The 2020 series of Foreign Ministers’ Meetings on East Asia Cooperation stared on Wednesday and will continue until Saturday. This is the first time in history for the meetings to be held via video link, due to the still raging Covid-19 pandemic. Faced with a pandemic rarely seen in a century and the complex changes in the regional landscape, people in our region might be keen to know more than ever how China-ASEAN relations are going and what signals will be sent on anti-pandemic cooperation in the meetings.
China and ASEAN are among the main drivers of East Asia cooperation, which has been fully evidenced by our joint fight against the pandemic in recent months. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang conducted frequent “cloud diplomacy” with leaders of ASEAN countries to provide confidence, support and political guidance when they are most needed.
To work concertedly against the pandemic and stabilise economic and social order, China and ASEAN have carried out regular exchanges at multiple levels in health, economy, trade, transportation, information and disaster management, among others. All these efforts point to the building of a comprehensive anti-pandemic cooperation front.
China keeps in mind the needs of ASEAN countries for vaccine R&D and application and support cooperation in these areas between Chinese enterprises and relevant ASEAN countries. In the meantime, it is of paramount importance to take care of social and economic recovery both during the pandemic and in the post-pandemic era.
Toward this end, China and ASEAN countries including Singapore, the Lao PDR, Myanmar and Indonesia have established “fast lanes” and “green lanes” for personnel and goods movement respectively.
China has resumed direct international flights with Vietnam and some other ASEAN countries. China has also been actively exploring with ASEAN countries the establishment of fast and green lane networks between China and ASEAN and in East Asia at large. Together we are also working on a regional financial safety net that stabilises regional supply and industrial chains as well as the financial sector.
These anti-pandemic endeavours lead us to the larger picture of China-ASEAN cooperation that is comprehensive, multi-tiered and covers a wide range of areas.
Regarding the South China Sea issue, a few external forces are determined to interfere for the sake of their domestic political and geopolitical agenda. They attempt to stir up troubles in our region by driving a wedge between China and ASEAN.
Despite the inconvenience caused by Covid-19, China and ASEAN countries have managed to hold a joint working group meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) via virtual link a few days ago. Our joint effort to promote the implementation of DOC and the Consultation of Code of Conduct (COC) speaks volume of our resolve to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.
China-ASEAN economic cooperation has enjoyed remarkable growth against strong headwind. Despite Covid-19 and the sluggish global economy, China-ASEAN foreign trade in the first eight months of this year increased by seven per cent to $430 billion, making ASEAN China’s largest trading partner in goods, and China and ASEAN each other’s largest trading partner, indeed a milestone in history. In the first half of this year, China-ASEAN two-way investment soared by 58.8 per cent.
The just-concluded economic ministers’ meetings between ASEAN and partner countries yielded rich fruits as well, including reaffirmed commitment to signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement by year’s end, improving regional economic structure and upholding the multilateral trading system of our region.
China-ASEAN high-quality cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) continues to generate good progress. Greater synergy between the BRI and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 (MPAC 2025) is being created. Steady progress has been achieved in flagship projects despite the impact of Covid-19, including the Jakarta-Bandung high speed railway, China-Laos railway and Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway, adding more solid underpinning of economic recovery in regional countries.
China-ASEAN cooperation in the digital economy is unleashing great potential. Both sides are making the most of the Year of China-ASEAN Cooperation in Digital Economy in 2020. Institution building is improving, and communication mechanisms are expanding. Experience-sharing is growing in areas of pandemic control, infrastructure construction, industrial transformation and poverty reduction through digital means. Cooperation is strengthening in e-commerce, smart cities and 5G networks. These encouraging interactions significantly energise the shaping of a China-ASEAN digital economic partnership.
Flourishing China-ASEAN people-to-people and cultural exchanges lead to deeper mutual understanding. China and ASEAN countries boast unique, diverse, yet inclusive cultures and a time-honoured history of friendship among the people. The closeness and dynamism are unrivaled in Asia.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the peoples of China and ASEAN countries have supported each other through financial and material donations or expression of sympathy and blessings in videos. People from media outlets, think tanks and other walks of life have also maintained dialogue, learned from each other and deepened friendship through digital means.
As people often say, the rainbow appears after the storm. The China-ASEAN relationship is cleaving the waves in the stormy Covid-19 pandemic and will usher in its 30th year in four months. It is our fervent hope that the rainbow appears sooner rather than later. By then the testing time will be seen to have made the foundation of China-ASEAN relations stronger, driving forces greater and prospects brighter.
It is critical for China and ASEAN countries to stay clear of noises and disruptions in the Foreign Ministers’ meetings, stay focused on building more consensus in combating the pandemic and boosting post-pandemic economic recovery, and stay determined and confident to elevate the China-ASEAN relationship to a higher level.
Deng Xijun is ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to ASEAN.
The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network