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Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng: East Asian Cooperation Is Constantly Appreciating and Upgrading

2019/11/04

On November 4, 2019, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng held a briefing for Chinese and foreign media after attending the series of Leaders' Meetings on East Asia Cooperation in Bangkok.

Le Yucheng said, the most noticeable and high-frequency words in the series of Leaders' Meetings on East Asia cooperation are appreciating and upgrading. All parties agreed that the East Asian cooperation is constantly enriched in connotation, improved in value and upgraded in level.

The first is appreciating and upgrading in the cooperation mechanism. Mechanisms such as China-the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and ASEAN-China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have successfully withstood two financial crises and maintained regional development and prosperity. The ASEAN Plus Three mechanism was born in response to the financial crisis. Faced with the new challenges brought by protectionism, unilateralism, and the downward pressure on the world economy, regional countries agreed that the East Asian cooperation mechanism has become more important and more valuable. Hence cooperation should be further expanded to jointly safeguard the United Nations-centered international system and the multilateral trade system with the World Trade Organization as its core.

The second is the appreciating and upgrading in regional economic integration. The Protocol on upgrading China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (FTA) has entered into force. China and New Zealand have concluded negotiations to upgrade the China-New Zealand FTA. China-Japan-ROK FTA construction process has been accelerated. Most importantly, just yesterday, 15 RCEP participating countries have concluded text-based negotiations and essentially all their market access issues, and made the agreement ready for signing next year. This is a major breakthrough in regional economic integration. A free trade zone with the largest population, the most diversity and the greatest development potential is about to take shape. East Asian countries are moving towards the goal of building an East Asian community with a shared future.

The third is appreciating and upgrading in connectivity. The ASEAN Plus Three (APT) Leaders' Statement on Connecting the Connectivities Initiative was issued at this year's APT Summit. China and ASEAN issued the Joint Statement on Synergizing the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), so as to achieve the comprehensive integration with ASEAN. China-Thailand railway, China-Laos Railway, Jakarta-Bandung High-speed Railway and other major projects have been successfully advanced, and cooperation on infrastructure connectivity has been strengthened.

The fourth is appreciating and upgrading in innovative cooperation. Next year marks the China-ASEAN Year of Digital Economy Cooperation. The two sides will strengthen cooperation in big data, artificial intelligence, e-commerce, smart city and other fields to share development opportunities of digital economy. We will actively build a blue economic partnership to promote the sustainable development of the marine economy.

The fifth is appreciating and upgrading in people-to-people and cultural exchanges. China and ASEAN countries have forged 201 pairs of sister-city relationships. There are nearly 100,000 ASEAN students studying in China. As each other's major tourist destinations, we are connected by nearly 4,500 flights every week and mutual visits exceeded 57 million last year. Thailand, host of the conference, is one of the most popular tourist destinations for Chinese tourists.

The sixth is appreciating and upgrading in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). China and ASEAN countries have completed the first reading of the Code of Conduct (COC) ahead of schedule, and now have commenced the second reading. China and ASEAN will strive to reach the COC in 2021 or earlier in accordance with the "three-year target". As an upgraded version of the DOC, the COC will have more binding force and more concrete connotations that reflect more added value, and have great significance in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea.

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