Published: 15:35, April 9, 2024
Intensive China visits by ASEAN officials testament to closer ties
By Xinhua
A man is pictured at the venue of the 43rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia on Sept 5, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

HONG KONG — A series of visits to China by senior officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to China has recently captured headlines.

Following the visit of Indonesian President-elect and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, foreign ministers of Laos, Vietnam and Timor-Leste also visited China separately. On Sunday, Chairman of the National Assembly of Vietnam Vuong Dinh Hue also started a visit to China.

Analysts believe that the flurry of visits indicates that China, ASEAN's largest neighbor, has become a reliable and long-term comprehensive strategic partner to ASEAN, with mutually beneficial cooperation injecting more stability and positive energy into regional and global development.

Rare visit

Prabowo came to China on his first official visit after being elected president of Indonesia, the largest economy among ASEAN members and a key regional player.

It is uncommon for newly-elected state leaders to visit a foreign country before inauguration.

This indicates China's unique position and importance in Indonesia's foreign relations. Prabowo's visit aims to consolidate Indonesia's cooperation with China, which President Joko Widodo has already established, said Indonesian sinologist Novi Basuki.

Data from Statistics Indonesia showed that the trade volume between the two countries in 2023 reached $127.12 billion, making China Indonesia's biggest trading partner for 11 consecutive years.

Aside from trade, bilateral cooperation has flourished in other fields, such as infrastructure. The Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, a flagship project of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, has brought great convenience to travelers during Ramadan, shortening travel time between the two cities from over three hours to roughly 40 minutes.

Prabowo said during his visit that the new Indonesian government is willing to promote more economic and trade cooperation and collaboration in combatting poverty to further benefit the two peoples.

Integrated development

During his visit to China, Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Saleumxay Kommasith said Laos will work with China to ensure the Laos-China Railway bring greater economic benefits and strengthen cooperation with China in energy, agricultural tourism and other fields.

Dubbed a "golden transport channel," the China-Laos Railway has become the epitome of the thriving economic and trade cooperation between China and ASEAN countries.

The convenient international logistics channel and popular international passenger train services have created employment opportunities for local residents, attracted more foreign investment, and facilitated the upgrading and expansion of various industries along the railway line.

With the implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the construction of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, bilateral trade between China and ASEAN countries continued to grow in 2023, reaching 6.41 trillion yuan ($886.17 billion). ASEAN has maintained its position as China's largest trading partner for four consecutive years, while China has also remained ASEAN's largest trading partner for 14 years in a row.

With the gradual increase in bilateral trade comes expanded investment, said Xin Tao, head of corporate banking and general manager of the Beijing branch of United Overseas Bank (China).

As of July 2023, the two-way investment between China and ASEAN exceeded $380 billion, with over 6,500 Chinese direct investment enterprises established in ASEAN. Meanwhile, the digital economy, green development and new energy industries are emerging as investment hotspots.

In Thailand, a vital auto manufacturing hub in Southeast Asia, Chinese auto companies are selling electric vehicles and setting up factories. They have also brought in supporting industries such as battery production, catalyzing the establishment of an electric vehicle industry chain in Thailand.

Xin said China and ASEAN share common development ideals and common industrial chains. Cooperation is not just about simple economic and trade exchanges but more about the tangible integration of industrial chains.

Closer community

During their visits, Prabowo, Saleumxay and Vietnam's Minister of Foreign Affairs Bui Thanh Son all pledged to implement the critical consensus of building a community of shared future between their respective countries and China.

Meanwhile, a recent report by Singapore's Yusof Ishak Institute suggested that over 60 percent of the Southeast Asian population endorses the concept of a community with a shared future for humanity, indicating the resonance of this Chinese vision.

As part of efforts to build a closer community with a shared future between China and ASEAN, this year has been designated the ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges.

Since the beginning of this year, China has signed visa exemption agreements with Singapore and Thailand.

Exchange students have also benefited from China-ASEAN cultural exchanges through various scholarship programs. In the academic year 2021-2022, students from ASEAN countries accounted for approximately 30 percent of all international students studying in China.

Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN Hou Yanqi said the ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges would build a "heart-to-heart bridge," reflecting the joint contributions of China and ASEAN in promoting world peace, security, prosperity and progress.