Published: 17:04, November 22, 2021 | Updated: 22:42, November 22, 2021
S'pore, Philippine leaders hail upgrading of ASEAN-China ties
By Wang Zhan

HONG KONG – Leaders of Singapore and the Philippines on Monday welcomed the upgrading of relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China to a comprehensive strategic partnership, terming it mutually beneficial.

Joining the ASEAN-China Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations via video link, Lee Hsien Loong and Rodrigo Duterte stressed the importance of enhancing the relations for the greater sake of the region.

Chairing the special summit via video link, Chinese President Xi Jinping said China and the ASEAN have established a comprehensive strategic partnership. "This is a new milestone in the history of our relations and will inject new impetus into peace, stability, prosperity and development of our region and the world," he said.

FULL TEXT: Xi's speech at summit to mark 30 years of China-ASEAN dialogue

The ASEAN includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

“I am confident that it will be a meaningful, substantive and mutually beneficial upgrading,” Singaporean newspaper The Straits Times quoted Prime Minister Lee as saying.

China and the ASEAN will cooperate at a deeper level across various areas, he said, adding that it would be a meaningful, substantive and mutually beneficial upgrading.  

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Lee encouraged countries to enhance the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement, as well as the ASEAN-China Air Transport Agreement to support civil aviation and tourism.

I am confident that it will be a meaningful, substantive and mutually beneficial upgrading.

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister, Singapore

Underlining "the depth and breadth" of the 30-year relations between the ASEAN and China, Philippine President Duterte lauded China's "timely assistance" to the ASEAN's COVID-19 response efforts. 

He highlighted that China was the first dialogue partner to provide "life-saving vaccines and medical supplies."

Duterte also welcomed China's ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, and said enhanced multilateralism and connectivity will be the drivers of inclusive and comprehensive recovery.

During the special summit, the leaders discussed ways to further strengthen the relationship. 

Both sides have continued to strengthen their partnership despite the pandemic, with the ASEAN becoming China's top trading partner last year. The annual trade between both sides now exceeds $500 billion, according to the Singapore leader.

And even as protectionism grows, the ASEAN and China are leading the way on trade liberalization with the RCEP trade pact, which takes effect on Jan 1, The Straits Times reports. 

Signed in November last year, the RCEP is a mega trade deal between the 10 ASEAN member states, as well as China, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

The ASEAN and China should continue working together for peace and stability in the region. Singapore's position, as a non-claimant state and small nation dependent on trade, has not changed, PM Lee said in his speech.

Welcoming the recent high-level exchanges between China and the United States, including the virtual meeting between President Xi and his US counterpart Joe Biden last week, he said both leaders' statements that they are willing to work together to deepen cooperation and prevent conflict are encouraging.

"Countries in the region want good relations with both the US and China, and do not wish to have to choose sides," he said, expressing his hope that the two countries will work out a modus vivendi that will enable cooperation in areas of common interest, such as climate change and free trade.

READ MORE: China-ASEAN trade and economic ties deepen

ASEAN-led platforms can also help foster constructive dialogue, trust and cooperation between key players in the region, he added.

PM Lee welcomed the fruitful dialogue with China and said he looks forward to discussions to unlock new opportunities for partnership at annual ASEAN-China meetings.

*With inputs from Xinhua