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Close political and geographic links provide a solid platform on which China and ASEAN can enhance cooperation on the Belt and Road
Over the past six years, the Belt and Road Initiative has become a global public good with great vitality and creativity. To date, more than 150 countries and international organizations in total have signed Belt and Road cooperation agreements with China.
Under the framework of the initiative, 82 overseas economic cooperation zones have been set up in participating countries. Trade between China and the Belt and Road partner countries has exceeded $6 trillion. The more than $80 billion of Chinese investment in these countries has created 240,000 local jobs.
Why has the Belt and Road Initiative won so much support? To sum up, it follows the principle of equality and mutual benefit, aiming for win-win outcomes. It is an open, inclusive and rules-based initiative, ready to synergize the development strategies of partner countries.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is an important participant in the Belt and Road Initiative. In the past six years, a large number of cooperation projects between China and ASEAN members have been incorporated into the cooperation framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. More and more practical plans are being actively explored.
Belt and Road cooperation requires solid political mutual trust. Despite their differences on some issues, the political relationship between China and ASEAN is very strong. China was the first dialogue partner of ASEAN to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the first country to forge a strategic partnership with ASEAN. In 2018, both sides issued the China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership Vision 2030, which lays out a medium-and long-term blueprint for future relations.
Leaders from China and the ASEAN countries have maintained close exchanges. At the China-ASEAN Summit held every year, the leaders hold candid discussions on major issues of common concern and make decisions to ensure that bilateral cooperation is proceeding on the right path. Strengthening synergy between the ASEAN development strategy and the Belt and Road Initiative has become a consensus among the leaders of both sides.
Under the China-ASEAN cooperation mechanism, the two sides have developed effective cooperation in more than 20 fields such as connectivity, finance, agriculture, information and communication technology, human resources development, investment, energy, culture, tourism, public health, the environment and subregional development. China and ASEAN should strengthen their cooperation to bring these dialogue mechanisms into full play.
China has established a dialogue mechanism at the vice-premier or ministerial level with several ASEAN countries. Any bilateral cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative can be fully coordinated and promoted through intergovernmental dialogue.
China has also signed bilateral investment agreements with several ASEAN countries. There are multiple insurance mechanisms for bilateral cooperation, and there are no so-called debt traps, as claimed by the West.
China and the ASEAN countries are close neighbors that share weal and woe on the road to common development and prosperity. This has been fully verified by their handling of the two financial crises in 1997 and 2008.
In a world with increasing trends of unilateralism and trade protectionism, China and ASEAN need to work together to seek common development. It is of overriding importance they seek self-development, mutually beneficial cooperation and maintain regional sustainable development and prosperity.
ASEAN is committed to promoting the implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025, which is consistent with the goal of the Belt and Road Initiative to promote regional connectivity.
If these are successfully synergized, the ASEAN connectivity project will gain more support from China and the rest of the world, which will improve its commercial value and meet its long-term development goals.
China and ASEAN combined are a huge market with a population of more than 2 billion. At present, trade between the two sides is close to $600 billion per year, and total mutual investment has exceeded $200 billion.
Financial cooperation, including currency swap arrangements, has also achieved remarkable results. People-to-people exchanges have exceeded 50 million trips per year. This is a huge improvement compared to the past.
But considering the market potential of both sides, it may be just the beginning. In the next 15 years, China’s imports of goods are expected to exceed $30 trillion and its imports of services $10 trillion. For ASEAN, it is an important opportunity to expand cooperation with China and accelerate its own development.
Belt and Road cooperation provides a viable opportunity for the integration of the two markets. The two sides have the ability and conditions to tap their market potential, mobilize various resources and expand their cooperation in various fields.
China and ASEAN countries have similar cultures and customs. Belt and Road cooperation can help improve infrastructure, expand trade exports, improve people’s employment and living standards, and thus it will certainly gain the understanding and support of the people of both sides.
At present, nearly 30 million Chinese tourists visit Southeast Asia every year. This number will rise with the improvement of infrastructure connectivity.
The number of ASEAN tourists visiting China will also increase quickly. Youth is the future and hope for the development of China-ASEAN relations. There are currently about 200,000 Chinese and ASEAN students studying in each other’s countries.
Belt and Road cooperation has built a new platform and points to a new direction for future comprehensive and pragmatic cooperation between China and ASEAN.
The author is vice-president of China Public Diplomacy Association. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
Source: China Daily
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