Published: 14:24, June 21, 2024
Stronger Sino-ASEAN ties urged
By Yang Han and Web Warouw in Jakarta

Both sides must enhance cooperation to bolster regional peace and prosperity, forum hears

The ASEAN-China Future Relations Forum was held at the ASEAN Secretariat, in Jakarta, on June 19, 2024. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

China and ASEAN should continue to enhance their cooperation under the comprehensive strategic partnership to create benefits to people within the region and beyond, a forum in Jakarta heard on June 19.

“The relationship between ASEAN and China is one of the most significant partnerships in the region,” ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn said in his keynote address at the ASEAN-China Future Relations Forum, which was held at the ASEAN Secretariat in Indonesia’s capital city.

Today, ASEAN and China have the most number of cooperation mechanisms, which account for almost 20 percent of the total such frameworks that ASEAN has with its 11 official dialogue partners, Kao said at the forum co-hosted by the Mission of China to ASEAN and the Permanent Mission of Myanmar to ASEAN.

Bearing the theme “Towards a More Substantive Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”, the forum brought together officials, ambassadors, and thought leaders from China and ASEAN to discuss the potential of the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two sides.

Kao said the ASEAN-China journey is underscored by numerous milestones, including the establishment of the ASEAN-China free trade area in 2010, which has greatly boosted trade and investment flows.

As the ASEAN-China comprehensive strategic partnership enters the third year, Kao said the two sides should recognize the importance of this relationship and its contribution to regional peace and prosperity, with a forward-looking and ambitious vision.

It is important for ASEAN and China to strengthen economic ties, promote digitalization and enhance connectivity, said Kao, adding that the two sides should also work together to address challenges such as climate change, cybersecurity and health security.

Noting that South China Sea is a critical issue for ASEAN and China, Kao said the two sides should push for the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct, which will contribute to regional peace.

“The future of ASEAN-China relations, I believe, is on the right track and it is bright and full of potential,” said Kao.

“As we move forward, we must remain committed to the principle of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefits,” said Kao. “We also must manage our differences wisely and constructively. We must turn the challenges to real opportunities.”

Speaking highly of the China-ASEAN partnership, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Saleumxay Kommasith, Lao’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, sent congratulatory messages to the forum. Laos is the rotating chair of ASEAN this year.

“At present, the China-ASEAN comprehensive strategic partnership is growing with strong momentum,” said Wang, adding that the cooperation in trade and economy, high-quality Belt and Road Initiative, and people-to-people exchanges have brought concrete benefits to the over two billion people on both sides.

China and ASEAN have been each other’s top trading partners for four years running, and landmark projects under the high-quality Belt and Road cooperation have been implemented one after another, said Wang, adding that people-to-people exchanges are gaining momentum.

China is ready to forge greater synergy with ASEAN in development strategies, firmly support its community building and the ASEAN-centered regional architecture, and work together for common development and peace, stability and prosperity in the region, said Wang.

“The ASEAN-China relations stand as a cornerstone in the regional diplomatic landscape, fostering multifaceted cooperation and underpinning peace, stability and prosperity,” said Kommasith.

As this year has been designated as the ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges, Kommasith said it is a significant step toward enhancing cultural and social ties between the two sides.

Kommasith said he believes that ASEAN-China relations will continue to grow and strengthen in the years to come, and that he hopes to see wider cooperation in various socio-economic fields.

“ASEAN will remain a priority of China’s neighborhood diplomacy,” said Sun Weidong, China’s vice minister of foreign affairs and senior official for East Asian cooperation.

Delivering his speech via video link, Sun said China and ASEAN need to work together for open regionalism and true multilateralism to prevent Cold War mentality, unilateralism and bloc confrontation from having their way in the region.

Also delivering a video speech, Aung Kyaw Moe, permanent secretary of Myanmar’s foreign ministry and leader of the ASEAN-Myanmar Senior Officials’ Meeting, said ASEAN and China should seize the opportunity to elevate the bilateral relationship to new heights.

In particular, the two sides should put more emphasize on the role of science and technology in sustainable economic growth to promote more cooperation in the sector, Aung Kyaw Moe said.

The uncertainties in various parts of the world should not affect relations between ASEAN and China, and the two sides should maintain a stable relationship and work together toward shared prosperity, said Dino Patti Djalal, founder and chairman of the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia, or FPCI.

FPCI, one of the biggest foreign policy groups in Southeast Asia, organized the forum.

Dino said that China and ASEAN countries have economic strength that is beneficial to the world community, and for this reason the bilateral relationship must become stronger and deeper for mutual prosperity.

“If the relationship (between ASEAN and China) can become a factor of stability for both sides, for the region, I think that can be an inspiring model of cooperation for others to see,” said Dino.

The forum featured three panel sessions on topics headlined “Upholding Regionalism: Towards a Peaceful, Secure, and Stable Region”; “Science, Technology, and Artificial Intelligence: Fostering Key Drivers for Prosperity in the Digital Era”; and “Building Heart-to-Heart Bridges for a Closer ASEAN-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”.

An interaction session between Kao and the youth participants was held at the end of the forum, following a half-day closed door discussion among the youth participants the previous day.

Hassan Wirajuda, former foreign minister of Indonesia, said the reason why ASEAN can become the fifth largest economy in the world is because there were no sharp conflicts among countries, and because stability strengthens ASEAN economic cooperation.

Noting that the shift in political and economic development from the Atlantic to Asia-Pacific has made Asia the center of the world, Hassan said ASEAN and China are also becoming more effective and decisive.

While there may be still some distrust toward China despite active cooperation between the two sides, Un Kheang, secretary of state of Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said he believes that China does not want transactional relationship with other countries but rather cooperation toward mutual prosperity.

Un said countries in Southeast Asia are experiencing very good and mutually-beneficial cooperation with China, and distrust is actually raised from outside ASEAN.

ASEAN countries need China to pursue progress amid current geopolitical changes, said Pham Lan Dung, acting president of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and president of the Asian Society of International Law.

Dung said ASEAN and China need to promote cooperation in economy, science and technology, and young talent.

During the panel discussion on technology, industry leaders, academic researchers and non-governmental organizations agreed that AI will be a huge game changer for a wide array of areas from e-commerce to research and governance.

Noting that products from ASEAN countries are becoming increasingly popular with Chinese consumers, Zhang Kaifu, vice president of Alibaba International Digital Commerce Group and head of the group’s AI business, said the company is building a platform to enable small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from around the world to sell not only within their own country but also to other countries.

But to many SMEs, language barrier is a big challenge when it comes to cross-border trade and AI can be a useful tool in helping list their products online.

While many ASEAN countries still rely on export of tangible goods such as rice and rubber, more advanced nations, such as China, have seen the significant role of digital economy in economic growth, said Jirayut Srupsrisopa, CEO of Bitkub Group, a blockchain technology and digital asset company in Thailand.

“As the first step for ASEAN to become an advanced economy, we need to prepare the infrastructure,” said Jirayut, noting that this is about technologies related to the fourth industrial revolution.

In the session on people-to-people exchange, Su Hao, deputy dean of the Institute of Global Governance and Development at the Renmin University of China, said China and ASEAN share common or similar civilization elements.

“China and ASEAN countries share important features or characteristics to define our civilizations, which is quite different from the Western style of civilization,” said Su.

Tran Thuy Linh, a PhD candidate at the University of International Business and Economics in China, shared her experience of China.

“On campus, I am fortunate to study in a very international environment with students from more than 150 countries,” said Linh.

Web Warouw is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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