China and Asean will prosper by working together

Zhao Qizheng says maintaining peace and stability,around the South China Sea – and keeping the momentum of cooperation and development – is in the best interests of all states in the region

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 2016, 12:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 July, 2016, 6:14pm

China’s position on its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea is consistent and clear. We recently issued a white paper on the matter, and the title of the paper – “China adheres to the position of settling through negotiation the relevant disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea” – makes it clear that China will stick to the “dual-track approach”, namely that disputes should be settled properly through negotiations and consultations by states directly concerned, and China and Asean countries should work together to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.

In the wake of the so-called award of the South China Sea arbitration, we read that some Philippine people have called for dialogue and economic cooperation with China. We sincerely hope that negotiations will be resumed soon.

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China highly values its friendly relations with Asean countries, as the region is a key geopolitical and economic environment for China’s peaceful development. Within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations itself, there are countries which share similar cultures and have long-standing friendships with China, as well as countries that have increasingly closer trade ties with China. We are neighbours joined by common mountains and rivers, and cooperation is the key to our relationship.

Since China and Asean established a dialogue framework in 1991, the two sides have had ever-deepening cooperation in politics, security, economy and trade, and significant achievements in people-to-people exchanges.

Politically, China consistently pursues a foreign policy of fostering an amicable, secure and prosperous neighbourhood, and it respects Asean member states’ independent choices of development paths and values. The landmark 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea has contributed greatly to regional peace and stability and the enhancement of mutual trust.

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China and Asean have increasingly close trade cooperation. In 2009, China became Asean’s biggest trade partner. Bilateral trade reached US$470 billion last year and two-way investment now exceeds US$150 billion.

Furthermore, China and Asean have enhanced cultural exchanges. Over the years, a series of symposiums, exhibitions and shows have been held and people-to-people interactions have increased. A number of influential and wide-reaching initiatives, such as the China-Asean Cultural Forum, have been forged.

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China has set up a US$10 billion China-Asean Investment Cooperation Fund to provide financing for major joint projects in infrastructure and energy resources. It has also established the China-Asean Maritime Cooperation Fund, which provides vital support for strengthening maritime cooperation. China has signed agreements in this regard with Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

Such activities show that despite the difficulties, such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the intervention of countries outside the region, communication and cooperation between China and Asean states have never ceased.

The South China Sea will become a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship

It is beyond doubt that maintaining regional peace and stability,and keeping the momentum of cooperation and development is in the best interests of all.

In view of the current situation, China and Asean states must stop quarrelling. We should overcome interference and place our priority on cooperation. Strategically speaking, this is the most realistic solution. The disputes in the South China Sea are only a problem between China and some Asean states, not all of them. The arbitration won’t undermine the strategic partnership between China and Asean, and it won’t impede their cooperation.

At the Indonesian parliament in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) expressed willingness to cooperate with Asean member states to build the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road. Today, the potential for such cooperation in the South China Sea will be tapped gradually. Through cooperation, the two sides will achieve mutually beneficial, win-win outcomes, and the South China Sea will become a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the China-Asean dialogue. In September, a summit will be held in Vientiane in Laos to celebrate this great event, and leaders from China and Asean states will attend. We hope that we can take this opportunity to further promote China-Asean relations.

Zhao Qizheng is former minister of China’s State Council Information Office. This article is based on his keynote speech at the Think Tank Seminar on South China Sea and Regional Cooperation and Development, held this week in Singapore