BEIJING — As the relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) continue to grow, both sides envision further development in their ties, experts say.
“If we say the past 25 years were a period of growth for China-ASEAN relations, the upcoming 25 years will be a period of maturity, facing new opportunities as well as new challenges,” Premier Li Keqiang told the 19th China-ASEAN summit in the Laotian capital of Vientiane on Sept 7.
Nguyen Thu My, former deputy director of the Institute for Southeast Asia Studies under the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, echoed Premier Li’s words, saying that “Just like human beings, as we reach our mature age, we will fully grow in all aspects.”
China established a dialogue relationship with ASEAN — which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — in 1991. The two sides forged a strategic partnership for peace and prosperity in 2003.
China-ASEAN ties in past 25 years
Sok Touch, vice-president of the state-run Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that in the past 25 years, both sides have constantly deepened their ties in politics, economy, trade, investment, tourism and culture.
Joseph Matthews, director of the ASEAN Education Center in Phnom Penh, said that the two sides have built and fostered their relations and cooperation based on the principle of mutual respect, understanding, trust and support.
“The two sides understand each others’ interests and concerns. The two sides are trying to harmonize their interests, further cooperation and bring the relations to a new height,” My said.
In economy and trade, China has been ASEAN’s largest trade partner and ASEAN has been China’s third largest partner since the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) was established in 2010.
Mutual trade volume has added up to more than $370 billion in the first 10 months of 2015, and the annual trade is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2020.
The two-way accumulative investment between China and ASEAN surpassed $130 billion by the end of 2014.
Economic relations have become more involved regarding regional trade agreements such as the ACFTA and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, said Bhima Yudhistira Adhinegara, a researcher at the Indonesia Institute for Development of Economics and Finance.
“China’s investment in ASEAN hopefully will trigger employment and business opportunities,” Bhima said.
“China has played and will continue to play a very important role in supporting ASEAN member states in their socio-economic development,” Sok Touch told Xinhua.
“Chinese investment and aid without strings attached are crucial for ASEAN’s development,” he said.
At the summit, Premier Li put forward a five-point proposal to further enhance ties, which prioritizes deepening cooperation in all areas within the 2+7 (two political consensus and seven areas of cooperation) Cooperation Framework and in accordance with the third action plan for their strategic partnership.
The 2+7 Cooperation Framework proposed by China in 2013 is a starting point and also a trend, said Lee Chian Siong, senior adviser to Chairman of the China-ASEAN Business Association.
China and ASEAN complement each other in many areas, Lee said, adding that both can enhance cooperation in production capacity.
Challenges, further development
Yudhistira says regional stability is key to maintaining prosperous economic ties between China and ASEAN.
“The current political situation between China and some ASEAN members may not benefit its trade cooperation. Thus, China and ASEAN need to find a long-term solution,” he said.
“The most they can do is to ask the (South China Sea) claimants to sit down and talk peacefully,” said Benito Lim, a Philippine political expert.
“The most important thing for ASEAN is peace and economic relations. If there is peace and no conflict among the countries in the area, trade will improve. So it is to the benefit of all if there is peace,” Lim said.
My said China and ASEAN, having understood the need to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, will try to bring the region back to stability.
“Irrespective of their nature and motives, both sides always resolve their disputes and conflicts through engagement and dialogues,” Matthews said.
At the summit, both China and ASEAN reaffirmed the need to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.
Regarding the idea of building a community with shared destiny, My recalled that it was first proposed by President Xi Jinping during his speech at the Indonesian parliament in October 2013.
“If such community is realized, it will be great and desirable to both ASEAN and China,” the expert said.
“I’m very optimistic about the future of China-ASEAN relations,” said Bhima. “It’s been 25 years of cooperation and it has already been proven that China-ASEAN cooperation promotes economic growth and trade on both sides.”