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Hand in hand, China and ASEAN enter a new era

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Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN Huang Xilian Photo: Courtesy of the Mission of the People's Republic of China to ASEAN

It is a great honor to serve as China's Ambassador to the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at this historical juncture when China and ASEAN usher in a new era for both of us.

2017 marked the first golden jubilee of ASEAN. Over the past half century, ASEAN has come a long way tailoring a path of its own, and created the first sub-regional community in Asia, achievements hailed as "Asian miracle" by many. ASEAN has grown to be a role model of seeking strength and harmony among countries of diversity and differences, and set up a platform of dialogue and cooperation for countries across the region.

ASEAN is now opening the chapter of its second 50 years. With blueprints including the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the newly-minted theme of resilience and innovation for this year, the ASEAN community is entering a brand new era of prosperity and progress. China applauds ASEAN's success and believes that the living and breathing modern miracle of ASEAN, as Kishore Mahbubani and Jeffery Sng pointed out in their book, will continue to flourish in the future. 

2017 was a year of significance for China too. In October, the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress laid out a three-stage development plan for China for the next 30 years, that is, building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020, basically realizing socialist modernization by 2035, and developing China into a great modern socialist country which is prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and environmentally sound by the middle of the century. It symbolizes a new era and new journey in China's quest to develop socialism with Chinese characteristics.

This new era does not belong to China alone, but one that can be created and shared by all. As stressed at the 19th CPC National Congress, China's foreign policy commitment to peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit is as solid as ever. We aim to foster a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win cooperation, and build a community with a shared future for mankind. This is the over-arching goal of China's diplomacy in the new era.

Such efforts start with our neighbors, not least our ASEAN friends. China will deepen relations with neighboring countries guided by the principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness as well as the policy of forging friendship and partnership with our neighbors, a tradition we have practiced for long and will only intensify in the future.

Good neighbors are a blessing. China places ASEAN high on its diplomatic agenda, especially in the implementation of the Belt and Road initiative, and efforts to build a closer community of a shared future. Since the launch of dialogue process in 1991, China-ASEAN relations have fledged as one of the most vigorous and dynamic relationships for ASEAN and its dialogue partners, with fruitful results spanning wide-ranging areas, benefiting profusely our 2 billion people. This year marks the 15th anniversary of China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership and China-ASEAN Year of Innovation. As both of us move into a new era of development and progress, our relations will also usher in a new era, from speed-driven to a efficient and mature growth, with broader prospects and vast potential to be harnessed by us together.

At the informal dialogue between APEC and ASEAN leaders in Da Nang in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping encouraged both sides to foster a higher level of strategic partnership toward building a closer China-ASEAN community of a shared future to contribute to realizing coordinated development and common prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. A few days later at the ASEAN-China Summit in Manila, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang proposed formulating the China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 and upgrading the "2+7" cooperation framework into a "3+X" framework, underpinned by the three pillars of political and security cooperation, economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges. These initiatives, once put into full action, will provide considerable impetus to our relations across the board and expand the regional and global dimension of China-ASEAN cooperation.

Chinese and ASEAN country flags Photo: VCG

China and ASEAN will continue to build political and security trust. The Vision 2030 will be a vision of progress, unity and win-win development, a good fit for the times and embodying shared aspirations of both sides. We shall continue to maintain close high-level exchanges, enhance strategic communication and policy dialogue to increase trust and understanding. China will remain a firm supporter of ASEAN community building, ASEAN centrality in regional cooperation, and its bigger role in regional and international affairs. China will work with ASEAN countries to move forward the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) consultation and jointly uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.

We will enhance synergy to maximize our growth momentum. China will work with ASEAN to better align the Belt and Road initiative with the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, particularly the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025. We will work closely on land, sea, aviation and cyber projects to enhance regional connectivity. The 2018 China-ASEAN Year of Innovation and ASEAN's theme of resilience and innovation will be better matched with concrete efforts to materialize our cooperation potentials.

We will also intensify trade and economic cooperation to expand shared interest. Last year, the two-way trade volume exceeded $500 billion, a year-on-year increase of 13.8 percent. Among them, China's imports from ASEAN grew by 20.1 percent, quite a major highlight of the international trade map. The first China International Import Expo will be held in Shanghai this November. We welcome the participation of all ASEAN members and will be open for more imports from ASEAN. With the conclusion of an upgraded protocol for the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, we hope the terms can be fully implemented to the full benefits of the business community and ordinary people. China will work with ASEAN to advance the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations and bring our region closer toward the goal of an East Asia economic community by 2020.

The importance of people-to-people links shall never be understated, which provides the source and drive for closer relations at the top. China and ASEAN will enhance exchanges in education, tourism, sports, culture, among youth, think tanks and the media to consolidate the social foundation for our friendship and build up the third pillar of China-ASEAN relations. In 2016, more than 38 million trips were made between the two sides. The figure will only grow as we implement the Joint Statement between China and ASEAN on Tourism Cooperation. At present, there are over 200,000 Chinese and ASEAN students studying in each other's countries. China will provide more than 20,000 government scholarships to ASEAN in the next three years. The invitation is open to all young talents of ASEAN countries to study in China and serve as ambassadors in your own rights between China and ASEAN.

With renewed confidence and expectations on the doorstep of a new era, my colleagues and I will work our utmost with friends across ASEAN to bring about an even brighter future for China-ASEAN strategic partnership.

The author is the Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN


Newspaper headline: Hand in hand


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