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Foreign Policy

New Chapter for ASEAN Ties

Nov 22, 2022
  • Chen Qinghong

    Assistant Research Fellow, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

On Nov. 11, the 25th China-ASEAN Summit was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was another important meeting following the establishment of the China-ASEAN comprehensive strategic partnership in November last year. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at the meeting that “China-ASEAN relations have come to a new historical starting point. A new and promising chapter of China-ASEAN friendship and cooperation has been opened.”

China and ASEAN have been cooperating with each other and making mutual achievements for decades, becoming a model of good neighborliness, win-win cooperation and common development in the region. Since the formal establishment of their comprehensive strategic partnership last year, relations have entered the fast lane.

Politically, there have been close high-level contacts, with President Joko Widodo of Indonesia visiting China in July, the first foreign head of state to visit since the Beijing Winter Olympics, with General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trọng leading a delegation to China in late October. He was the first foreign dignitary to visit China since the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

Economically, China and ASEAN have been each other’s largest trading partners, with two-way trade hitting new highs and reaching $798.4 billion in the first 10 months of this year, up by 13.8 percent year-on-year. High-quality Belt and Road cooperation has made iconic achievements, with the China-Laos Railway having been opened to traffic and the Jakarta-Bandung Railway set for completion soon.

In terms of security, China has been deepening defense and security cooperation with ASEAN through regional dialogue and cooperation mechanisms. China and ASEAN held two joint maritime exercises in 2018 and 2019. Their first large-scale live military exercise was held in China in 2019.

In health cooperation, China had provided nearly 600 million doses of vaccines to ASEAN countries as of December 2021. In addition, cooperation in science and technology, environmental protection, disaster prevention and mitigation, poverty alleviation and reduction and cultural exchanges have all made great progress.

There are at least three reasons for these achievements in China-ASEAN relations:

The regional consensus of protecting peace and pursuing development. Both China and ASEAN countries are developing countries and regard national development — especially economic development — as a top priority. Historical experience shows that East Asian countries have striven to maintain and promote regional peace and stability for the sake of development and have achieved faster and better economic development as a result. Countries in the region have been dedicated to peace and development rather than the “hegemonic stability” exemplified by the U.S. and the rest of the West, resulting in decades of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.

At present, China is working to build a great modern socialist country and achieve its Second Centenary Goal, emphasizing that high-quality development is the primary task of building such a country, and to this end reaffirming its commitment to building a human community with a shared future. For their part, the ASEAN countries are committed to realizing the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and formulating the ASEAN vision beyond 2025. Achieving modernization and a better life for all remain the common goals of both China and ASEAN.

China’s policy of good faith and good neighborliness. China implements the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness in our relations with neighboring countries and is committed to promoting friendship and partnership with its neighbors and fostering an amicable, secure and prosperous neighborhood environment. China not only does not resist the idea that ASEAN countries intend to regulate China with institutions but has also taken the initiative to integrate into the construction of regional mechanisms. It firmly supports ASEAN’s regional centrality.

China refused to devalue the RMB at great risk to itself during the Asian financial crisis to prevent Southeast Asian countries from being hit harder. In the new century, China proposed the establishment of a China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, which brought China-ASEAN relations to a higher level.

Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012, the CPC Central Committee has held special meetings on peripheral diplomacy, proposing to “treat our neighboring countries sincerely,” “let our neighboring countries benefit from our development,” and “provide more help to other developing countries within our capacity.” It earned the high recognition of neighboring countries.

The wisdom of the two sides to resolve disputes and differences. Although the South China Sea dispute is not a conflict between China and ASEAN, nor is it the entirety of the relationship between the disputants, it is the main uncertainty affecting China-ASEAN relations. Over the past decade, China and ASEAN countries have proposed an innovative dual-track approach to the South China Sea issue, fully and effectively implemented the Code of Conduct for Parties in the South China Sea, accelerated negotiations on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, resolutely excluded foreign interference and maintained the overall stability of the area. In the future, the two sides should further innovate ideas to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.

At present, historic fglobal changes are unfolding in an unprecedented manner, and the Asia-Pacific is facing increasingly complex security challenges, with an increase in various uncertainties, instabilities and unpredictable factors. At the same time, China’s economic and people-to-people exchanges with ASEAN are becoming more frequent. The two sides are increasingly integrating their interests, improving their emotional ties and becoming a community with a shared future of interdependence. Now at a new historical starting point, China and ASEAN should be committed to building a common home of “peace, tranquility, prosperity, beauty and friendship,” strengthening cooperation to address various security challenges, building a new security pattern and ensuring that the China-ASEAN comprehensive strategic partnership makes long-term steady progress.

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