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Letter signals stronger China ties with ASEAN

By YANG HAN and PRIME SARMIENTO in Hong Kong | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-09-13 10:19

Visitors at the 18th China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on Friday. [Photo by WANG ZHUANGFEI/CHINA DAILY]

Message to trade expo calls for early implementation of RCEP agreement

Economic and trade ties between China and ASEAN are set to gain further momentum with a message from Chinese President Xi Jinping at an international expo reassuring close partnership and high-quality Belt and Road collaboration, experts said.

Xi's letter to the 18th China-ASEAN Expo, or CAEXPO, and China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in southern China that began on Friday and ends on Monday also bodes well for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, they said.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of China-ASEAN relations. In his letter, Xi said China is willing to deepen strategic mutual trust with ASEAN and enhance collaboration in various fields such as economics and trade and fighting the pandemic.

He called on the two sides to promote the early implementation of the RCEP agreement, the high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative and a higher level of strategic partnership, jointly maintaining the good momentum of shared prosperity and development in the region.

The RCEP, signed last November, is a trade deal between the 10 ASEAN member states and its free trade agreement partners China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Speaking via video at the RCEP Economic and Trade Cooperation Business Summit held in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Lim Jock Hoi, ASEAN's secretary-general, said signatory countries need to ensure the timely entry into force of the RCEP agreement to reap the benefits.

"China has set an example as one of the first signatories that ratified the RCEP agreement, and I hope that other signatories would soon follow suit," Lim said.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. This year the economic and trade departments of the 10 ASEAN countries and the ASEAN Secretariat are co-sponsors of CAEXPO together with China's Ministry of Commerce.

This year's CAEXPO, under the theme "Sharing Opportunities created by the new land-sea corridor, building the China-ASEAN community with a shared future", is organized by the Guangxi regional government.

At the summit more than 30 business associations from countries in the region announced the establishment of the Nanning Initiative on Jointly Facilitating the Early Entry into Force of RCEP.

Positive outlook

Dar Wong, vice-president of the Singapore chapter of the ASEAN-China Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization in Bangkok, said Xi's letter sends "a very positive message" about the trajectory of China-ASEAN relations.

While the RCEP will help boost trade among participating countries, the Belt and Road Initiative will help logistics and transport infrastructure reach a new milestone in Southeast Asia, he said.

Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said it is important for China and Southeast Asia to make the RCEP succeed so it can serve as a model on how free trade can enhance common prosperity.

"I hope that China's concept of common prosperity could be extended overseas as well, in the sense that China could invest more in ASEAN countries," Oh said.

Michael Ricafort, chief economist at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp in the Philippines, said the letter highlights the continuation of stronger China-ASEAN diplomatic ties and trade.

China has been the biggest trading partner of most ASEAN countries since a free-trade agreement was signed with the bloc more than 10 years ago and is a major source, supplier and donor of COVID-19 vaccines to ASEAN, he said.

Mass inoculations are "important for ASEAN's economic recovery from the pandemic, and will (help) sustain long-term economic growth, development, and prosperity in the region".

Speaking at the opening ceremony of CAEXPO, China's Vice-President Wang Qishan said China will contribute a further $10 million to the ASEAN-China Cooperation Fund this year to promote people-to-people exchanges and deepen cooperation.

The fund, established in 1997, aims to support activities to promote collaboration between China and ASEAN in different areas, including agriculture, information and communications technology, human resources development, investment, trade, tourism, education and the environment.

Chea Munyrith, president of the Cambodian Chinese Evolution Researcher Association, said China has been a good neighbor and friend of ASEAN over the past 30 years.

New investment by China will help ASEAN countries accelerate their economic development, Chea said.

Noting that Cambodia's economy relies heavily on agriculture, Chea said the CAEXPO has provided a platform for the country to export its agricultural products to the rest of the world, especially China.

Dennis Munene, executive director of the China-Africa Center at the Africa Policy Institute, said that shunning the politics of hegemony, China's focus is on promoting peaceful development and peaceful coexistence.

Zhang Li in Nanning and Liu Hongjie in Beijing contributed to this story.

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