Premier Li Keqiang gave a joint written interview to media from countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ahead of his official visit to Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam as well as his attendance to the East Asia leaders’ meetings.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Question: This year marks the 10th anniversary of China-ASEAN strategic partnership. How do you evaluate the achievements of this relationship over the past decade? What tangible benefits has this relationship brought to the two sides?
Answer: This year is indeed worthy of celebration for China and ASEAN. Ten years ago, China took the lead in acceding to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and established the strategic partnership for peace and prosperity with ASEAN. It was also the first time for China to establish a global strategic partnership with an organization of nations within this region, which highlights the importance of ASEAN on China’s diplomatic agenda. Against the backdrop of evolving international situation and growing world economy amid adjustments over the past decade, China and ASEAN have seized the opportunities, advanced with the trend of peace and development, and opened a “golden decade” of cooperation.
Over the past decade, China and ASEAN have stayed committed to strategic dialogue, enhanced political mutual trust, and strengthened mutual understanding and support in many important international and regional affairs. Over the past decade, China and ASEAN have advanced practical cooperation and set up the world’s largest free trade area among developing countries. China is now ASEAN’s biggest trading partner and ASEAN China’s third largest trading partner. Last year, two-way trade exceeded $400 billion, five times that of ten years ago; mutual investment totaled over $100 billion, three times that of ten years ago. Over the past decade, China and ASEAN have increased people-to-people and cultural exchanges. Exchange of visits reached 15 million last year, four times that of ten years ago. China has become ASEAN’s second largest source of tourists, and over 1,000 flights shuttle between the two sides every week. Over the past decade, China and ASEAN have stood side by side in times of adversity. On the basis of successfully fending off the Asian financial crisis, the two sides properly responded to the international financial crisis, and helped each other in tackling such major natural disasters and epidemics as the Indian Ocean tsunamis, the SARS epidemic and earthquakes.
The China-ASEAN strategic partnership has made such good progress as it serves the fundamental interests of both sides and complies with the trend of the times for peace, development and cooperation in the region. As long as we stay on the right course, and uphold the principles of mutual respect, equality, good-neighborliness and mutual benefit, as long as we continue to work together to maintain regional peace and stability, and deepen regional cooperation to drive economic development and improve people’s livelihood, the China-ASEAN strategic partnership is bound to make even further progress and bring greater benefits to our region and people of various countries.
Question: China-ASEAN relations have experienced a “golden decade”. What do you think are the focus and growth areas for this relationship in the future?
Answer: Reviewing past development and looking into the future, we can see that China-ASEAN relationship now stands at a new historical starting point. We need to build on the achievements of the “golden decade”, explore new strategic breakthroughs, and jointly build a closer China-ASEAN community of common destiny. To this end, we will propose a framework for wide-ranging, deep and high-level cooperation between China and ASEAN in the next decade so as to take our cooperation to a new height and bring more benefits to people in this region.
To achieve the goals under this framework of cooperation, I believe we need to focus our efforts in the following areas:
First, we need to remain committed to building good-neighborly relations. China is ready to actively discuss with ASEAN countries the signing of a treaty on good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation to consolidate the political foundation for our strategic mutual trust.
Second, we need to strengthen exchange and cooperation in the security field. We need to improve the mechanism of ASEAN-China defense ministers’ meeting and deepen cooperation in disaster prevention and relief, cyber security, combating transnational crimes, joint law enforcement and other non-traditional security fields.
Third, we need to build an “upgraded version” of the China-ASEAN FTA. We need to take concrete steps in trade in goods, trade in services, investment cooperation and other areas to promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation and achieve the goal of one trillion US dollars of two-way trade by 2020.
Fourth, we need to push forward connectivity and step up the linkage between “software” and “hardware”. China proposes to establish an Asian infrastructure investment bank and meet, on a priority basis, some ASEAN countries’ need for financial support in infrastructure building.
Fifth, we need to strengthen financial cooperation to jointly guard against new risks. We need to increase the size and scope of bilateral currency swap, expand the pilot program of settling cross-border trade with local currencies and enhance cooperation on the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralization.
Sixth, we need to build a maritime cooperation partnership, intensify practical cooperation on marine economy, especially fishery, and in other areas such as maritime connectivity, marine environment protection and scientific research, and maritime search and rescue, and work together to build the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century.
Seventh, we need to boost cultural exchanges. The two sides should jointly formulate the China-ASEAN Cultural Cooperation Action Plan to facilitate exchanges in culture and education, and between youth, think tanks and the media.
In a few days, I will attend the East Asia Leaders’ meetings in Brunei. It will be my first visit to ASEAN countries as the Chinese Premier. I look forward to exchanging views with leaders of other participating countries on issues of common interest and, in particular, to hearing their views on the above-mentioned seven proposals. Together, we will build new consensus on elevating the China-ASEAN strategic partnership.
Question: As China enjoys sustained and rapid growth and gains in national strength, China’s neighbors have naturally shown doubts and concerns about whether China will seek hegemony once it gets strong. What is the foreign policy of the new Chinese government towards China’s neighbors? And what is your view on deepening East Asia cooperation?
Answer: It is understandable that such questions are raised. In the history of international relations, there are quite a few stories of big powers vying for hegemony. We therefore understand the concerns of our neighbors, for, after all, China is, in all measures, a major country in Asia.
