China and Asean: Ways to boost a good relationship

opinion April 19, 2013 00:00

By Special to The Nation

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The following is an excerpt from a speech made by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a meeting with senior officials and ambassadors of Asean countries on April 2.


A number of consultation mechanisms have been established between China and Asean since we launched dialogue relations 22 years ago. The Senior Officials’ Consultation was one of the first such mechanisms. It serves as an important platform of dialogue between the two sides and has played an important role in boosting cooperation in various areas between China and Asean.
This year is a special one for China and Asean, as it marks the 10th anniversary of the China-Asean strategic partnership. Over the past decade, we have deepened mutual understanding and trust, and expanded win-win cooperation. 
We have endeavoured to promote political mutual trust. The two sides have maintained frequent high-level exchanges. Chinese leaders have visited all Asean countries and attended Asean summits every year. There are now 12 ministerial-level cooperation mechanisms between the two sides. China has sent to Asean its first resident ambassador. 
We signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), promoted maritime dialogue and cooperation and jointly upheld peace and stability in the South China Sea.
We have actively promoted common development. The China-Asean Free Trade Area (CAFTA) is now fully established. The negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) were officially launched. Last year, two-way trade volume exceeded US$400 billion, mutual investment hit $100 billion, and the number of mutual visits made by our peoples reached 15 million. The Asean-China Centre was established. Our cooperation in connectivity, science and technology and finance has registered vigorous growth.
We have jointly met various challenges. After winning the battle against the Asian financial crisis in 1997, we jointly overcame difficulties caused by the global financial crisis in 2008. Our two sides worked together to fight SARS and the Indian Ocean tsunami and Wenchuan earthquake. 
We have jointly promoted East Asian cooperation, with Asean in the driver’s seat, to realise Asia’s renewal. With vision and an innovative spirit, we have made fresh progress in East Asian integration in political, economic, cultural, security and other areas. The China-Asean relationship has gone beyond the bilateral scope. It serves as an engine driving East Asian development, and underpins stability and prosperity in our region. 
The impact of the global financial crisis is still with us, and the world still faces many uncertainties. But Asia has maintained its growth momentum and has a promising future. We are faced with both rare opportunities and huge challenges. Under such new conditions, the domestic and foreign policy direction of China is the focus of international attention.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) convened its 18th National Congress last November, during which the blueprint for China’s future development was drawn up. Two goals of the century were set. The first is to finish building a moderately prosperous society and double the 2010 GDP and per capita income by 2020. The second is to turn China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious when the People’s Republic marks its centenary in 2049. To realise the great renewal of the Chinese nation is a deeply cherished dream of the Chinese people. We call it the “Chinese Dream”.
To achieve these goals and the Chinese Dream, China needs a peaceful and stable neighbouring environment. China will continue to promote friendship and partnership with its neighbours, and ensure that China’s development brings more benefits to its neighbours. 
The Chinese Dream, when realised, will not only benefit the Chinese people, but also promote development in our region and bring benefits to various countries. Asean is pursuing its own dream and working toward the goal of building an Asean Community. We need to work together, so as to realise both the Chinese and Asean dreams. We should take speedy and forceful steps to translate agreements reached during our dialogues into tangible outcomes. 
Development is where the biggest shared interests lie. The success of China-Asean cooperation shows that business and trade are strong bonds that bind the two sides together. China and most Asean members are developing countries, and promoting economic development and improving people’s lives is a long-term priority. In the face of international financial crisis, we must give undivided attention to development; advance regional economic integration and development of free trade; make the pie of shared interests bigger and better in quality; narrow the development gap; and bring the dividends of cooperation to as many people as possible.
Trust is the foundation of our cooperation. China and Asean went through years of distrust and confrontation. However, today we have become strategic partners. Some historical issues persist and new ones are emerging. Given this increasingly complex environment, rifts between neighbours are unavoidable. What is important is that we should not lose confidence in the strategic direction of bilateral relations, and the foundation of political trust should not be weakened. In the face of differences and disagreement, we should continue to act in the larger interest of stability and development in our region, and manage relevant issues through dialogue. Opportunities are hard to seize. We should not allow one or two issues to affect our overall cooperation and miss out on the historical opportunity created by the rise of Asia.
Accommodating each other’s concerns is an important guarantee for cooperation and an approach that suits Asia’s reality. Any attempt by any big country to seek dominance or hegemony in East Asian cooperation is unthinkable and will not happen. China firmly supports Asean’s centrality in East Asian cooperation. China does not ask Asean to choose sides between major countries. China will not do anything detrimental to Asean unity. At the same time, we also hope that Asean will be objective and impartial in its position, accommodate the interests and legitimate concerns of various parties in a balanced way, and unequivocally oppose actions that undermine peace, stability and development in our region. 
The relationship has entered its third decade, and we need to redouble efforts to ensure its robust and sustainable growth in the new era. To this end, both sides should take the following steps:
First, we should maintain close contact. The new Chinese government and leadership attach great importance to Asean and hope to have stronger ties and more exchanges with Asean. It is important to increase dialogue, mutual understanding and trust when problems arise. To mark the 10th anniversary of the China-Asean strategic partnership, China will host a Special China-Asean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting this year.
Second, we should continue to advance result-oriented cooperation. There are three priorities for us. First, building of the CAFTA should be promoted. We should fully unleash the potential of CAFTA and actively promote negotiations on the RCEP. Opening-up boosts productivity and provides inexhaustible power driving the growth of East Asia. We must maintain the momentum and be eager to break new ground. Second, connectivity should be enhanced, including infrastructure and industrial layout, software such as institutional arrangements, and people-to-people exchanges. At the same time, we need to discuss establishing a regional financing platform so as to remove bottlenecks in financing. Third, maritime cooperation should be advanced. We should make good use of the China-Asean Maritime Cooperation Fund and actively explore ways to boost pragmatic maritime cooperation. Maritime diplomacy is a common agenda. We must resolve maritime disputes by expanding cooperation and make such cooperation a new pillar underpinning the China-Asean strategic partnership.
Third, we should properly handle the South China Sea issue. With peace and stability in mind, China and Asean signed the DOC 11 years ago. It is explicitly stated in the DOC that disputes in the South China Sea shall be resolved by peaceful means through consultations and negotiations by sovereign states concerned. The South China Sea issue should not affect the larger interests of China-Asean friendship and cooperation. We should fully implement the DOC, and make full use of senior officials’ meetings and working groups. To adopt a code of conduct in the South China Sea is part of the efforts to implement the DOC. At present, we should maintain dialogue, increase mutual trust and build consensus so as to create conditions for formal consultation. In this process, all parties should exercise restraint and refrain from doing anything that is incompatible with the DOC. 
Upholding peace and stability, promoting development and prosperity, and achieving win-win cooperation in Asia are not only the common aspirations of countries in the region, but also the irresistible trends of the times. The China-Asean relationship has made great strides. We have every reason to believe that with our joint efforts, the relationship will have a great future.