30 years on, China, ASEAN countries beef up regional cooperation
The year 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of dialogue between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Sustained win-win cooperation has been achieved to benefit over 2 billion people in 11 countries.
Thirty years on, the strong ties have served as an important pillar for regional peace and prosperity.
Official statistics show that the bilateral trade volume between China and ASEAN was only 7.96 billion U.S. dollars in 1991, while in 2020, the number rose to 684.6 billion U.S. dollars amidst the global pandemic as the two sides became each other's largest trading partner.
South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has been thrust into the frontier of the country's opening-up to ASEAN, driven by the Beibu Gulf economic zone that serves as west China's nearest sea route to ASEAN countries. The economic zone was included in a national development strategy by the central Chinese government in 2008.
Two major mechanisms including the China-ASEAN Expo and the Pan-Beibu Gulf Economic Cooperation Forum were initiated in 2004 and 2006 respectively, to push for the opening of Guangxi, especially to ASEAN.
Benefiting from the two platforms, Guangxi has forged friendly ties with over 50 ASEAN cities, bolstering its trade and economic cooperation with those regions and promoting people-to-people exchanges.
Guangxi has also been promoting the construction of supply chain service platforms for bulk commodities, reinforcing its role as a major importing base of ASEAN commodities in southwest China, and encouraging new forms of foreign trade such as cross-border e-commerce, said Yang Chunting, Party secretary of the regional department of commerce.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China and ASEAN have deepened their cooperation in fighting the pandemic, boosting economic and cultural exchanges, and enhancing foreign trade.
In the first half of 2021, trade volume between China and ASEAN reached 2.66 trillion yuan (411.3 billion U.S. dollars), up 27.8 percent year on year.
Last year, China's direct investment in ASEAN increased by 52.1 percent over the previous year, according to data released by China's Ministry of Commerce.
Investors from ASEAN are flocking to China for its stable economic recovery and the new development paradigm of "dual circulation." In the first six months, the direct investment from ASEAN to China grew by 50.7 percent year on year.
New business models are emerging to contribute to prosperous trade and economic activities. Companies in Guangxi have joined hands with Alibaba, the country's leading e-commerce platform, to foster China-ASEAN cross-border industrial chain.
Jariya Unthong, a teacher of Guangxi University from Thailand, has lived in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi for over a decade. She has been routinely invited to sell products to people in Thailand via livestreaming.
"Since the epidemic, more customers in Thailand have been getting used to online shopping, and our livestreaming offers them quality products with a simple click on their phone," she said.
As trading partners with broad and close ties, China and ASEAN have been working together to tide over the difficulties posed by the COVID-19 epidemic.
On March 23, a team consisting of seven medical experts from Guangxi, along with tonnes of medical supplies including ventilators, medical masks and test kits, arrived in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, to help the country fight against the pandemic. It was among many Chinese medical teams sent out to ASEAN countries for COVID-19 prevention and control.
Standing on the new starting point, China-ASEAN relations will usher in a new chapter, creating a higher level of strategic partnership, said Zhai Kun, professor of international studies at Peking University.