However, time has changed. In the 21st century, the trend toward peace and development has gained momentum. China has developed in such a peaceful environment and is heading toward national renewal in a peaceful way. We have no reason to change our path of peaceful development. China’s cultural values uphold the principle of “not doing to others what you don’t want others to do to you”. Like many other Asian countries, China suffered deeply from the colonial rule and invasion of Western powers. Since the founding of New China, China has firmly adhered to the policy of opposing hegemonism and power politics. The Chinese nation has no such tradition as seeking hegemony or expansion. And in the past several thousand years, the Chinese nation has developed such philosophy as treating your neighbors amicably, valuing peace above anything else and cherishing harmony in diversity. They constitute the historical foundation for China’s policy of building friendship and partnership with its neighbors. China will in no way follow the old pattern of “seeking hegemony after becoming strong”.
As a member of the big Asian family, China’s destiny is closely linked with those of other Asian countries. China needs a peaceful and stable neighboring environment for development. We will always work for good neighborly relations and mutually beneficial cooperation with our neighbors, and will properly manage differences and disagreements with them. ASEAN is a priority on China’s diplomatic agenda regarding the neighborhood. We will firmly support ASEAN in growing stronger and playing a leading role in East Asia cooperation. East Asia cooperation has brought tangible benefits to the region. No matter how the situation may change, a peaceful and stable environment in East Asia must be maintained and our efforts will focus on development and on improving people’s lives. At present, we need to concentrate on tackling the underlying impact of the global financial crisis and maintain the momentum of sustained development. As for the direction of East Asia cooperation, China calls for adhering to the “East Asia cooperation spirit”, upholding the principles of ASEAN centrality, consensus building and accommodating the comfort level of all parties, which have proved to be effective, and promoting a regional cooperation model with East Asian features. There are multiple regional cooperation frameworks and mechanisms in East Asia. This meets the reality of diversity in the region. China actively supports and participates in cooperation under these mechanisms, and is committed to building a mutually complementary, open and inclusive cooperation environment.
Question: How do you see the impact of the South China Sea question on China-ASEAN relations?
Answer: On the question of the South China Sea, China and ASEAN countries have had many in-depth discussions and reached consensus. As long as we stay committed to this consensus and act in accordance with mutually-agreed principles, the South China Sea region will stay peaceful and stable.
The core of the South China Sea question is the disputes over the sovereignty of some islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands and the delimitation disputes over some waters in the South China Sea. It is a difficult question built over years, involving the bilateral differences between China and some ASEAN countries. The Chinese government is firmly committed to the path of peaceful development, and is unshakable in its resolve to uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is why China has persistently sought dialogue with relevant countries and ASEAN to explore effective ways for upholding regional stability. The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), signed among China and ASEAN countries in 2002 is a fundamental document for maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. The DOC has established a series of important principles, including: settling relevant disputes by peaceful means; pending the settlement of disputes, the parties concerned undertake to exercise restraint and refrain from carrying out activities that could complicate or escalate disputes; and conducting practical cooperation. These principles reflect the wisdom of Asian countries in handling complicated problems and represent the biggest common interests of all countries. These hard-won principles have provided indispensable conditions for the robust cooperation and economic prosperity in this region. The DOC should be observed and upheld in real earnest. China and ASEAN countries should stick to dialogue and cooperation and effectively safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.
China is always firm in upholding peace and security. This meets its own need of development and serves the interests of East Asia. We are deeply aware that without a secure environment, economic development and prosperity would be out of the question. The South China Sea is an important international shipping lane. As a big trading nation, China depends heavily on the unimpeded access and safety of international sea lanes, and also shoulders responsibilities in this regard. Therefore, China places high importance on the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and cares deeply about ensuring the safety of navigation there. The truth is, the territorial disputes in the South China Sea have not affected the international shipping lane. China will continue to actively advocate and participate in regional maritime cooperation, including maritime security cooperation, and uphold peace and tranquility in this region.
Question: China’s economic development has drawn high attention of other countries. Could you brief us on China’s current economic situation and its impact on ASEAN and other East Asian countries?
Answer: World economic recovery now faces difficulties and there are also many uncertainties in the Asian economy. In the face of the complex international and domestic situation and downward economic pressure, the Chinese government has stood its ground and responded in a calm way. We have maintained stability in and innovated on our macroeconomic policies. On the one hand, we have refrained from expanding fiscal deficit, and neither eased nor tightened monetary policy. On the other hand, we have taken a series of creative policy measures to boost reform, energize the market, adjust the economic structure, and have seized every opportunity to transform and upgrade the economy. These measures are in line with the goal of maintaining steady growth and have effectively kept the economy on an even keel. In the first six months of this year, China’s GDP grew by 7.6%, and employment rate and overall prices were both stable. Since July, major economic indicators have rebounded, the real economy has been dynamic and market confidence has increased. The Chinese economy now enjoys a strong momentum of steady growth.
China’s development is closely linked to that of the world. Over the past 30 years, the Chinese economy has benefited a great deal from opening up. China’s rapid growth has also contributed much to East Asia and the world. In the future, with parallel advancement of industrialization, IT application, a new type of urbanization and modern agriculture, China stands a good chance of sustained and sound growth, and will continue to release reform dividends, market potential and innovative vitality. It is projected that in the next five years, China’s import will reach $10 trillion, its outbound investment will top $500 billion and its overseas visits will exceed 400 million. China hopes to share with ASEAN and other East Asian countries such tremendous business opportunities and make greater contribution to the development of ASEAN, other East Asian countries and the world. We hope other countries will all play an active part in this process and create greater conditions and a better environment for our cooperation.