China, ASEAN are Natural Partners


The future of Asia and the Asia-Pacific region looks bright. Defying the lingering negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and regressive protectionist moves by some countries, bilateral trade volume between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations grew vigorously, from $641.5 billion in 2019 to $975.3 billion in 2022.

In 2020, the economically rising ASEAN eclipsed the European Union to emerge as China’s biggest trading partner, while China has been ASEAN’s largest trading partner for 14 consecutive years. China and ASEAN combined represent a consumer market of 2 billion people.

We are now already in a multipolar world. Despite some post-pandemic slowdowns and global uncertainties, innovative China and resilient ASEAN will in the coming years be the leaders and dynamic catalysts of world economic growth. Among the many areas for growing cooperation between ASEAN and China are finance, digital cooperation, infrastructure, electric vehicles and the green economy.

After the 26th China-ASEAN Summit, which was held on Sept 6 in Jakarta, Indonesia, the next big events promoting bilateral cooperation were the 20th China-ASEAN Expo and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, both held from Saturday to Tuesday in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

Several factors account for the resilience, dynamism and continued bullish future of the economies of China and ASEAN.

First, there is a tradition of trade. The long history of vibrant, mutually beneficial trade links and economic cooperation between China and Southeast Asian countries predates by centuries the arrival of Western colonizers.

The second factor is human resources. Southeast Asian people are naturally artistic and diligent, while Chinese are hardworking, innovative and entrepreneurial.

Third is the fact that peace and stability have prevailed for decades in East Asia since the end of the Japanese invasions during World War II. This environment has allowed the economies of China and ASEAN to flourish as never before. Peace should be vigilantly safeguarded and militarization opposed in Asia.

Fourth, the economies of ASEAN and China are complementary. While China’s reform has led to its industrial, infrastructural and technological prowess and generated abundant financial resources, the economic grouping of ASEAN possesses rich and diverse natural, mineral, agricultural and human resources. Lower wages in ASEAN countries also make ideal manufacturing bases for the Chinese mainland’s export companies, which seek to avoid anti-China trade restrictions or higher tariffs imposed by the United States.

ASEAN can also be a major food supplier to China. In 2022 alone, China imported 246.86 billion yuan ($33.85 billion) worth of ASEAN agricultural products. Among them were bananas from the Philippines, durians from Thailand and Malaysia, longans from Cambodia and passion fruit from Laos.

The fifth factor is cultural links. Southeast Asians and Chinese have enjoyed many generations of cultural exchanges and share many Asian cultural similarities.

Sixth is that geography is destiny. There are various sayings in different cultures that remind us that a neighbor is often more important than a relative who is located far away. Fortunately for ASEAN, its neighbor to the north is the world’s rising new economic power, China, whose 1.4 billion people are increasingly affluent. ASEAN countries should benefit from and ride the crest of the wave of China’s economic and cultural renaissance.

The seventh important factor is strategic location. ASEAN member states and China are located at a vital strategic crossroads of global trade.

The eighth factor is infrastructure links. ASEAN and China are interlinked by numerous infrastructure projects, such as the China-Laos Railway, which opened in 2021, and more seaports and airports. Currently upgrading the links is the Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to modernize infrastructure and upgrade connectivity across continents in order to boost trade networks and expand economic potential.

Finally, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world’s biggest free trade agreement, has further accelerated bilateral cooperation and economic integration.

The future of the China-ASEAN economic partnership is bright and solid. It will be all the more so if we can bolster goodwill and stability, and if a code of conduct in the South China Sea can be formulated soon in order to lessen geopolitical misunderstandings.

The 21st century is a golden age of synergy and partnership for the Asia-Pacific region, as exemplified by China-ASEAN cooperation.

Source: China Daily