China and ASEAN: Together for Vision 2030
DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Huang Xilian (The Philippine Star) - February 27, 2019 - 12:00am

As China’s Ambassador to ASEAN, it is my great pleasure to visit this lovely country in my tour of duty at the beginning of the year, a country known for its natural beauty and the warmth of its people. It is also encouraging to see more and more Chinese visit this country in search of its charm and wonder.

Two major headlines about the Philippines captured Chinese media in recent months. The first is the state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping last November, elevating the China-Philippines relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership. The other is Philippines’ takeover of the 3-year term country coordinatorship for China-ASEAN dialogue relations last August. The China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership Vision 2030, an outcome document issued at the 21st China-ASEAN Summit last November, has laid out a medium-and long-term blueprint for future cooperation and set up a new stage of all-round development for China-ASEAN relations. It bodes well for the beginning of Philippines’ role as country coordinator over the next 3 years, which we believe will serve as a bridge and facilitator for closer China-ASEAN strategic partnership in the decade to come.

Last year marked the 15th anniversary of China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership. With joint efforts, this relationship has scored many achievements and shown new momentum for further progress.

Breakthroughs have been made in high-level visits. Last year, President Xi Jinping met with leaders of ASEAN countries on bilateral and multilateral occasions, deepening policy exchange and strategic communication. Premier Li Keqiang made a landmark visit to the ASEAN Secretariat. Several leaders of ASEAN countries, ASEAN Secretary-General and the Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) of ASEAN all paid successful visits to China on separate occasions. Such frequent high-level exchanges have played a critical role in developing our relations.

New steps have been taken in enhancing strategic mutual trust. China and ASEAN countries have worked closely in the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and the consultations towards a Code of Conduct (COC). Discussion is moving on good track and we hope to complete the first reading of the single draft negotiating text of the COC within 2019.

Premier Li Keqiang proposed at the China-ASEAN Summit last year that China was ready to work with ASEAN countries toward concluding COC consultations in three years’ time on the basis of consensus.This fully reflects China’s sincerity, determination and confidence in upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea with ASEAN countries. The first China-ASEAN joint maritime drill last October was a testament to the higher level of trust among us and will help us build stronger defense against maritime hazards and security threats. We are confident that with joint efforts, we will ensure South China Sea a place of peace, friendship and cooperation to benefit the countries and peoples of the region.

Momentum is rising on trade and investment. Despite uncertainties in global economy, two-way trade between China and ASEAN grew by 14.1% to a record $587.87 billion in 2018. China has been ASEAN’s top trading partner for 10 consecutive years, while ASEAN China’s third largest trading partner for eight years in a row.

It is worth mentioning that the Philippines has had increasingly closer trade relations with China. Compared with last year, Philippines’ trade with China grew by 8.5% to $55.67 billion in 2018. The upgraded protocol of China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, which took effect on 1 January 2019,will take two-way trade further. The revised rules of origin, for instance, are more flexible and convenient to apply and will help companies enjoy more tariff preferences and promote trade between the two sides.

Innovation has grown to be an emerging driver. Digital economy, e-commerce, smart cities and clean energy, among others, are new areas of cooperation. The second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be held in Beijing this coming April. We welcome President Duterte’s attendance at the forum. It will be a good opportunity to strengthen synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the ASEAN development strategy and provide more impetus to regional integration.

Highlights have emerged in socio-cultural cooperation. Socio-cultural and people-to-people exchanges have grown into a third pillar of China-ASEAN relations, a source of social support and actions for the sustained development of China-ASEAN relations.

 2019 is the Year of China-ASEAN Media Exchanges. Chinese President Xi Jinping has sent a congratulatory letter to its opening ceremony held in Beijing last week. He called on media from both sides to do more as messengers of friendship, facilitators of cooperation and guardians of harmonious coexistence, so that there will be more stories told about our common endeavor for peace and development and thus making greater contribution to the building of a closer China-ASEAN community with a shared future. To promote youth exchanges, China will launch the China-ASEAN Young Leaders Scholarship and the 1,000 ASEAN young talents trading program this year, allowing more opportunities for ASEAN youth and professionals for academic and career excellence.

To top all of that, our relationship has gone beyond bilateral dimension and is taking on richer regional and global significance. China-ASEAN partnership has delivered tangible benefits to the 2 billion people of ours and become an anchor of regional peace and stability. We are joining hands in advancing talks for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), and moving towards an East Asian Economic Community. We will take concrete actions to firmly oppose protectionism and unilateralism, and safeguard the rule-based multilateral trading system.

China and ASEAN are both entering a new era of development. As neighbors, our interests are tied and futures connected. Mutual support and cooperation for shared aspirations is our best choice.

We regard ASEAN the top priority of our neighborhood diplomacy and a key area for jointly building the “Belt and Road”. Under the guidance of the document Vision 2030, China will work closely with ASEAN to be partners for common development, partners for peace, partners for win-win progress, partners for innovation and partners in promoting inclusiveness and mutual learning.

I am confident that with strong stewardship of the Philippines as country coordinator and endeavor of both sides, China-ASEAN strategic partnership will achieve greater progress and bring more benefits to the people and the region as a whole.

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