Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dato Lim Jock Hoi and State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, Wang Yi - Photo by ASEAN Secretariat

JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories)Trade cooperation between China and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members has jumped from US$55 billion to $514 billion in 2017, or nearly tenfold within 15 years since both sides established strategic partnership in 2003, news agency Antara reported. Two-way direct investment totals nearly $200 billion in aggregate terms.

“We are working together on the Belt and Road initiative, with many projects off the ground spanning across infrastructure, connectivity, and industrial cooperation,” Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN Huang Xilian remarked when delivering a speech at the 15th Anniversary of ASEAN and China Strategic Partnership here on July 12.

The ambassador asserted that China is ready to build strategic partnerships with ASEAN that is more substantive, forward-looking and important both for the region and the world.

“As we believe in the value of multilateralism and globalization in the world today, we need to object the tendency of unilateralism and trade protectionism,” said Ambassador Huang by adding that a trade war would not serve anyone’s interests.

He stated, China will work with ASEAN and all other countries to speed up regional integration process, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations, and uphold rules-based multilateral trading system to safeguard development and prosperity of the world.

Huang also stressed that China will further synergize development strategies and move cooperation to a higher level.

“We will also align the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with the Vision of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025, take advantage of this year as the China-ASEAN Year of Innovation to enhance cooperation in digital economy, e-commerce and smart cities and inject new dynamism into our relationship,” the ambassador said.

BRI was initiated by President Xi Jinping in 2015 as a regional cooperation strategy for the Eurasian and African regions. Huang affirmed that human bond and socio-cultural cooperation are the third pillar in the relationship between ASEAN and China.

During Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visit Jakarta in June and met Secretary-General of ASEAN Lim Jock Hoi he declared the country is ready to work with ASEAN countries to promote the early completion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement (FTA) scheme for the 10 members, build the East Asian economic community, promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation to inject positive energy into the world economy.

He said, China has always put ASEAN as a priority for its foreign policy with neighboring countries.

At the 32nd ASEAN Summit and related meetings held in Singapore in late April, leaders of ASEAN countries agreed to work toward an early conclusion this year of RCEP, a FTA scheme of the 10 ASEAN member states and its FTA partners, namely China, Australia, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and New Zealand. In his speech, the Premier also called for substantive breakthroughs made in the negotiations on the RCEP.

China and ASEAN countries are all beneficiaries of free trade, Premier Li said, adding that it is in line with their common interest to safeguard multilateralism and the international trading system.

He said the importance of cooperation between China and ASEAN has gone beyond the bilateral scope and has increasingly become the support and engine for maintaining regional peace and stability as well as promoting regional common prosperity.

He said China supports the establishment of the ASEAN community, supports ASEAN’s central position in regional cooperation and supports it to play a bigger role in building an open and inclusive regional framework. Li added China’s development would bring new and greater opportunities to all countries in the world including ASEAN.

ASEAN is willing to work with China to strengthen economic and trade cooperation, especially in such areas of innovation and digital economy, so as to achieve common prosperity and mutual benefit, said Lim.

Congratulating China on its tremendous achievements in reform and opening-up, Lim said he appreciated China’s commitment to an open and rules-based multilateral trade system.

He believed that China’s broad prospects for development will not only benefit the Chinese people but will also improve the well-being of all people in the region.

According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, in 2017 total bilateral trade volume between China and ASEAN countries hit a record high worth of $514.8 billion, or up 13.8 percent year on year (YoY), the fastest growth pace between China and any of its major trading partners.

China’s exports to ASEAN countries reached $279.1 billion in 2017, climbed 9 percent YoY, while imports grew 20 percent YoY to stand at $235.7 billion. The country registered a trade surplus of $43.4 billion with ASEAN countries, narrowing by 27.4 percent from 2016.

Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand were China’s top trading partners in the region last year. Vietnam was China’s biggest export destination while China imported more goods from Malaysia than other ASEAN countries.