China-ASEAN relations: A path towards shared growth and stability

By Saud Faisal Malik | Gwadar Pro Aug 16, 2023

Editor's Note: The author is Saud Faisal Malik, CEO of Daily CPEC. The article only reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily of Gwadar Pro.

In a world that is often shrouded in the cloud and fog of geopolitical tensions, there is a shining beacon of solidarity and cooperation. China's recent diplomatic activities in Southeast Asia, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit to Singapore, Malaysia, and Cambodia from 10-13 August 2023, underscore China's strong commitment to pursuing peace, ensuring stability, and developing mutually beneficial partnerships in the ASEAN region. Against the backdrop of complex global politics, China's diplomatic efforts reflect China's determination to build harmonious relations and achieve common prosperity within and outside ASEAN.

Its role as a steadfast diplomatic partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) cannot be overstated. The significance of China's support for the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) cannot be undermined when considering the imperative of regional peace. Foreign Minister Wang Yi's recent remarks during his visits to Malaysia and Singapore reiterate the collective belief in resolving maritime disputes through consultative diplomacy, demonstrating a clear commitment to working collaboratively with neighboring countries.

The importance of preserving maritime stability is accentuated by recent events, such as the intrusion of Philippine vessels into the waters adjacent to Ren'ai Jiao. These incidents emphasize the necessity for regional parties to unite around a long-standing consensus on maritime stability and to prevent external forces from fomenting confrontation among regional neighbors.

Wang Yi's substantive discussions with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong lay the foundation for deeper economic cooperation between the two nations. Singapore's endorsement of China's accession to the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) and its eagerness to learn from China's modernization journey signify a mutual desire to leverage each other's strengths for growth. The collaborations between the two countries extend beyond economic realms, as evidenced by government-to-government projects in China's Suzhou, Tianjin, and Chongqing. The upcoming 15th anniversary of the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City serves as a reminder of the remarkable progress achieved through the China-Singapore partnership.

It must be pointed out that this kind of partnership is not only a connection in the economic field, but also reflects a policy of opposing hegemonism and protectionism. China's commitment to peaceful development echoes its commitment to building a balanced and cooperative global order, reinforcing the message that China's development benefits not only itself, but also its neighbors and the world.

On August 11, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim met with Wang Yi in Penang, both sides promising to deepen bilateral cooperation and aim for more win-win outcomes. Wang Yi's discussions with Anwar Ibrahim signal a strong desire to expand Chinese investments and strengthen bilateral ties. The ongoing progress under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), exemplified by projects like the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), serves as a testament to China's commitment to supporting Malaysia's growth and development. China's status as Malaysia's top trading partner for over a decade underscores the deep-rooted economic interdependence between the two nations.

Similarly, Wang Yi's visit to Cambodia coincided with the 65th anniversary of China-Cambodia diplomatic relations, a milestone that highlights the enduring nature of their partnership. Cambodia's active engagement in the Belt and Road Initiative showcases the country's dedication to development and growth through win-win infrastructure, energy, and agriculture projects. Wang's discussions with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister-designate Sok Chenda Sophea indicate a shared vision for the future and recognition of Cambodia's rapid development.

This recognition lays the groundwork for expanding market opportunities, exemplified by early understandings regarding the China-Cambodia Free Trade Agreement (FTA). As China remains Cambodia's largest trading partner and a vital source of investment and tourism, the commitment to dialogue coordination mechanisms and comprehensive strategic partnership solidifies the foundation for continued collaboration.

Wang's strategic journey occurs at a critical juncture, one in which the United States continues to stoke the embers of unrest across the Asia-Pacific. As tensions rise as a result of Washington's disruptive maneuvers, Wang's participation emphasizes the importance of regional unity and interconnectedness. This necessity arises from the need to oppose the United States divisive maneuvers, which have fostered seeds of distrust and misunderstanding among nations.

The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Concurrently, it has been a decade since the unveiling of China's proposed 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR), which binds China's destiny with those of ASEAN members in a unified embrace. Among these landmarks, the 10th anniversary of the BRI stands out as a pinnacle in China's global vision, exemplifying a communal destiny for humanity.

Here, the desire for long-term prosperity trumps the threat of conflict, forming a fabric of shared growth and solidarity across the Asia-Pacific region. As trade numbers for 2023 show, the symbiotic relationship between China and ASEAN is becoming more amicable. With ASEAN as China's top trade partner for three years in a row since 2020, the embrace is growing even stronger. China's trade with ASEAN countries accounted for 15.3 percent of overall trade in the first half of 2023, reaching 3.08 trillion yuan ($428.96 billion), up 5.4 percent from 2022.

The China-ASEAN comprehensive strategic cooperation is experiencing rapid growth. China seeks harmonious collaboration based on the ideals of amity, honesty, shared gain, and openness. It seeks to strengthen camaraderie, trust, and shared interests with its neighbors, anchored in the notion of cultivating neighborhood friendships and partnerships.

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