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Jointly Open up a Brighter Future for China-ASEAN Relations

by Li Keqiang

Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China

I will set off for Myanmar tomorrow to attend this year’s East Asian leaders’ meetings. The gathering of leaders from 18 countries in Nay Pyi Taw for discussion on peace, development and cooperation in East Asia will attract great attention of the world. I look forward to seeing more solid steps being taken and greater outcomes produced in China-ASEAN friendly cooperation.

China and ASEAN countries are neighbors sharing land and sea borders. We have a common land boundary of over 4,000 kilometers. For hundreds of years, our cultural interactions and close bonds have represented a fine model of exchanges, mutual learning and common development of different ethnicities, religions and cultures in the history of East Asia. The heroic national independence movements of modern times have tied our destinies closely together. The Asian Miracle that occurred since the late 1970s and 1980s has drawn worldwide attention, and has much to attribute to the achievements of China and ASEAN. The past few decades has seen China-ASEAN relations moving from diplomatic relationship to strategic partnership thanks to unremitting efforts of both sides. Growing mutual trust and expanding comprehensive cooperation have brought real benefits to peoples in our respective countries and boosted tranquility and prosperity in East Asia.

China is a staunch force for peace in East Asia and China supports ASEAN in playing a positive role in regional stability. The fundamental reason for East Asia’s rapid rise is that the region has kept itself away from war and turmoil in the past 20 years or more since the end of the Cold War. We all believe that mutual respect and harmonious coexistence sets the stage for good state-to-state relations, and to seek common ground while putting aside differences and to conduct equal consultation provides the reasonable approach to settling differences. China was the first to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the first to establish strategic partnership with ASEAN and the first to propose the signing of a treaty on goodneighborliness, friendship and cooperation with ASEAN. Only when there is a regional environment of security and stability could China and ASEAN countries focus on their respective development and realize national revitalization.

China-ASEAN cooperation makes a positive force driving regional development. China is ASEAN’s largest trading partner and its third largest source of investment. China was the first country to launch FTA negotiations with ASEAN, which has led to the establishment of the largest Free Trade Area among developing countries. In 2013, trade between China and ASEAN hit US$443.6 billion, accumulated two-way investment totalled US$120 billion, and about 18 million visits were made between the two sides. The close business ties and tremendous market potential between us have become an important pillar supporting regional development, injecting strong impetus into the East Asian cooperation process.

Our ASEAN friends often say that among ASEAN’s dialogue partners, China has attached more importance to and given more support to ASEAN, with China’s input into ASEAN and Chinese proposals for cooperation initiatives outnumbering ASEAN’s other dialogue partners. They see China and ASEAN as natural strategic partners. Indeed, China-ASEAN cooperation has made continuous progress across the board over the years. We are now a community of common destiny, of interdependence and of intertwined interests. China-ASEAN relations have become a flagship in East Asia cooperation.

The cooperation initiatives China put forward in the past year included to build a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road together with ASEAN and to strengthen the China-ASEAN 2+7 cooperation framework, which goes as deep as to enhancing political consensus through, first, deepening strategic mutual trust and, second, focusing on economic cooperation, as well as to deepening cooperation in the seven key areas, namely, political affairs, economy and trade, connectivity, finance, maritime cooperation, security, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Over the past year, China-ASEAN cooperation has made major progress. In the first three quarters of this year, two-way trade reached US$346.6 billion, up by 7.5% year on year. Agreement has been reached on building an upgraded version of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA), and negotiations have started officially. The China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park and Tianjin Eco-city cooperation projects are making smooth progress, with discussions being conducted on opening a third governmental cooperation project in China. The China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park and Kuantan Industrial Park as well as the cross-border cooperation zones with Myanmar and Viet Nam have all seen steady progress. China-Indonesia maritime cooperation has been fruitful. The colorful activities arranged for the year of China-ASEAN cultural exchanges this year have enabled people on both sides to fully appreciate the charm of the Oriental culture and become even closer to each other.

China and some ASEAN countries may have some differences regarding the South China Sea issue, but these differences should not affect regional stability or overall China-ASEAN relations; nor will they ever hamper freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea. Since the start of this year, the two sides have had effective communication and dialogue on the South China Sea issue and reached a lot of important common ground. We have identified the “dual track approach” in handling the South China Sea issue, outlining the ideas that specific disputes be addressed by countries directly concerned through negotiation and consultation and that peace and stability in the South China Sea be jointly upheld by China and ASEAN countries working together. We are fully confident that as long as we stick to the right track, maintain the momentum of dialogue and consultation and strengthen practical maritime cooperation, we will be able to handle the South China Sea issue properly.

On the sidelines of the meetings, I will have in-depth exchange of views with other leaders on strengthening political and security cooperation. Discussions will continue on the signing of a treaty on goodneighborliness, friendship and cooperation between China and ASEAN countries, the third action plan of the Joint Declaration on the Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity will be jointly formulated, and cooperation in defense and non-traditional security areas be promoted.

Efforts will be made to conclude, on schedule, regional FTA negotiations regarding the upgraded China-ASEAN FTA and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by the end of 2015, so as to further enhance trade and investment liberalization and facilitation in the region and advance economic integration in East Asia. We need to make good use of major platforms such as the China-ASEAN Expo to promote trade and economic cooperation between the two sides.

China will launch the fund-raising for the second phase of the China-ASEAN Fund on Investment Cooperation. The China Development Bank will also set up a China-ASEAN special loan for infrastructure development. All these initiatives will lend strong impetus to infrastructure connectivity between the two sides.

Maritime cooperation has become a new highlight in China-ASEAN cooperation. China proposes that next year be designated as the “Year of China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation” to strengthen cooperation in marine economy, marine science and technology, protection of marine ecology and maritime connectivity, in order to realize shared economic prosperity, expand converging interests and build stronger bonds between the peoples.

China will scale up investment in underdeveloped ASEAN countries and strengthen exchanges and cooperation with countries along the Mekong River in poverty reduction, social development and other areas with a view to helping narrow the development gap within ASEAN.

The ASEAN Community will be established next year, the first time in Asia’s history that a regional community is established, which will have a landmark significance. China welcomes this development. China will continue to take ASEAN as a priority in its neighborhood diplomacy and firmly support the unity and growth of ASEAN, the building of the ASEAN Community and ASEAN’s centrality in regional cooperation.

China and ASEAN both stand to benefit from East Asia’s prosperity and stability, and both stand to uphold such prosperity and stability. The two sides may strengthen dialogue and coordination, deepen convergence of interests and lead countries in the region to march firmly towards an East Asian Community. We also welcome countries from outside the region to join East Asia cooperation and contribute positively to peace and development of Asia and the Asia-Pacific as a whole.

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