Today is a big day in the history of China-Asean relations. On October 8, 2003, leaders of China and Asean countries gathered in Bali, Indonesia and put their signatures to the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity. China thus became the first dialogue partner to have a strategic partnership with Asean.
Over the past 15 years, China and Asean have prospered together, through thick and thin. We stood by each other in countering natural disasters and the global financial crisis, and have grown together through win-win cooperation. Two-way trade volume has seen a nearly ten-fold increase from US$55.2 billion to $514.8 billion (Bt16.9 trillion). People-to-people visits are up from 3.87 million to 49 million, an increase of nearly 13 times, and will soon exceed 50 million. China has remained Asean’s largest trading partner for nine consecutive years, whereas Asean has been China’s third-largest trading partner for seven straight years. Two-way cumulative direct investment has topped $200 billion, in which there are over 4,000 enterprises in Southeast Asia with Chinese direct investment and more than 300,000 local people employed. Vigorous growth of China-Asean relations is a proven blessing to the two billion people on both sides and a major contributor to regional peace, stability and prosperity.
As China and Asean enter a new stage of development, our relations also usher in a new era with immense prospects.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for both sides to foster a higher level of strategic partnership and build a closer community of a shared future. In his historic visit to the Asean Secretariat this May, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang proposed the “five partners” for China-Asean cooperation: partner for common development, peace, openness and win-win progress, innovation, as well as promoting inclusiveness and mutual learning. These have set a new vision for the future of China-Asean relations.
Next month, leaders of China and Asean meet in Singapore to issue the “China-Asean Strategic Partnership Vision 2030” which will chart the course for the next decade. Here, we will strengthen synergy between the Belt and Road initiative and the Master Plan on Asean Connectivity, enhance cooperation in innovation and invest more heavily in boosting socio-cultural and people links. The Singapore summit will set in motion a new cooperation framework under the three pillars of political security, economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges.
The strategic partnership will be more substantive and forward-looking, with growing global and regional dimensions.
We will work more closely together in upholding regional peace and security. China supports an open and inclusive Asia-Pacific regional architecture, with Asean at the centre, based on international law and universally recognised norms and rules. China and Asean recently agreed on a single draft negotiating text of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). This progress demonstrates that China and Southeast Asia are fully capable of safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea via a regional code of conduct that all parties can abide by.
We will be closer partners in supporting free trade and economic globalisation. China will work with Asean to reach early conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), firmly oppose unilateralism and trade protectionism, jointly safeguard the rules-based multilateral trading system, and inject positive energy into the growth and prosperity of the region and the world as a whole.
We will also be closer partners in advocating diversity, harmony and inclusiveness among different civilisations. We share the values of “seeking harmony without uniformity” and “harmonious co-existence” and support Asean’s notion of moderation as an effective measure to counter violent extremism. China is ready to work with Asean to promote cooperation in culture, education, tourism and media, foster inter-faith dialogue, and promote sustainable, inclusive, balanced growth and social harmony.
History is a mirror by which we can draw inspirations and steer our course into the future. As friends, partners and neighbours, we know how close our interests are intertwined, and how much is at stake if we cannot manage our relations well. Instead of letting occasional differences affect the bigger picture, we have been able to focus on our good-neighbourly relations and follow principles of mutual respect, equality, mutual support and win-win cooperation. These learned and tested wisdoms will continue to serve us well as we aim higher in the decades ahead.
Huang Xilian is China’s ambassador to Asean.