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Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui Talks about China-ASEAN Relations: Brighter Prospects after 30 Years of Thriving Development

2021/03/09

On March 9, 2021, Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui attended the opening ceremony in celebration of the 30th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations and delivered a keynote speech via video link. Secretary-General of ASEAN Lim Jock Hoi, Philippine Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Elizabeth P. Buensuceso, Indonesian senior official for ASEAN Cooperation Sidharto Suryodipuro and others attended and addressed the meeting. Permanent representatives of ASEAN member states to Jakarta, officials of the ASEAN Secretariat, and officials, scholars and news media from different countries participated in the meeting via the Internet.

When reviewing China-ASEAN relations in the past 30 years, Luo Zhaohui said it was the right time for both sides to establish dialogue relations in 1991 when globalization and economic integration accelerated after the end of the Cold War. Over the past 30 years, fundamental changes have taken place in China and ASEAN countries. China joined the WTO, achieved remarkable results in reform and opening-up, and became the world's second largest economy in terms of GDP. ASEAN countries promoted the ASEAN's community-building and economic integration process, and made extraordinary achievements in economic and social development.

Over the 30 years, China-ASEAN cooperation has thrived as the two sides helped each other succeed. Among the ASEAN partners, China was the first to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the first to start FTA negotiations with ASEAN, and the first to give unequivocal support for ASEAN centrality in East Asian regional cooperation. In 2013, President Xi Jinping proposed to work with ASEAN and build a closer China-ASEAN community with a shared future. In 2018, China and ASEAN jointly issued the China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership Vision 2030.

Over the 30 years, China and ASEAN countries have stuck together through thick and thin and supported each other in coping with the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the September 11 Attacks in 2001, the 2003 SARS pandemic, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. After the COVID-19 outbreak, the two sides worked closely and helped each other fight against the pandemic, promote economic growth and safeguard people's livelihood, turning East Asia into an example in the global fight against the virus and an early bird in achieving economic recovery.

Over the 30 years, China and ASEAN have made a giant leap forward in economic and trade cooperation. In 2010, the China-ASEAN FTA was fully established, and the China-ASEAN FTA Upgrading Protocol took full effect in 2019. Last year, the two-way trade increased by more than 80 times to over 684.6 billion U.S. dollars, compared to that of 1991. China has remained ASEAN's top trading partner for 12 years running. And ASEAN has taken the place of the EU and became China's largest trading partner in history. The two sides facilitated the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), with the world's largest FTA in the making. China and ASEAN witnessed dynamic cultural exchanges. We have forged over 200 pairs of sister-city relationships. In 2019, our mutual visits exceeded 60 million and we were connected by nearly 4,500 flights every week. We have built important platforms and flagship projects of cultural exchanges such as the China-ASEAN Education Exchange Week and ASEAN-China Young Leaders Scholarship. The number of students studying in each other's countries has exceeded 200,000. We have opened majors in the official languages of all ten ASEAN countries in Chinese universities and built 38 Confucius Institutes in ASEAN countries.

Over the 30 years, the two sides have properly managed and addressed differences, making great contributions to regional peace and stability. In 2002, China and ASEAN countries signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and have since enhanced dialogue, strengthened mutual trust and promoted cooperation, aiming to make the South China sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation. At present, all relevant parties are maintaining close communication on the consultations on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC), in order to prove to the world that we have the wisdom and capability to manage the South China Sea situation.

Luo Zhaohui stressed that the success of China-ASEAN cooperation lies in the following aspects. First, mutual respect, equal treatment and firm commitment to good-neighborliness and friendship. The leaders of the two sides have kept close exchanges and strategic communication and drawn a blueprint and provided a strong guidance for the development of China-ASEAN relations. The two sides have abided by the principles of East Asian cooperation such as consultation and consensus, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, and accommodating each other's comfort level. Second, focusing on development, mutual benefit and win-win results, and staying committed to the key objective of improving people's lives. Third, common visions and aspirations, learning from each other and consolidating the environment of close people-to-people ties.

This year, we will co-host a series of friendly activities with ASEAN countries to celebrate the 30th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations. We look forward to joining hands with ASEAN countries to make these activities a great success, injecting new energy into the development of bilateral relations.

Luo Zhaohui said that the thriving development of bilateral relations in the past 30 years has become history. We cannot forget history, instead we need to remember the great contributions made by the previous generations. We need to foresee the future by learning from the past and have more faith in the future. We need to remember that by standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, we should make more and better achievements.

Luo Zhaohui said that under the intertwined influence of the changes rarely seen in a hundred years and the once-in-a-century pandemic, the global economy is facing serious recession and destabilizing factors and uncertainties in the international environment are on the rise. China has always regarded ASEAN as a priority in its neighborhood diplomacy and is ready to work with ASEAN to continue to enhance anti-pandemic cooperation, facilitate regional economic recovery, and upgrade bilateral relations.

First, we must clarify new objectives. It is the important political consensus of the leaders of both sides to advance the China-ASEAN strategic partnership to new heights. China is willing to work with ASEAN to elevate the bilateral relations and to make China-ASEAN relations continue to lead the East Asian cooperation.

Second, we must foster new growth drivers. China actively supports the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and is ready to work with ASEAN to enhance cooperation and connectivity, reinforce scientific, technological and innovative cooperation, promote economic and social digital transformation, and consolidate internal driving forces. We are ready to promote the early entry into force of the RCEP with ASEAN to inject strong impetus to regional cooperation.

Third, we must create new highlights. China is willing to work with ASEAN to jointly celebrate the ASEAN-China Year of Sustainable Development Cooperation by enhancing cooperation in non-traditional security fields such as environmental protection, poverty alleviation, disaster prevention and mitigation and climate change, and promoting the implementation of more pro-people projects of high standard, people-centered and sustainable development. China is ready to further reinforce dialogue and communication with ASEAN and jointly promote the establishment of the China-ASEAN partnership on blue economy.

Fourth, we need to consolidate new underpinning forces. Political and security cooperation is one of the three pillars of China-ASEAN relations. We need to promote strategic communication and dialogue, enhance cooperation in traditional security fields, and jointly oppose Cold War mentality and group politics. We need to pay close attention to public health cooperation, especially vaccine cooperation, and focus on cooperation in such non-traditional security fields as climate change and counter-terrorism. We need to accelerate the consultations on the COC.

Luo Zhaohui concluded by saying that China will launch the 14th Five-year Plan this year and open wider to the outside world, which will surely bring more opportunities to China-ASEAN cooperation. We look forward with confidence to the future of our bilateral relations. Let us join hands and forge ahead to create an even brighter 30 years in the future for our relations, and make greater contributions for the development of the region and the world at large.

Participants from ASEAN countries spoke highly of the fruitful results made during the past 30 years since the establishment of ASEAN-China relations. They said that the two sides have improved political mutual trust, deepened practical cooperation in various fields, and consolidated traditional friendship. At a new starting point in history, the two sides need to be guided by the China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership Vision 2030, implement the Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (2021-2025), and further reinforce cooperation in the fields of public health, economy and trade, culture exchanges and non-traditional security, in order to promote the process of regional economic integration and push China-ASEAN cooperation to a new level. ASEAN participants highly appreciated the achievements of China's economic and social development, and expressed their gratitude for China's anti-pandemic assistance and expectations for the future of ASEAN-China relations.

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