NAY PYI TAW — As leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China will gather in Nay Pyi Taw on Nov 13 for an annual meeting on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit, they are ushering in a new era in their dynamic cooperation of mutual benefit.
FROM GOLDEN PARTNERSHIP TO DIAMOND COOPERATION
China and the 10-member ASEAN have labeled the past 10 years a “golden decade” for their relationship since 2003 when they forged a strategic partnership and have dubbed the next 10 years a “diamond decade,” which both sides hope will feature more practical cooperation and regional economic integration.
China is the largest trading partner of ASEAN while ASEAN has emerged as China’s third largest. Two-way trade amounted to $443.6 billion in 2013, nearly sixfold that of 2003. In the first three quarters of this year, the figure reached $346.6 billion, a 7.5-percent increase year-on-year.
Both sides are also determined to push their trade volume to $500 billion by 2015 and $1 trillion by 2020.
Analysts attribute the rapid development of China-ASEAN ties to their cooperation of mutual benefit and mutual respect.
“The China-ASEAN relations are characterized by mutual respect and China is not seeking a dominant role in bilateral cooperation, “ said Mi Liang, a professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU). “The two sides do not attach any political strings to their economic ties.”
Kaewkamol Pitakdumrongkit, an assistant professor at Singapore’ s Nanyang Technological University, believed that the China-ASEAN cooperation has been doing well, such as the subregional development.
“China has funded much of the subregional development project like the Mekong,” he said, referring to the 4,880-km Mekong river which flows from China to Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Gong Ting, a research assistant of the China Institute of International Studies, said the call for building an even closer China-ASEAN community of common destiny and the 2+7 cooperation framework put forward by China are aimed at deepening cooperation during the past “golden decade.”
The two political consensuses chart a course of long-term development of China-ASEAN relations, while specific initiatives are mapped out in seven areas of cooperation in politics, trade and economy, inter-connectivity, finance, maritime cooperation, security as well as cultural and people-to-people exchanges.
“The initiatives are designed to broaden the converging interests between China and ASEAN countries and promote their cooperation to a new stage of the ‘diamond decade,’” Gong said.
The 10-member ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
GREAT SCOPE FOR FUTURE GROWTH
Last year, Premier Li Keqiang proposed upgrading a Free Trade Area between China and ASEAN, which will entail further reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers, new round of service trade talks and opening-up for mutual investment.
The China-ASEAN FTA, launched in 2010, has become the largest among developing nations, covering a total population of 1.9 billion.
The first talks on the upgraded version of the CAFTA were held in Hanoi, Vietnam, in September and the next round is to be hosted by China in 2015.
“China’s initiative has been well responded by the ASEAN nations, which also appreciate Beijing’s determination and sincerity to advance its relations with ASEAN,” said Gong.
In the future, two-way investment, major infrastructure projects, e-commerce and cross-border Chinese currency RMB transactions are likely to play a bigger role in the China-ASEAN economic ties.
Chen Zhou, director of the department of Asian affairs of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, said China’s business model with ASEAN has changed from exporting goods to establishing manufacturing facilities, as well as research and development centers and sales networks.
“This shift could have great business implications as it comes at a time when both sides are eager to diversify and adjust their industrial structure for exports,” he said.
Accumulated investment between China and ASEAN countries hit $123.1 billion by the end of September this year, and both sides are eager to boost their mutual investment to $150 billion in the years to 2020.
In October, 21 Asian countries, including nine ASEAN nations, established an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing, with a view to speed up infrastructure in energy, power, transportation, telecommunications, as well as agricultural and urban development.
“The ASEAN countries want to use China’s investment to improve their infrastructure, which will certainly consolidate the economic bond between the two sides,” said Xiao Wunan, executive vice chairman of the Asia Pacific Exchange & Cooperation Foundation.
He believed that an improved infrastructure system, such as high-speed railway, electricity and telecom networks, will further boost the transfer of technology, export of goods and movement of skilled labor in the region.
RENEWED ENDEAVOR FOR WIN-WIN COOPERATION
China has been trying to revitalize an ancient seaway to promote economic ties with the ASEAN nations since October 2013 when President Xi Jinping proposed the 21st century Maritime Silk Road during a visit to Indonesia.
Analysts said revival of the historic trade route will inject new and strong vigor into the China-ASEAN cooperation based on common development and prosperity.
“The Maritime Silk Road initiative will have a huge and far-reaching impact on the relations between China and ASEAN countries, “ said professor Mi of the BFSU.
By upgrading its cooperation with the southeast Asian regional bloc, China is also seeking to secure a negotiated solution to maritime disputes with related ASEAN countries.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China advocates a “dual- track” approach in resolving the South China Sea issue.
The “dual-track” approach includes relevant disputes being addressed by countries directly involved through negotiations and in a peaceful way, and peace and stability in the South China Sea being jointly maintained by China and ASEAN countries.
“Differences are inevitable in the China-ASEAN relations, but both sides will see their economic cooperation develop in a deeper and more pragmatic way,” said Xiao from the Asia Pacific Exchange & Cooperation Foundation.
Last month, China and Vietnam agreed to properly address and control disputes after Vietnamese vessels illegally disturbed a Chinese company’s drilling activities near the Xisha islands in the South China Sea in May.
“The South China Sea issue is difficult but I think it will not spill over to block trade flows with other countries and areas,” said professor Kaewkamol of the Nanyang Technological University.
Sharing a common destiny and common interests, China and the ASEAN nations are bound to further enhance their strategic partnership of cooperation in the new decade.