has produced remarkable cooperation results, contributing to the development of both sides and deepening their regional cooperation. The Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, jointly constructed by China and Cambodia, connects the national capital Phnom Penh to the province of Preah Sihanouk, known for its deep-sea port. The China-Laos Railway has transformed Laos from a landlocked country to a land-connected one. To date, the total number of railway passengers has exceeded 20 million, boosting Laos' development. The Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, a joint project between China and Indonesia, is set to operate in September. China's rail construction projects in cooperation with Thailand and Malaysia are steadily progressing. China and ASEAN countries, including Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, continue to advance their cooperation in regional energy and power development. This year, China resumed power transmission to Vietnam to alleviate the power shortages of the latter.
With similar culture and people of close ties, China and ASEAN have made abundant achievements in cultural exchanges. These exchanges serve as a lubricant for building people-to-people bonds. In terms of educational exchange and cooperation, China has trained over 1,300 key technical and scientific management personnel for ASEAN countries. Over 200,000 students have been exchanged between both sides, and Chinese universities have established official language programs for all the languages of the 10 ASEAN countries. In addition, ASEAN countries have jointly established 42 Confucius Institutes and 39 Confucius Schools. As for personnel exchanges and tourism, 65 million people crossed the borders in 2019, facilitated by nearly 4,500 weekly flights. China and ASEAN are each other's principal sources of tourists. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, China had been ASEAN's largest source of foreign tourists for several consecutive years. As the pandemic recedes this year, there has been a marked resurgence in flights and personnel exchanges between the two sides.
Chinese Premier Li Qiang will attend the 26th China-ASEAN (10+1) leaders' meeting, the 26th ASEAN-China, Japan and Republic of Korea (10+3) leaders' meeting and the 18th East Asia Summit in Indonesia from September 5 to 8, and will also pay an official visit to Indonesia. The meeting of leaders from both sides is expected to deepen the collaborative construction of the China-ASEAN community with a shared future, support the negotiation of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area 3.0, promote the alignment and cooperation of the Belt and Road Initiative with the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific, upgrade cooperation in specific areas such as addressing development challenges, food security, green economy and blue economy cooperation, digital economy cooperation, 5G, new energy, and interconnectivity. This will continue to author an optimistic new chapter in friendly bilateral cooperation and build a closely-knit China-ASEAN community with a shared future.