by Dan Ran, Mao Pengfei
BANGKOK, Nov. 3 (Xinhua) -- The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China agreed on Sunday to facilitate regional all-round connectivity by dovetailing development plans and jointly building a smart cities network across the region.
The two sides issued a joint statement on synergizing the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025 and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) at the 22nd ASEAN-China summit, a major step in the implementation of the landmark China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership Vision 2030, adopted in 2018.
The MPAC 2025 focuses on five strategic areas, namely sustainable infrastructure, digital innovation, seamless logistics, regulatory excellence and people mobility, while the five major cooperation priorities of the BRI are policy coordination, connectivity of infrastructure, unimpeded trade, financial integration and closer people-to-people ties.
FACILITATING INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT
According to the joint statement, China was encouraged to "actively support the development and financing of ASEAN infrastructure projects and promote connectivity cooperation in areas such as railways, highways, port and harbors, airports, power and communication, for building better business and investment environment."
ASEAN on Saturday announced the list of Initial Rolling Priority Pipeline of Potential ASEAN Infrastructure Projects, which identifies economically viable infrastructure projects that have the highest potential to attract investment from dialogue partners and financial institutions.
ASEAN statistics show that more than 110 billion U.S. dollars are needed to invest in infrastructure annually in the bloc in order to meet the needs of member states, which is roughly two to six times the annual amount spent historically.
Mey Kalyan, chairman of the Cambodia Development Resource Institute, said weak connectivity has been identified as one of the main obstacles that hamper the development of the ASEAN region.
"Joining hands between ASEAN Connectivity Master Plan and BRI, which generally possesses rich financial and technical assets, is definitely a positive factor that will expedite the implementation of infrastructure development and translate plan into reality sooner," he said.
As one of the key regions along the Belt and Road, ASEAN is now home to a range of iconic infrastructure projects under the BRI cooperation, including the Jakarta-Bandung high speed railway in Indonesia, the China-Laos railway, the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway in Cambodia, the East Coast Rail Link in Malaysia and the China-Singapore land-sea trade corridor, among others. These projects will greatly enhance production and facilitate the movement of people and goods.
"China's low and flexible financing terms coupled with competent and fast construction enable ASEAN countries to build and rehabilitate their infrastructure and utilities," said Lucio Pitlo, lecturer from the Chinese Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University.
BUILDING SMART CITIES IN DIGITAL ERA
Efforts by ASEAN and China to achieve all-round connectivity went far beyond merely building physical infrastructure, extending to the connection of information and technology in the digital age to improve people's lives.
Both sides issued a leaders' statement on Smart City Cooperation Initiative on Sunday, pledging to explore science, technology and innovation cooperation to improve people's livelihood and promote sustainable development in the urbanization process.
They agreed to encourage the establishment of mutually-beneficial city partnerships between ASEAN cities, in particular those under the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, and Chinese cities, such as Nanning, Xiamen, Hangzhou, Jinan, Kunming, Shenzhen, Nanjing and Chengdu.
The development of urban centers is the main drive of ASEAN's growth, with 90 million more people expected to be urbanized by 2030, according to ASEAN data.
ASEAN launched the Smart Cities Network in 2018, a platform for cities across the bloc to work together towards smart and sustainable urbanization using technology as an enabler.
China and ASEAN enjoy many complementary comparative advantages in building smart cities, said Xu Ningning, executive president of China-ASEAN Business Council.
China's product technologies and equipment are more cost-effective than those of developed countries, and China has advantages in project delivery and management as well as tech talent over many ASEAN countries, he added.
According to Huang Xilian, the Chinese ambassador to ASEAN, over 500 Chinese cities are being developed into smart cities, going through the process from digital cities to wireless cities, then to smart cities, which could provide reference for ASEAN countries both in policy and practice.
"At the same time, ASEAN countries have a lot of experience that China can learn from, such as Singapore's smart city development which is one of the most advanced in the world," Huang said.
STRONG ADVOCACY FOR MULTILATERALISM
The move by ASEAN and China to dovetail their development plans to forge closer links came at a time when protectionism, unilateralism and anti-globalization rhetoric are on the rise. By aligning their development plans to realize all-round connectivity, ASEAN and China have demonstrated their strong advocacy for multilateralism, openness and inclusiveness and the commitment to building an open economy to achieve common development, analysts said.
ASEAN and China have been working to promote regional stability and prosperity by supporting multilateralism and regionalism, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in his opening remarks of the ASEAN-China summit.
According to Yeah Kim Leng, economics professor of Sunway University in Malaysia, now is an opportune time to expand trade and investment to offset the isolationist and protectionist policy stance.
With their complementary comparative advantages, China and ASEAN see huge potential for cooperation in a number of areas. According to the statements, both sides will work together in the areas of financing, trade and investment, new technologies, people-to-people exchange and policy designing, among others, for connectivity in all dimensions.
"In addition to land-based and maritime connectivity, air, online and energy connectivity should also be bolstered across borders. More financing and construction options tailored to local conditions should be explored," said Oh Ei Sun, principal advisor for Malaysia's Pacific Research Center.
Aligning the MPAC 2025 and the BRI is a "key factor for transforming the whole region into a prosperous and vibrant economic region," said Joseph Matthews, senior professor at the BELTEI International University in Phnom Penh, adding it "reflects how sincere China is in developing the quality of lives of people in the region."
(Xinhua reporters Yuan Mengchen in Manila, Lin Hao in Kuala Lumpur and Zhao Qing in Hong Kong also contributed to the story.)