Opinion

Some thoughts on China-ASEAN
relations

I feel very honored to be designated as China’s first permanent ambassador to ASEAN. Since I took office in August — and since the Chinese mission opened officially in September — I have called on the leaders of the ASEAN Secretariat and the permanent representatives to ASEAN, exchanged ideas and views with experts at think tanks and attended many meetings and symposiums on mutual cooperation in various areas.

My understanding of China and ASEAN’s relationship was deepened by these exchanges and involvements. While being quite encouraged by what we have achieved so far, I face a tougher task to bring our relationship to a higher level.

China and ASEAN opened a new chapter in their relations in 1991 with the establishment of a dialogue relationship. Over the past 21 years, China-ASEAN relations have taken a historic leap from the dialogue to forging a strategic partnership that shares extensive common interests.

The leaders of China and ASEAN’s member nations have visited each other like family members. On major international and regional issues, the two sides have maintained close communications and coordination and worked together to safeguard the interests of developing countries.

Committed to common development, China and ASEAN have made tremendous effort to strengthen economic cooperation. Two-way trade between China and ASEAN has surged from US$7 billion in 1991 to $362.8 billion last year, making for an average annual growth rate of over 20 percent. China has been ASEAN’s largest trading partner for three consecutive years and ASEAN became China’s third-largest trading partner last year. We are also major investment partners, with two-way investment growing steadily.

Cooperation between China and ASEAN is comprehensive, multi-tiered and wide-ranging, covering over 20 areas, including science and technology, culture, agriculture, education, poverty reduction, disaster prevention and relief, and combating transnational crimes.

The two sides have set up 12 ministerial meeting mechanisms and have established the China-ASEAN Expo, the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, the ASEAN-China Center, the China-ASEAN Environmental Cooperation Center, the China-ASEAN Education Cooperation Week and other cooperative platforms.

All these figures and facts prove that China and ASEAN are good neighbors enjoying solidarity, friendship and mutual trust.

The friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation between China and ASEAN have not only brought about economic and social development in our own countries and delivered enormous benefits to our peoples, but also contributed significantly to steady economic development and stability in East Asia and Asia as a whole.

With economic globalization and regional integration developing in greater depth, the destinies of China and ASEAN have never been so closely linked as they are today. Now, as the international financial crisis is about to enter its fifth year, the current global economic and financial scene still gives us no reason for optimism.

East Asia, which has been the most dynamic region in the world because of its sustained and rapid economic growth and social stability for the last several years, is at a crucial stage of development.

As strategic partners, China and ASEAN need to size up the situation and work together to expand business and financial cooperation, promote connectivity, and deepen social, cultural and people-to-people exchanges so as to enhance self-generating dynamism for the sustained development of the region.

Against this backdrop, the importance of the upcoming 15th China-ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, cannot be overstated. It offers a good opportunity for both China and ASEAN to initiate new ideas in a trying time. The Chinese side is willing to explore with ASEAN member nations specific measures to deepen cooperation in the aforementioned fields. We hope that the summit can continue to raise the flag of solidarity, promote development and cooperation, and create more consensus on strengthening political trust and promoting economic and social cooperation in a full-fledged manner.

There has been a lot of focus on the South China Sea in recent months. Frankly, I think that this issue has been exaggerated at the expense of the positive side of China-ASEAN relations.

China’s position on the South China Sea issue has been clear-cut and consistent. The issue is not between China and ASEAN, but one between China and the claimants. China has all along stood for the resolution of disputes in a peaceful manner through friendly consultation between claimants based on respect for historical fact and universally recognized international law.

Since the establishment of dialogue relations, China and ASEAN member nations have overcome many difficulties and challenges hand in hand, from tackling the Asian financial crisis to addressing the impact of the international financial crisis to the Indian Ocean tsunami to responding to the SARS epidemic.

I am fully confident that our peoples and our leaders have the wisdom to properly address this issue. The relationship between China and ASEAN won’t be derailed because of the disputes in the South China Sea.

China welcomes a stronger ASEAN and supports ASEAN’s centrality in East Asian cooperation. I’m sure that so long as we keep our destiny firmly in our own hands, and move ahead in the direction that we have set for ourselves, China-ASEAN cooperation will enjoy a bright future of increasingly solid and extensive development.

The writer is China’s ambassador to ASEAN.

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