On July 19th, 1991, then Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen was invited to attend the 24th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting which initiated the China-ASEAN dialogue relations. In 2003, China and ASEAN established the strategic partnership. Ever since then, China and ASEAN have witnessed a “Golden Decade” in development, and the cooperation between the two sides is praised as a paragon for regional cooperation. The cooperative relation between China and ASEAN is like a sapling which has now flourished and borne rich fruits.
For ASEAN, China means a lot of “firsts”: the largest trade partner of ASEAN; the first country to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia; the first country to establish strategic partnership with ASEAN; the first country to support the Treaty on the South-East Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, and the first to establish FTA with ASEAN. All these “firsts” signify the great significance and remarkable achievements of the cooperation between the two sides.
Increasing Political Mutual Trust
China and ASEAN have maintained frequent high-level exchanges, and established a series of state-level and ministerial-level dialogue and cooperation mechanisms in the past decade. Since 2004, the China-ASEAN Expo has been held annually. It has been attended by over 50 Chinese and ASEAN leaders as well as more than 1,000 ministerial officials.
In 2013 alone, China’s President and Premier visited several ASEAN countries, which is unprecedentedly frequent. It indicates that China pays high attention to the ASEAN countries, and the political mutual trust between the two sides is greatly increased. During the “Two Sessions” in 2014, China’s Premier Li Keqiang shared one of his little- known experiences with the press: In 2013, Premier Li visited Vietnam. After reaching an agreement with the Vietnamese leaders, Premier Li wanted to see the response from the common people as well. So, he went out and came to a shop. “The shopkeeper recognized and welcomed me. I asked her how she views Vietnam’s relations with its neighboring countries. She replied that she hopes for peace and friendship”, said Premier Li.
The wishes of the common people must be the goal of the ruling government. China adheres to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in diplomatic relations. And the same voice from the common people in ASEAN has further manifested the fact that mutual trust between countries could not only be enhanced at high levels, but be bred among the common people.
A Natural Trade Partner
Suppose that a traveler went from Cambodia to Vietnam, and then to Thailand, he/she would feel a huge span of history in such a short journey. According to a Chinese journalist, it seemed that time went forward 10 years when he travelled from Laos to Cambodia. And in the eyes of a Chinese journalist in Vietnam, Cambodia lags behind Vietnam 10 years and Thailand 20 years. Such personal descriptions further display the unbalanced development of the ASEAN countries, which is the largest obstacle of the ASEAN Community. Over the past decade, China had supported the development of ASEAN and stood with ASEAN through difficulties. It had played a crucial role in deepening China- ASEAN strategic partnership, driving the establishment of ASEAN Community, and supporting the dominant role of ASEAN in regional cooperation.
China’s President Xi Jinping advocated the establishment of the China-ASEAN Community of Common Destiny in his speech delivered at the Indonesian Parliament. He emphasized that the China-ASEAN Community of Common Destiny is closely related to the ASEAN Community. The two should tap their respective advantages to jointly benefit people in the region and around the world.
As China’s economy enters the new development phase, ASEAN’s economic status is also climbing. China and ASEAN are no longer each other’s rival in export, but natural cooperative partners. China has been ASEAN’s largest trade partner for several consecutive years. And in 2011, ASEAN became the third largest trade partner of China. In 2013, bilateral trade volume reached $443.61 billion, an increase of 8.1 times comparing to 2002.
The remarkable achievements are also reflected in the establishment of the most populous FTA – China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, which has brought about reduced tariffs and exchange of needed resources. By August, 2012, China had accumulatively reduced about 50 billion RMB tariff to the ASEAN products, bringing tangible benefits to people of both sides and opening up a broad prospect for regional economic cooperation.
Lightened “Street Lamps”
China and ASEAN have ever joined hands in tackling the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and fought the global financial crisis in 2008. This has nurtured fertile soil for mutual trust.
Zhu Hongjie, the Deputy Governor of the Export-Import Bank of China described the changes brought about by China- ASEAN financial cooperation as follows: “Ten years ago, people used to sit in idleness along the streets in darkness. Nowadays, few people could be found in streets lightened by lamps. Instead, they sit at home watching TV”. The projects invested by Chinese financial nstitutions are quietly changing the local people’s way of life.
ASEAN is not only the best investment destination for China’s “going global” enterprises, but also an important source for China’s foreign investment. From 2003 to 2013, two-way investment between China and ASEAN expanded by 4 times to exceed $100 billion. ASEAN has now become the largest market for Chinese enterprises’ overseas investment.
Hans B. Sicat, President and CEO of the Philippine Stock Exchange just finished his trip to Shenzhen in September last year. Apart from Shenzhen, cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Nanning are all destinations of his business trip. “Nowadays, financial regulators from China and ASEAN have more chances in information exchange and learning from each other”, he said.
Cultural Exchanges: “With Wings of Development”
In 2013, there aroused many highlights in connectivity construction between China and ASEAN. In Yunnan province, the Kunming-Bangkok Highway and Kunming-Hekou Expressway have opened to traffic. In Guangxi, the Hengyang-Liuzhou high-speed railway has successfully connected China’s high-speed railway artery -- the Beijing-Guangzhou Railway, with ASEAN. Moreover, 12 international air routes have connected China with 8 ASEAN countries including Thailand and Singapore. The convenience of transportation has given wings to bilateral tourism cooperation and cultural exchanges.
In 2012, the number of Chinese tourists to ASEAN exceeded 7.32 million, an increase of 2.6 times compared to 10 years ago. With such a growth rate, the number would reach 14 million in 2016. At present, 4 ASEAN countries grant arrival visa to Chinese citizens. They are Thailand, Indonesia, Laos and Myanmar.
In 2013, over 170 thousand Chinese and ASEAN overseas students went study in each other’s countries. “Amity between people holds the key to sound relations between states”. The increasing close relation between China and ASEAN not only serves as an “economic bridge” for sharing business opportunities, but also a “friendship bridge” for promoting the healthy development of bilateral relations.
China is sincere and active enough to cooperate with ASEAN in all aspects. As Premier Li Keqiang said, China’s good- neighbor policy towards ASEAN is not a makeshift, but a long-term strategy. “A near friend is better than a far-dwelling kinsman”. China always maintains friendly relations with its neighboring countries. It has so many cultural similarities with the ASEAN countries, so there is no reason not to join hands and build a rosy future.
China benefits a lot from the friendly cooperation with ASEAN, and it also brings great opportunities to ASEAN. When reviewing the past and looking forward to the future, we expect that China and ASEAN will have the opportunities to make greater progress and present a brand-new “Diamond Decade”.