China-ASEAN strong partnership is stabilizer, propeller for the region: envoy

Source:Global Times

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China are in one of the most promising regions in the world, Shi Zhongjun, secretary-general of the ASEAN-China Centre (ACC), told the Global Times in an exclusive written interview.

Thanks to thriving economic cooperation and trade, both sides have maintained stable and continued development, which has become the ballast and propeller for the region, despite international uncertainties, Shi said.

The international and regional situations continue to evolve, with uncertainties and destabilizing factors on the rise, while the growth momentum of global trade and economy continues to weaken.

To better meet the challenges within and beyond the region and ensure the sustainable growth of the economy, Shi said that China and ASEAN could focus on green and digital economy, marine and agricultural development, public health, while creating new momentum for regional development.

In 2021 and 2022, sustainable development has been the theme of ASEAN-China cooperation. The two sides have collaborated closely in the development of the low-carbon economy and the circular economy, and are actively engaged in environmental protection to address climate change, Shi said.

"We are glad that the just-concluded ASEAN-China Summit adopted the Joint Statement on Strengthening Common and Sustainable Development, which will definitely promote cooperation between the two sides," the secretary-general said.

The digital economy has become the leading industry of a new wave of the science and technology revolution, with China planning to build a "digital China," which coincides with similar plans in many ASEAN member states. 

Shi said that this provides great potential for future cooperation between ASEAN and China in areas including smart cities, artificial intelligence and big data and other spheres.

Areas such as agriculture and food security were also highlighted at this year's ASEAN-China Summit, during which it designated 2023 as the ASEAN-China year of agriculture and food security cooperation.

Shi said that with an existing solid foundation in agricultural cooperation, ASEAN and China could strengthen cooperation in agricultural technology as well as agricultural industrialization, as "agriculture and food security consist of the bottom line of people's livelihood."

ASEAN and China are standing together and supporting each other in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Such a joint effort should be further expanded in public health cooperation in a wide range, in sectors such as regional vaccine production and distribution centers, better health infrastructure as well as sports and fitness exchanges, the secretary-general said.

While China's strong partnership with ASEAN has reached new and high levels, the US government is promoting the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in its bid to "contain the rising influence of China".

Shi said that China believes that regional cooperation should be open and inclusive, and for the common good of all its partners in the region.

"No party needs to take sides or be asked to choose sides… China supports cooperation with ASEAN by other parties, as long as the cooperation is faithful and truly beneficial to ASEAN people," Shi said.

In past decades, both ASEAN and China gave priority to people's livelihoods, upheld open regionalism and true multilateralism, worked together to accelerate economic development and maintained regional peace and security.

"Equality, sincerity and trust, good neighborliness, mutual support, openness and inclusiveness, harmony and cooperation have long existed in our traditional ties," Shi said.

"Thanks to these factors, steady progress has been made in the building of an ASEAN-China community with a shared future and benefits have been shared by the people on both sides," Shi said.

From January to October, ASEAN remained China's largest trading partner, with total bilateral trade of 5.26 trillion yuan ($735 billion), an increase of 15.8 percent, accounting for 15.2 percent of China's total foreign trade value, data from Chinese customs showed.

China is working with ASEAN to implement the RCEP agreement, seizing the opportunities of the digital economy and green economy, while promoting the construction of a China-ASEAN Free Trade Area 3.0, according to China's Ministry of Commerce.

"It is expected that ASEAN member states and China will be a stronger Asian voice at the APEC platform and make our due contribution to the economic development in the region," Shi said.

"All APEC members are expected to remain focused on development, meet global challenges together, and show solidarity to achieve true prosperity for the region," he added.