ASEAN-China partnership in a new era

Chheang Vannarith

The global landscape is swiftly evolving into a multiplex world defined by multiple modernities, diverse civilizations and multiple power centers. This is an interconnected and interdependent world where both state and non-state actors interact to shape the emerging international order. The relationship between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China is evolving within this dynamic.
The geographical proximity between the ASEAN member states and China has served as a foundation in shaping their relations and facilitating frequent interactions, exchanges and cooperation at various levels. This proximity has not only encouraged the development of robust diplomatic ties but has also allowed for the easy movement of people, goods and ideas between the ASEAN members and China. The shared land borders, maritime routes and immediate regional presence have created an environment conducive to sustained engagement and collaboration, fostering a sense of familiarity and mutual understanding.
Two decades have passed since China ratified the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN. This milestone provides an opportune moment to reflect on the development of the ASEAN-China partnership and the contributions China has made toward fostering regional peace and stability. Over the years, the strategic cooperation between the ASEAN and China has yielded significant achievements and demonstrated the potential for mutually beneficial collaboration. China’s adherence to the principles of the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation has played a significant role in maintaining peace and stability in the region. China’s willingness to engage in dialogue and collaborate with the ASEAN members has helped build confidence, reduce tensions and establish a foundation for peaceful coexistence.
While remarkable progress has been made, challenges remain in the ASEAN-China partnership. Addressing territorial disputes in the South China Sea and ensuring the effective implementation of existing agreements will require continued commitment and dialogue. Maintaining transparency, adhering to international law, and promoting peaceful resolution mechanisms will be essential to building trust and confidence between ASEAN and China. One of the key achievements of the ASEAN-China partnership has been the establishment of a robust economic relationship. China has emerged as ASEAN’s largest trading partner since 2009, with trade volumes increasing over the years. Last year, the bilateral trade volume hit $975.3 billion. The ASEAN-China Free Trade Area has contributed to the expansion of trade and investment, benefiting both sides. Version 3.0 of ACFTA negotiations was officially launched early this year to further liberalize and facilitate bilateral trade flow.
ACFTA 3.0 is set to synergize harmoniously with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and other collaborative economic and trade mechanisms within the region. This dynamic partnership aims to propel the region into a thriving epicenter of growth that is marked by openness, inclusivity and shared prosperity. Currently, over 90 percent of goods (approximately 7,000 types) benefit from tariff-free treatment between China and ASEAN. The upcoming ACFTA 3.0 aims to further reduce tariffs, establish regulations in areas such as customs, inspections, and quarantine, and enhance the liberalization and simplification of trade and investment. This will also result in better safeguarding of consumer rights and interests on both sides, fostering the growth of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, and generating additional employment opportunities.
Beyond economic ties, the ASEAN-China partnership has fostered vibrant people-to-people exchanges. Cultural events, educational programs and tourism initiatives have facilitated greater understanding, appreciation, and friendship between ASEAN and China. These interactions have not only strengthened societal bonds but also paved the way for enhanced cooperation in various sectors such as education, science and technology and tourism. Connectivity lies at the heart of ASEAN-China cooperation, promoting trade, tourism and people-to-people exchanges. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has provided a platform for infrastructure development and connectivity projects in the region. Collaborative initiatives, such as the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism, have strengthened regional connectivity, enhancing transportation and fostering cross-border cooperation. China’s commitment to investing in infrastructure has boosted connectivity within ASEAN and beyond, facilitating economic integration and regional development.
ASEAN and China have also deepened their cooperation in non-traditional security areas, such as counter-terrorism, disaster management and transnational crime. Joint exercises, information-sharing mechanisms and capacity-building initiatives have strengthened regional responses to common challenges. China’s active participation in these areas has facilitated knowledge sharing, technical assistance and resource mobilization, contributing to the overall resilience and security of the region. While significant progress has been made in the ASEAN-China partnership, there are areas where further cooperation can bring mutual benefits. Continued efforts should focus on strengthening people-to-people exchanges, fostering cultural understanding, and promoting sustainable development. Environmental cooperation, technology sharing and digital connectivity are promising avenues for deepening collaboration. By building on past achievements, ASEAN and China can unlock the immense potential for shared prosperity, greater regional integration and sustainable development.
As the ASEAN members and China navigate future challenges, it is crucial to sustain the positive momentum, reinforce mutual trust and continue to work together to ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for the region. The ASEAN-China partnership serves as a shining example of cooperation and diplomacy in an increasingly interconnected world. The binding factors of ASEAN-China relations – geographical proximity, civilizational connectivity, economic interdependence, and common security – complement and reinforce each other, forming a multifaceted foundation for a dynamic and enduring partnership. These factors not only facilitate practical cooperation but also promote a sense of shared destiny, fostering an environment where mutual interests are pursued, challenges are collectively addressed, and a true community with a shared future can be realized.
The China Daily