In the past five years, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become a global public good with vitality and creativity. To date, more than 150 countries and international organizations have signed BRI cooperation agreements with China.
Under the BRI, 82 overseas economic cooperation zones have been set up in the participating countries in a short period. Trade between China and BRI partner countries has exceeded US$6 trillion. The more than $80 billion in Chinese investment in these countries has created 240,000 local jobs.
Why has the BRI been so popular and won so much support? To sum up, first, it follows the principle of equality and mutual benefits. Second, it aims for a win-win outcome. Third, it is open and inclusive. Fourth, it synergizes development strategies. Fifth, it is based on rules and the rule of law.
ASEAN is the key direction and important participant in the BRI. In the past five years, a large number of cooperation projects between China and ASEAN countries have been incorporated into the BRI cooperation framework. More and more practical cooperation plans are being actively explored.
There are advantages of China and ASEAN’s cooperation under the BRI. First is political advantage. The Belt and Road cooperation requires solid political mutual trust. The political relationship between China and ASEAN is very strong, evident in the fact that China is the first dialogue partner of ASEAN to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and to forge a strategic partnership with ASEAN.
Last year, both sides issued the China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership Vision 2030, which laid out a medium-and long-term blueprint.
Leaders from China and ASEAN countries have maintained close exchanges. At the annual China-ASEAN Summit, the leaders will hold candid discussions on common concerns and make political decisions to ensure that bilateral cooperation proceeds on the right path. Strengthening synergy between the ASEAN development strategy and the BRI has become the consensus of leaders of both sides.
Second is institutional system advantage. Under the China-ASEAN cooperation mechanism, the two sides have developed effective cooperation in over 20 fields, such as connectivity, finance, agriculture, information and communication technology, human resources development, investment, energy, culture, tourism, public health, environment and subregional development. China and ASEAN should strengthen BRI cooperation to bring these dialogue mechanisms into full play.
China has established a mechanism of dialogue at the vice-premier level or at the ministerial level with several ASEAN countries. Any bilateral cooperation under the BRI can be fully coordinated and promoted through intergovernmental dialogue.
China has also signed bilateral investment agreements with several ASEAN countries. There are insurance mechanisms for bilateral cooperation, without “traps” as claimed by the West. Everything runs under the sun; conspiracy theory is untenable.
Third is geographical advantage. China and ASEAN countries are close neighbors linked by mountains, rivers and seas. We are a community with a shared future and share weal and woe on the road to common development and prosperity. This has been fully verified by the handling of the two financial crises in 1997 and 2008 with the joint efforts of China and ASEAN.
Amid rising unilateralism and trade protectionism, China and ASEAN need to work together to seek common development. It is of overriding importance for us to seek self-development, mutually beneficial cooperation and maintain regional sustainable development and prosperity. The BRI cooperation has built a new platform and points to a new direction for China-ASEAN future comprehensive and pragmatic cooperation.
ASEAN is committed to promoting the implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, which is consistent with the BRI goal to promote regional connectivity. If the two initiatives are successfully synergized, the ASEAN connectivity project will get more support from China and the rest of the world, which will improve its commercial value and meet its long-term development goals.
Fourth is market advantage. China and ASEAN together are a big market with over 2 billion people. Annual trade between them nears $600 billion and total mutual investment has exceeded $200 billion. The financial cooperation, including currency swap arrangements, has also achieved remarkable results.
People-to-people exchange has exceeded 50 million per year, a huge improvement from the past. But it may be just the beginning for the market potentials.
In the next 15 years, China’s imports of goods and services are expected to exceed $30 trillion and $10 trillion, respectively. For ASEAN, the next 15 years will also be an important opportunity to expand cooperation with China and accelerate its own development.
The Belt and Road cooperation provides a viable opportunity for the integration of the two markets. The two sides have the ability and conditions to tap market potential, mobilize various resources, expand cooperation in various fields and implement mutually beneficial measures to strengthen the win-win situation.
Fifth is people-to-people exchange advantage. China and ASEAN countries have a history of people-to-people exchange. The two sides share similar cultures and customs. The Belt and Road cooperation will help improve infrastructure, expand trade exports, improve people’s employment and living standards, and will certainly gain the understanding and support of people on both sides.
Nearly 30 million Chinese tourists visit Southeast Asia every year. This number will rise with improved infrastructure connectivity. The number of ASEAN tourists visiting China will also increase quickly. The youth are the future and hope for China-ASEAN relations. About 200,000 Chinese and ASEAN students study in each other’s home countries. They are valuable treasures and will surely become the backbone of the BRI.
China and ASEAN deserve all the advantages from jointly building the Belt and Road, and will also work together to write a brand new chapter for win-win cooperation in the future.
The writer is vice president of the China Public Diplomacy Association.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.