Speech at International Conference
"Towards the Diamond Era between China and ASEAN:
Opportunities and Challenges"
Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Malaysia
Hilton Hotel, Petaling Jaya, 17 August 2016
Professor Dr. Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of University of Malaya,
Professor Dr. Danny Wong Tze Ken, Director of Institute of China Studies, University of Malaya,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning! This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of China-ASEAN dialogue relations. In a few weeks time, leaders from China and ASEAN countries will get together in the Laos to hold a commemorative summit. Today, I am delighted to be invited to speak at this timely conference held by the Institute of China Studies, University of Malaya. Since 1991, China-ASEAN relationship has made great leaps and become most extensive, fruitful and closest among various dialogue partnership between ASEAN and other countries. It has not only brought benefits to people in China and ASEAN countries, but also made important contributions to peace, stability, and prosperity of the region.
China and ASEAN established the Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity in October 2003. Since then, the bilateral relations experienced a "Golden Decade" of development. Just as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang put it, China-ASEAN relations have now ushered in a new era, the "diamond decade", characterized by broader and deeper cooperation.
It is of special importance to hold this conference in Malaysia. Over 600 years ago, Admiral Zheng He stationed at Malacca five times during his seven voyages. He became known for his dedication to peace and friendship and his readiness to reach out and help neighbors and friends, which showed the essence of Chinese philosophy, where peace and good-neighborliness always come first. 42 years ago, then Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, with his strategic vision and insight, first established Malaysia-China diplomatic relations among ASEAN countries during the Cold War. Since then, China and Malaysia have helped each other and overcome many difficulties hand in hand. The relations between the two countries have taken a lead in China's relations with ASEAN countries and set a very good model in the region.
China and ASEAN countries are linked by common mountains, rivers and seas, and share a historical bond. We have been friendly neighbors along the land and maritime silk road since ancient times. We have made notable achievements in development of our bilateral relations, and strengthened pragmatic cooperation across all fields in the region.
Over the past 25 years, we have worked hard to increase political trust and mutual support. Among all dialogue partners of ASEAN, China was the first to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and the first to establish a strategic partnership with ASEAN. China wishes to sign the protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone at an early date. China's support on the interest and welfare of ASEAN people has become an essential pillar of peace and stability in East Asia. We together safeguard the Value of Asia, that is, peace, inclusiveness and harmony.
We have actively pursued common development. China-ASEAN cooperation has grown in all fields and yielded fruitful results. Among all of its dialogue partners, China was the first to establish a free trade zone with ASEAN, which is also the largest among developing countries in the world. China has been ASEAN's biggest trading partner for seven consecutive years, while ASEAN ranked as China's third largest trading partner for five consecutive years. In 2015, China-ASEAN trade volume topped USD 470 billion. China-ASEAN two-way investment has already amounted to more than USD 150 billion. Our practical cooperation has expanded from traditional areas such as economy, trade, finance, infrastructure, energy and manufacturing to new fields. China set up China-ASEAN Cooperation Fund, Public Health Cooperation Fund and Maritime Cooperation Fund to support further cooperation.
We have made vigorous efforts to enhance connectivity. In 2015, there were more than 180,000 exchange students sent by both China and ASEAN countries and 23 million people traveling between China and ASEAN countries with over 1,000 flights between the two sides each week. Over one hundred pairs of cities have forged sister relationship. In 2014, China announced an establishment of Silk Road Fund of USD 40 billion as well as Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with its initial funding of USD 50 billion to support connectivity and infrastructure development in the region.
We have also worked in concert to overcome various challenges. In China, we always say that a friend in need is a friend indeed. Over the years, we have always stood side by side and offered each other much-needed support in times of difficulties, be it the Asian financial crisis, the SARS epidemic, the Indian Ocean tsunami or the devastating earthquake in China's Wenchuan. Although we are from different countries, we do care about each other as family members.
Through 25 years' development, China and ASEAN countries have become a community of highly-intertwined interests. Facing the common challenges, we are becoming a community of common responsibility. Looking into the future, the goal for China and ASEAN countries is to build a closer community of common destiny, as proposed by President Xi Jinping during his visit to Southeast Asia in 2013. China-ASEAN relations are standing at a new starting point. At this important juncture, it is necessary for us to draw experience and inspirations from past cooperation and chart the course for our future relations.
In the meantime, we still face some complicated factors which need to be dealt with properly and carefully. Some territorial and maritime disputes which we inherit from history are making an impact on China-ASEAN relations, although they are not issues between China and ASEAN as a whole. The Asia Pacific Rebalance Strategy launched by the US has raised concerns of regional countries. Some countries are forced to hedge their bets, and some even attempt to reap unfair gains at the expense of others.
As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi put it, in China-ASEAN relations, cooperation far outweighs differences, opportunities far outweigh challenges and unity far outweighs friction. We should grasp the mainstream of China-ASEAN relations, make efforts to strengthen political mutual trust, focus on win-win cooperation, properly manage and control differences, and eliminate all distractions, so as to make China-ASEAN relations continuously move forward along the right track. In a bid to achieve this objective, I would like to share my perspectives with you.
