MANILA, Nov. 12 (Xinhua) -- When leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its dialogue partners gather here on Monday, they will once again look to the progress of cooperation between China and ASEAN which has inspired ASEAN's external relations.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary since the founding of ASEAN. In the past half a century, the ever-growing ASEAN has become a representative force to maintain regional peace and security and to push forward multi-polarization in the world.
Among ASEAN's dialogue partners, China has built an all-round and mutually beneficial partnership with the 10-nation bloc, setting an example as the most dynamic and substantial partnership.
The flourished relations between China and ASEAN started 26 years ago when then Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen was invited to the opening ceremony of the 24th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in 1991.
Since the establishment of the relations, China has persisted in supporting ASEAN's community building effort, its centrality in regional cooperation and its bigger role in regional and global affairs.
Political mutual trust between China and ASEAN has been strengthened over the decades, together with fast-paced growth in economic ties as well as closer people-to-people exchanges.
China was the first major country outside the region to endorse the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the first to acknowledge ASEAN's centrality in regional cooperation, and the first to build a strategic partnership with ASEAN.
Among the most fruitful cooperation stand blossoming trade and economic ties.
China and ASEAN have built the largest free trade area among developing countries. The signing and implementation of the protocol on upgrading the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area is expected to further boost trade and foster industrial transformation.
According to Xu Bu, China's ambassador to ASEAN, trade between China and ASEAN amounted to 452.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2016. China was ASEAN's largest trading partner for the eighth consecutive year and ASEAN was China's third largest trading partner for the sixth consecutive year. Accumulated two-way investment stood at 178 billion dollars.
In recent years, China and ASEAN have injected new momentum into the cooperation by actively synergizing the Belt and Road Initiative and regional development strategies, jointly pushing for the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as well as launching the Lancang-Mekong cooperation mechanism.
The past 26 years also witnessed ever-closer people-to-people exchanges, which have become a new pillar for China-ASEAN relations. In 2016, more than 38 million trips were made between the two sides, more than 2,700 flights link China and ASEAN countries on a weekly basis.
China and ASEAN, linked by waters and mountains, are good neighbors, good friends and good partners. The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative is well received by the ASEAN countries, while China's call for building a "community of common destiny" is also echoed in the region.
"There is no denying that China's economic growth has been instrumental toward ASEAN's development in recent decades - it has been the tide that has lifted all boats," said Shahriman Lockman, senior analyst at Malaysia's Institute of Strategic and International Studies.
"That looks set to continue as China and ASEAN collaborate on the Belt and Road Initiative, and find ways to synergize those efforts with the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025," he added.
Proposed in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa on and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes.
"As we are linked closer and closer by means of infrastructure, trade, finance and popular bonds, it is inevitable that a community of common destiny will emerge," said Oh Ei Sun, special adviser for international affairs of Malaysia's Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute.
Chinese Ambassador Xu said relations between China and ASEAN are now at a crucial point for cooperation of higher quality.
"The future China-ASEAN ties need a long-term perspective with a focus on the present. We need to broaden our consensus, deepen our cooperation for a higher-level China-ASEAN strategic partnership and a closer China-ASEAN community of common destiny," he said.