China-Asean ties open new chapter of common prosperity

January 17, 2021, 1:55 pm

<p><strong>BINONDO BRIDGE</strong>. Workers work at the construction site of the China-funded Binondo-Intramuros Bridge in Manila, the Philippines on Nov. 18, 2020. The Department of Public Works and Highway said the construction is expected to be finished in 2021. <em>(Xinhua/Rouelle Umali)</em></p>

BINONDO BRIDGE. Workers work at the construction site of the China-funded Binondo-Intramuros Bridge in Manila, the Philippines on Nov. 18, 2020. The Department of Public Works and Highway said the construction is expected to be finished in 2021. (Xinhua/Rouelle Umali)

HONG KONG – This year marks the 30th anniversary of the dialogue relations between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The past three decades have seen China-Asean relations grow closer and stronger despite trials and hardships. At present, joint steps by China and Asean member states to build a community with a shared future are opening a new chapter toward China-Asean common prosperity.

"Since its launch, China-Asean cooperation has always been results-oriented, pioneering and responsive to the trend of the times," Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in an interview with Xinhua earlier this month. "It has become the most successful and vibrant example of regional cooperation."

On Saturday, Wang concluded a six-day Southeast Asia visit, which took him to Myanmar, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. During the trip, China and Asean have reached consensus on stronger cooperation in a range of areas including Covid-19 vaccines, economic recovery and regional stability.

Mutual support vs. pandemic

The East Asia region has set an example for the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, Wang told a joint press conference on Wednesday with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

Donations of medical supplies from Asean member states supported China when it was at the height of its fight against the disease. China returned the favor by offering medical supplies, dispatching medical teams, sharing prevention and treatment experiences, and enhancing vaccine cooperation.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte welcomes People's Republic of China State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who paid a courtesy call on the President at the Malacañang Palace on Jan. 16, 2021. (Presidential photo by Richard Madelo)

On Thursday, Indonesia launched its massive Covid-19 vaccination drive, using a vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech. President Joko Widodo received the first shot in a show of confidence for the vaccine.

Vaccine cooperation has become a new highlight in bilateral relations and shows the brotherly friendship between the two peoples, Wang said when meeting with Retno.

"China is willing to work with Indonesia to promote cooperation in the research and development, procurement and production of COVID-19 vaccines," Wang said.

China has promised to make Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccines a global public good to lead global recovery from the pandemic.

Indonesia and Malaysia have ordered 125.5 million and 14 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, respectively. Thailand and the Philippines are also expected to receive millions of doses from China in the coming months.

China also decided to donate a batch of Covid-19 vaccines to Myanmar and the Philippines and continue to help them combat the novel coronavirus. 

Catalyst of global economic recovery

With the pandemic still raging around the world and governments struggling to strike a balance between containing Covid-19 and restarting the economy, analysts see cooperative action as the way out.

During Wang's visit to Indonesia, Southeast Asia's biggest economy, he said China is willing to work with Indonesia to jointly put into force the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) at the earliest possible date and release the dividends of the world's largest free trade bloc.

The RCEP brings together 15 Asia-Pacific countries, which together account for almost 30 percent of the world's population and about 30 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

"It is a win-win agreement. Nobody loses, and everybody wins," said Dino Patti Djalal, a former Indonesian ambassador to the United States.

The signing of the RCEP will provide further impetus to China-Asean economic cooperation, with Asean set to play an increasingly important role in China's manufacturing ecosystem, said Koh King Kee, president of Malaysia's think tank Center for New Inclusive Asia.

Trade between China and Asean members has been growing robustly despite the pandemic. According to data released by the Chinese General Administration of Customs, two-way trade volumes climbed 7 percent in 2020, making Asean China's largest trading partner.

"By cooperating, Asean and China can become a powerful catalyst of global progress and trade," said Wilson Lee Flores, an analyst and columnist of the English daily Philippine Star.

A member of the Chinese medical expert team checks the medical equipment at a converted Covid-19 quarantine facility at the Philippine International Conference Center in Manila, the Philippines, April 14, 2020. (Xinhua/Yuan Mengchen)

When visiting Brunei, the Chinese state councilor called for efforts to open "fast tracks" for personnel movement, plan and build "green lanes" for the movement of goods and maintain the stability of industry chains and supply chains.

In Indonesia, Wang said that China is willing to expand Indonesia's exports to China and increase investments in Indonesia.

China has also been working with relevant Asean countries to speed up the construction of major projects and push for the alignment of the Belt and Road Initiative with local development strategies.

Tang Zhimin, director of China Asean Studies in the Bangkok-based Panyapiwat Institute of Management, said strengthening bilateral cooperation on emerging sectors such as 5G, the digital economy, artificial intelligence and big data application will help foster new growth drivers in the region.

Closer China-Asean economic cooperation would become the locomotive driving global economic recovery, Tang said.

Anchor of regional stability

Solid and harmonious relations between Asean and China will be a strong anchor for the Asia-Pacific region's stability, economic development and world peace now beset with uncertainties and complex problems, Flores said.

The consensus on maintaining regional peace and stability has been one of the highlights during Wang's tour, as the countries have vowed to manage disputes through negotiations, Tang said.

China wishes to strengthen cooperation and solidarity with all Asean countries and properly manage disputes, so as to ensure that the South China Sea is peaceful and stable, Wang said at talks with Brunei's Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah.

Photo taken on Sept. 3, 2020 shows the construction site of box girder erection of the China-built Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Railway in Indonesia. (Xinhua/Zulkarnain)

In Myanmar, Wang said the "Paukphaw" (fraternal) friendship between the two countries will be further carried forward and the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership will be further strengthened after the challenges posed by the pandemic.

When meeting with Retno, Wang said China is willing to work with Indonesia to properly manage differences and jointly maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

In Myanmar, the country's President U Win Myint said Myanmar is willing to play an active role in advancing China-Asean relations and Lancang-Mekong Cooperation.

When meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the Chinese foreign minister said China stands ready to work with the Philippines to staunchly safeguard each other's legitimate rights and interests in the international and regional arenas, defend the common interests of developing countries and uphold international equity and justice.

Among the relations between Asean and its dialogue partners, China-Asean relations are the most dynamic and fruitful and have become an important pillar for regional peace and stability, development and prosperity, Wang said at talks with Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi.

Established in 1967, Asean groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. (Xinhua)