First, both sides should strengthen strategic communication and deepen political mutual trust. Trust is the very foundation of both interpersonal and state-to-state relations. We should have full confidence in each other's strategic direction, support each other on issues of respective concern, particularly each other's core concern and interest, and never deviate from the main stream of China-ASEAN strategic cooperation. As a trustworthy friend and reliable partner, China will continue to give firm support to a stronger, integrated and united ASEAN, to the building of the ASEAN Community and to ASEAN centrality in the regional cooperation of East Asia. China is ready to discuss with ASEAN countries the prospect of signing of the Treaty of Good Neighborly and Friendly Cooperation, which would send a positive signal to the world that development in the region is stable, positive and foreseeable.
We should cast away the Cold War mindset, champion the new ideology of Common, Comprehensive, Cooperative and Sustainable Security, increase cooperation in non-traditional security fields including disaster prevention and mitigation, cyber security, transnational crime and joint law enforcement, and create a peaceful and stable region for our people.
Second, both sides should actively integrate development strategies and expand cooperation for mutual benefit and win-win progress. China has set goals for its future development, that is, to double its 2010 GDP and per capita income of its urban and rural residents and finish the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020. ASEAN is striving to achieve the ASEAN Community Vision 2025. There lies great potential for our cooperation and joint development. We need to further promote the implementation of the "2+7 cooperation framework" as proposed by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in the 16th China-ASEAN Leaders' Meeting and the third Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership.
China is ready to expand its practical cooperation with ASEAN countries across the board, with a view to helping regional countries narrow down internal development gaps so as to achieve common prosperity.
We signed the protocol on upgrading our FTA in November last year. We are working hard to complete negotiations on RCEP by the end of this year, and we will strive to bring our two-way trade to one trillion US dollars by 2020.
China is willing to support ASEAN countries' efforts in infrastructure connectivity construction through AIIB and Silk Road Fund. China will strengthen maritime cooperation with ASEAN countries to make good use of the China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund and vigorously develop maritime partnership in a joint effort to build the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century.
Third, both sides should enhance social and cultural cooperation and people-to-people exchange in order to forge a new pillar for China-ASEAN relations. Amity between people holds the key to good relations between nations. To ensure that the tree of China-ASEAN friendship remains evergreen, the soil of social support for our relations should be compacted. China and ASEAN countries share a cultural affinity, including similar culture and tradition. We may further intensify cooperation in education, culture, tourism, sports and health, vigorously promote exchanges between the youth, media and localities, and make good use of such platforms as China-ASEAN Center. We will also support the development of the Network of ASEAN-China Think-Tanks, and jointly enhance the social and cultural foundation for relations between the two sides. We should make China-ASEAN Youth Association, Youth Camp and Ministerial Meeting on Youth play a bigger role in broadening cultural exchange between the youth. China is ready to send more volunteers to ASEAN countries to support their cultural, educational, health and medical development.
Fourth, both sides should properly deal with complicated and sensitive issues. With regard to differences and disputes between China and some ASEAN countries on territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, peaceful solutions should be sought, and relevant issues should be properly handled through equal-footed dialogue and amicable consultation in the overall interests of bilateral ties and regional stability.
The South China Sea issue has been heated up for some time. As we are all aware, this is not a problem between China and ASEAN, nor will it affect our close ties. It is only a bilateral problem between China and certain members of ASEAN. During China-ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Vientiane, China and the ASEAN nations issued a joint statement, promising full and effective implementation of the DOC, which stipulates that disputes should be resolved peacefully through negotiation between the parties directly concerned. This is a clear signal that, we have enough political will and wisdom to deal with the South China Sea issue properly. As former Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo put it, what we need is not a microscope to enlarge our differences, but a telescope to look ahead and focus on cooperation. China will continue to work together with ASEAN countries to implement the DOC comprehensively and effectively, promote the early adoption of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea based on consensus and manage relevant disputes properly, in order to create conditions for the final settlement of the issue.
Just a few weeks ago, I published an article in the Star and Sin Chew Daily, titled "The Way of Amicable Consultations", in which I appreciated Malaysia's approach to the South China Sea issue. I think Malaysia has set a very good example of properly managing this issue, which should be followed by the other claimants. My message has been well received and even the Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia admitted that it was well argued. Last week, the former Philippine President Ramos paid a visit to Hong Kong as a Special Envoy, and met with his old Chinese friends. It sent out a signal that China and the Philippines have started informal consultation on certain issues. We are confident that the Philippines will finally come back to the negotiation table and the Philippines-China relations will be improved, which will not only benefit our two countries and peoples, but also contribute to regional peace and stability.
The past 25 years is a period when China-ASEAN relation grew up, while the coming 25 years will witness a more mature and fruitful relationship. In this regard, the governments need to seek advice and wisdom of the think tanks. Therefore, your participation in and efforts committed to this conference will play an important role. I firmly believe that, with joint commitment and endeavor of both sides, China-ASEAN relations will embrace a much brighter future.
Last but not least, I wish this conference a big success!
Thank you very much.