by Zhao Qing
HONG KONG, Dec. 16 (Xinhua) -- It is a consensus in East Asia that ties between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have developed into the most dynamic, substantial and fruitful among ASEAN's dialogue partnerships, bringing great benefit for regional development and setting good example for regional cooperation.
Twenty-six years after China and ASEAN launched dialogue and 14 years after they established strategic partnership, the two sides now see comprehensive strategic cooperation in all three pillars - the political-security, economic and socio-cultural, with bountiful fruits especially in the economic field, as both ASEAN general secretary Le Luong Minh and Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN Xu Bu have pointed out.
Looking into the future, the two sides are now eying upgrading the cooperation by formulating a vision for strategic partnership toward the year 2030, hoping to add "more global substance" into their ties and "build a new exemplar for South-South cooperation."
BOUNTIFUL FRUITS IN ALL AREAS OF COOPERATION
Over the years political dialogues between China and ASEAN have been increasingly enhanced. Top leaders of the two sides are in frequent contact and frequently visit each other. Leaders of all 10 ASEAN countries visited China in 2017. With over 10 ministerial-level meeting mechanisms and over 20 senior official-level cooperation mechanisms having been set up, dialogue mechanisms between the two sides in all areas are becoming increasingly mature.
On the 20th ASEAN-China summit held in November in Manila, the two sides announced to start negotiations on the text of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, showing their positive will to jointly maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea.
Economic and trade cooperation between the two sides have been developing rapidly. China and ASEAN have set up the world's largest free trade agreement (FTA) for developing countries and have finished negotiations on upgrading the FTA. Bilateral trade volume reached 452.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2016.
China has been ASEAN's top trade partner for a consecutive eight years, while ASEAN being China's third largest trade partner for a consecutive six years. Two-way investment has also scored rapid increase.
People-to-people exchanges have become increasingly close. During the past few years, China and ASEAN countries organized the Year of Cooperation in Science and Technology, the Cultural Exchange Year, the Year of Maritime cooperation and the Educational Exchange Year. The year of 2017, designated as the ASEAN-China Year of Tourism Cooperation, witnessed the continuous deepening of bilateral people-to-people exchanges.
BELT AND ROAD PROJECTS BENEFIT ASEAN PEOPLE'S LIVES
China considers ASEAN countries as the priority and primary partners in promoting the Belt and Road Initiative, while ASEAN is also striving to realize interconnectivity to build a seamlessly and comprehensively connected and integrated ASEAN, as envisioned in The ASEAN Community Vision 2025. The two development plans are uniquely complementary to each other and can be integrated and mutually promoted.
The Belt and Road Initiative has yielded remarkable progress in some ASEAN countries. Notably, infrastructure interconnectivity development has been accelerated as flagship projects such as Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Rail, China-Laos Railway and Sino-Thai Railway have been launched.
Many Belt and Road projects have been successfully concluded. Thousands of residents living along the routes have reaped the early benefits, seeing their living environment modernized, jobs and education opportunities turn up.
Under the Belt and Road Initiative, the two sides are also closely pushing forward production capacity cooperation based on industrial parks and rapidly enhancing trade and investment facilitation.
Also under the initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has gained participation and support of all ASEAN countries, which provides a firm guarantee for financial integration.
The Belt and Road Initiative also helped promote cultural exchanges and tourism, leading to increasingly active non-governmental contact between the two sides, laying the social foundation for people-to-people bonds.
STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP VISION TOWARD 2030
China-ASEAN relations are not without challenges, including lack of strategic mutual trust, cooperation into a bottleneck and people-to-people exchanges at a low-level. The relations are now at a key turning point and require an upgrade, according to Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN Xu Bu.
On the 20th China-ASEAN leaders' meeting held in Manila in November, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang proposed the formulation of a vision for strategic partnership between both sides toward the year 2030 to upgrade their cooperation framework from 2+7 to 3+X.
The "2+7" refers to a cooperation framework proposed by Li in 2013 at a meeting with ASEAN leaders in Brunei, which emphasizes a two-point political consensus enhancing strategic trust and promoting economic cooperation and seven fields of cooperation, including trade facilitation, interconnectivity and security exchanges.
Meanwhile, "3+X", using the letter X in math to represent the unknown, means China and ASEAN will touch many fields while focusing on three pillars political security, economy and trade, and people-to-people exchange.
The proposal is aimed to add "more global substance" into China-ASEAN ties and "build a new exemplar for South-South cooperation," said Li.
During the meeting, the two sides also announced to start consultations on the text of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea. Li reiterated China's stance to firmly maintain relationship with ASEAN in a good neighborly and friendly direction and properly handle sensitive issues through dialogue and consultation as as to always keep bilateral relations on the right track.
Leaders of ASEAN countries responded positively to Li's proposal and pledged to work with China to bring the all-around pragmatic cooperation to a new high and consolidate the positive momentum in the South China Sea.
Amid rising protectionsim and other common challenges such as terrorism and climate change in the world, China and ASEAN have also manifested their shared commitment to open trade and co-ordinated actions. Premier Li's call for efforts to advance the East Asia Economic Community, a trade bloc that aims to integrate East and Southeast Asia's diverse economies into a single market, was also echoed by other leaders at the meeting.
He stressed that due to the rising tide of de-globalization and protectionism, countries in the region have to cooperate more to promote free and fair trade.
In an interview with Xinhua ahead of the Manila ASEAN summit, ASEAN General Secretary Le Luong Minh spoke highly of and expressed optimism about the future of China-ASEAN ties.
"We hope that our shared commitment to open regionalism, to multilateralism can further enhance our coordination and cooperation," Le said.