China-ASEAN Expo adds impetus to socioeconomic development
By Luo Yongkun  ·  2021-09-17  ·   Source: NO.38 SEPTEMBER 23, 2021
Visitors pay for their purchases at the China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, using cash in 2011 (above) and digital wallets in 2021(XINHUA)
For members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the annual China-ASEAN Expo and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit held during the expo have evolved into a benchmark of cooperation with China since their establishment in Nanning, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in south China, in 2004.

The 18th edition of the expo, running from September 10 to 13, featured the theme of Sharing the New International Land-Sea Corridor, Jointly Building the China-ASEAN Community With a Shared Future.

China attached great importance to it with President Xi Jinping sending a congratulatory letter and Vice President Wang Qishan attending the opening ceremony. The country is determined to deepen cooperation in trade, economy and other fields with ASEAN, a region high on the agenda of its neighborhood diplomacy.

Closer ties 

Many officials have expressed their support. Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen said via video link that the expo bears testimony to the great success of China-ASEAN relations, which have brought about development in all fields and prosperity for the nations and the people of ASEAN and China.

The expo has become a leading platform for China and ASEAN to pursue common prosperity. A series of regional mechanisms based on ASEAN centrality has been in place across East Asia since 1991, the year China became a dialogue partner of the group. China is also the first country to establish a strategic partnership with ASEAN in 2003. Today, the China-ASEAN Summit, ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan and the Republic of Korea) framework, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, and ASEAN-related minister and senior official meetings play a significant role in consolidating their relationship.

Against this backdrop, the expo, featuring high-level regular meetings of government officials and diplomats as well as serving as a popular platform for business people, has turned itself into an indispensable instrument for China and ASEAN nations alike to forge closer political, economic and social ties.

At the same time, the expo has been a key feature throughout many important moments in the bilateral relationship. In 2006, when China and ASEAN marked the 15th anniversary of their dialogue partnership, a meeting of all leaders from China and Southeast Asian nations took place in Nanning. It issued a joint statement saying that the strategic partnership between China and ASEAN had not only promoted development, bringing practical benefits to all those involved, but also made contributions to the world's peace, stability and prosperity.

On January 1, 2010, the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA) came into force. As part of the Chinese Government's efforts to promote trade liberalization, as well as to facilitate the development of the country's southwestern region, that year's expo centered on opportunities from the FTA and organized 10 high-level fora on energy, agriculture, medical services and transportation. 

This year, the expo homed in on the new land-sea corridor, a major international transport passage connecting west China with Southeast Asia and beyond. Activities included a high-level business forum on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world's largest FTA comprising 15 Asia-Pacific countries, including China and all ASEAN members. At the same time, important documents, such as an initiative on jointly promoting the implementation of the RCEP, and a RCEP business guide, were released.

Sustainable vitality 

First and foremost, the expo displays the mutual trust and strategic consensus between China and ASEAN. Although the COVID-19 pandemic still rages worldwide, both of them have managed to sustain their cooperation in various fields over the past two years. They are now each other's biggest trading partners. The reason for their sustainable and successful cooperation is that instead of competition, they lend high priority to mutual benefits and economic development.

Southeast Asian nations see China as a reliable partner. Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah said during this year's expo that the expo has become an important platform to promote tourism, investment and trade. It will continue to make China an extremely attractive export market for ASEAN products, and further promote the improvement of bilateral trade relations, he added.

Meanwhile, the Belt and Road Initiative is recognized by both China and ASEAN countries as a key approach to strengthen cooperation, with projects under the initiative drawing much attention during the just concluded edition of the expo.

Moreover, the event showcases just how China and ASEAN have gained strong momentum in their push for sustainable collaboration. 

Along the past three decades, they have gone through the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, the SARS epidemic in 2003, and the international financial crisis of 2008-09, demonstrating that the China-ASEAN partnership, be it a dialogue or strategic one, was primarily a resilient one. The expo itself has in the past two years successfully responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and achieved fruitful results.

The expo consistently benefits all parties, more specifically by constructing a win-win landscape for China and ASEAN. Enterprises from over 40 countries and regions participated in this year's edition both online and offline—covering a physical exhibition area of 102,000 square meters.

In terms of investment, it witnessed the signing of contracts for 179 projects, with a worth totaling around 300 billion yuan ($46.5 billion), setting a new record in the event's history. They focus on electronics, light industry and textile, high-end furniture and home materials, as well as new energy, with green economy and low-carbon transformation setting the overall tone.

The abovementioned demonstrates the fruits of cooperation between China and ASEAN nations. ASEAN Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi said the China-ASEAN dialogue relations today have evolved into a multifaceted strategic partnership that bears tremendous progress on all fronts.

"I look forward to continuing and further strengthening this relationship through concrete, practical, and meaningful collaborations," he concluded.

Nowadays, the 18-year-running expo has shaped an indispensable bond between China and ASEAN. Nevertheless, its participants are not limited to China and ASEAN countries. Both sides are using the event to expand economic and trade exchanges with more partners. Many economies located outside the region, such as Pakistan, India, as well as multiple African countries, took part this year to display their goods and cultures.

At this critical moment, with great changes unseen in a century and fierce China-U.S. competition, the expo, which focuses on regional cooperation and growth, is conducive to injecting fresh impetus into socioeconomic development in China and Southeast Asian countries.  

The author is deputy director of the Institute of Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

(Printed Edition Title: A Witness of All-Round Relations)   

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com 

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