Towards a Closer ASEAN-China Community of Shared Future
– Remarks by Ambassador Xu Bu at the Seminar on “ASEAN at 50: A New Chapter for ASEAN-China Relations”
14 July 2017, Jakarta
Your Excellency Mr. Jose Antonio Tavares, SOM Leader and Director General of ASEAN of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia,
Your Excellency Dr. AKP Mochtan, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN,
Scholars from China and ASEAN countries,
Let me begin by warmly welcoming all of you to join us at today’s seminar.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of ASEAN. In the half a century since, by upholding a policy of independence, neutrality and non-alignment, ASEAN has blazed a successful path of its own, and remains committed to strengthening unity and defusing conflicts, lifting Southeast Asia out of turbulence, confrontation and poverty to a region of stability, cooperation and great promise. Along the way, ASEAN has grown into the most important sub-regional organization in our region and a model of seeking strength and harmony among differences and diversity.
As a close and intimate neighbor linked by land and sea, China and ASEAN launched the dialogue process in 1991 and forged a strategic partnership in 2003. With joint efforts of both sides, China-ASEAN relations have become one of the most vigorous and dynamic relationships for ASEAN with its dialogue partners, with fruitful results spanning across a wide array of areas.
Our political relations constantly strengthened. Over the years, China and ASEAN have maintained frequent high-level exchanges and established dialogue mechanisms at all levels in various areas. Among ASEAN’s dialogue partners, China was the first to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the first to establish strategic partnership with ASEAN, the first to express unequivocal support to ASEAN’s efforts towards a nuclear-weapon-free zone, and the first to initiate free trade negotiations with ASEAN. All these stand testimony to China’s firm commitment in promoting China-ASEAN relations, which has also invigorated ASEAN’s other partnerships and played an exemplary role in advancing East Asia cooperation.
Economic cooperation and trade leaped forward. China and ASEAN have established the largest Free Trade Area (CAFTA) of developing countries, and the talks for upgrading the CAFTA were completed last year. Our trade volume topped US$ 452.2 billion in 2016, almost 56 times larger than that of 1991. China has been ASEAN’s biggest trading partner for eight consecutive years while ASEAN ranked as China’s third largest trading partner for six years in a row. Two-way investment in aggregate grew over 355 times bigger, from US$ 500 million in 1991 to US$ 177.9 billion in 2016.
Cooperation on the socio-cultural front also underwent rapid expansion. In recent few years, we have designated a number of theme years between China and ASEAN, such as the Year of S& T Cooperation, Year of Cultural Cooperation, Year of Maritime Cooperation, and most recently, the Educational Exchange Year 2016 and Tourism Cooperation Year 2017. These events reflect our enthusiasm and desire to boost people-to-people exchanges. Last year, over 38 million visits were made between China and ASEAN countries, almost 10 times up from that of 2003. Every week, more than 2700 flights are shuttling between hundreds of cities of China and ASEAN. China is now the largest source of foreign tourists to ASEAN countries.
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered an important speech at the Indonesian Parliament, in which he called for joint efforts with ASEAN to build a Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century and proposed, for the first time, the concept of building a more closely-knit China-ASEAN community of shared future. This is an official statement that China will work with ASEAN to seize the opportunities and address common challenges so as to realize shared growth and prosperity for our people. This initiative takes roots in a vastly changing historic background and will exert rich implications for our region and beyond, laying out a blueprint for the future growth of China-ASEAN relations.
In the global context, the world economy still lacks momentum, and protectionism and anti-globalization sentiments have posed threats to regional integration process. Non-traditional security challenges such as terrorism and religious extremism are on the rise, casting a shadow over regional peace and stability. In the face of these challenges, no country can manage alone or stand aloof. By building a China-ASEAN community of shared future, we work for common security and shared prosperity through win-win cooperation. It embodies China’s pursuit for peace and development, answers the call of the time and serves the fundamental interests of ASEAN as well.
While there is no question that the China-ASEAN community of shared future is set on a solid foundation, we should also pay attention to some of the challenges in our relations.
The first is about strategic mutual trust. This region is one of diversity in social, political, religious and cultural traditions, not to mention different stages of development. Ongoing profound changes in international and regional landscapes add to the gap of mutual perception, leading to doubts and misconceptions in certain cases. Highlighting the differences that set us apart doesn’t help. We need to keep up the good work of the previous decades by healing differences and building up trust, one step at a time.
The second is about the momentum and strength of our future cooperation. Now that the low-hanging fruits are almost picked up and margins for growth are narrowing, as we move into the “deep-water zone” of our cooperation, we need to go further into the existing areas of cooperation for more added value, and at the same time, explore hitherto untapped areas and foster new growth points. It’s not going to be easy. There are barriers to break and bold thinking to embrace. But that is the way to keep our cooperation always moving forward and deliver benefits to our people.
The third is about the people links in our relationship. The 30 million of annual personnel exchanges looks like a big number, but if we put it in perspective, compared with the nearly 2 billion total populations in China and ASEAN, it’s clearly far from enough. And especially given the fact that about 67% of the population in ASEAN is youth, and that number stands at 400 million in China, we have so much to do to enhance the connection among the youth and carry on our centuries-old friendship for generations to come.