China, ASEAN eye closer ties as expo, summit start

Updated: Sept 18, 2023
Visitors shop for durians from Malaysia at the 20th China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on Saturday. [Photo by Peng Huan/For China Daily]

Premier Li Qiang reaffirmed on Sunday Beijing's commitment to a neighborhood policy of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness in bolstering ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, calling for a closer bond of interests between China and the 10-nation regional group.

The country stands ready to scale up the imports of unique and high-quality products from ASEAN member states and to expand the trading scale of intermediate goods, Li said while addressing the opening of the 20th China-ASEAN Expo and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit.

The expo, which is being held in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, from Sunday through Tuesday, has brought together nearly 2,000 businesses from over 40 countries.

"For both sides to attain greater development, China and ASEAN must engage in cooperation based on the principles of mutual benefit and reciprocity, forge a tighter network of shared interests and elevate our cooperation to a higher level," Li told ASEAN leaders and representatives from the business community.

Trade between China and ASEAN grew by 11.2 percent year-on-year to $975.3 billion in 2022, and the two sides have been each other's largest trading partner for three consecutive years since 2020.

The premier highlighted the need to tap into the potential of new international land and sea trade routes, continuously enhance regional connectivity, establish various cooperation demonstration zones, and explore cooperation in emerging areas such as green and low-carbon initiatives as well as the digital economy.

Beijing will remain unwavering in its support for an ASEAN-centered regional cooperation framework and will enable a better alignment between the Belt and Road Initiative and the development strategies of ASEAN countries, he said.

Negotiations on version 3.0 of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area are now progressing smoothly, and China stands ready to expedite the talks, he said.

Li highlighted the China-ASEAN Year of People-to-People Exchanges in 2024 as a key opportunity to expand cooperation over culture, tourism and youth, and to enhance mutual understanding.

The premier also assured the business leaders that Beijing will forge ahead with institutional opening-up, make greater strides in intellectual rights protection and promote fair competition.

Addressing the opening ceremony of the expo, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet said that ASEAN and China can "show the world examples of tangible benefits of strengthening multilateral cooperation without leaning toward protectionism, unilateralism or economic nationalism".

Hun Manet said that ASEAN and China need to reinforce cooperation and interdependence "by further opening markets and improving connectivity, supply chain resilience, supply-link production capacity and trade facilitation".

The Cambodian leader, who is making his first visit to China after taking office last month, said: "We need to work together to promote two-way investment. In addition, we should strengthen technical support, especially in complying with market requirements and demands."

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said his country has adopted technologies from both the West and China, and Huawei in particular, in the deployment of 5G.

He said Malaysia made the decisions "without being threatened or pressured because we work based on trust and confidence of centuries of relationships".

Anwar appealed for collective efforts of ASEAN and China to focus on regional peace and prosperity, and foster bilateral and multilateral trade relations. "I am optimistic that the expo will continue to serve as a catalyst for our businesses, fostering great collaboration and stimulating economic recovery."

The robust momentum of cooperation between China and ASEAN has also buoyed the confidence of business leaders at the Nanning expo.

Lu Yimin, general manager of China General Technology (Group) Holding, said that Li's speech on Sunday showed the way for China and ASEAN "to adhere to openness and inclusiveness to build a friendly and sustainable partnership and uphold mutual benefit and win-win outcomes".

Lu said his company will continue to deepen cooperation with ASEAN member states in green and low-carbon development, circular economy and healthcare.

Li Dongchun, senior director of the international business center at Guangxi Liugong Machinery, said the expo and the summit have offered the company a good platform for international communication and client exploration.

"Over the past two decades, we have developed local partners across the 10 ASEAN member states. Our performance in the ASEAN markets is getting better and better," he said.

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