When celebrating the 20th anniversary of their dialogue partnership this year, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have reasons to feel proud of the many achievements they have reaped from enhanced cooperation in a broad range of fields.
The China-ASEAN dialogue partnership was built on China’s persistent efforts to forge good neighborly relations with its Asian neighbors and the regional perception that China’s development was an opportunity rather than a threat.
Twenty years later, the relationship has thrived with win-win cooperation. China is ASEAN’s largest trade partner now, while ASEAN is the third largest trade partner of China.
The bilateral trade volume has jumped from less than $8 billion in 1991 to $300 billion at present. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has vowed to increase this to $500 billion by 2015. The current rosy picture suggests this will not be a demanding task.
Meanwhile, China and ASEAN have conducted reciprocal and fruitful cooperation in fields other than trade under various regional and sub-regional frameworks, including infrastructure, agriculture, telecommunications, environment, energy and tourism.
China has been a driving force and a staunch supporter of regional development, prosperity and integration. It pushed for the establishment of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area in 2010 and it launched a special fund of $10 billion in the same year to facilitate regional cooperation.
Undoubtedly, a strong China-ASEAN partnership not only brings benefits to both sides it also contributes to regional peace and stability. The two should seize the opportunity to chart the future and expand the width and depth of their cooperation in order to take it to an even higher level.
Compared to 20 years ago, the global and regional situations have undergone profound changes. The emerging economies in Asia have impressed the world and are now regarded as an important driving force for the global economic recovery.
Although the region has maintained peace and stability in the past years, bilateral skirmishes over issues such as the South China Sea, imbalances in development and the lack of solid mutual trust are constantly challenging the political wisdom of China and ASEAN leaders.
To some extent, whether China and ASEAN can continue to steer their strategic partnership to a smooth and growing terrain hinges on how skillful they are in handling their differences and disputes.
Cooperation is always the mainstream in China-ASEAN relations. The two should look beyond their differences and build more political mutual trust.
China has repeatedly said it strives for good neighborly ties with Asian countries and it does not pose a threat to any country. As a responsible regional and global power, it will remain committed to its peaceful development.
For ASEAN’s part, the regional organization should not tolerate the attempts by outside forces to interfere in bilateral disputes. Asia’s history proves outside forces have never worked whole-heartedly for Asian peace and development.