A cargo ship docks at Qinzhou Port in China-ASEAN Free Trade Area in Qinzhou, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on July 11, 2020. (Photo/Xinhua)
China's efforts to build closer cooperation with ASEAN will benefit all countries in the region, contribute to greater integration in East Asia and bolster development needed for post-pandemic economic recovery, experts said.
"The cooperation between China and ASEAN is a key factor in keeping alive the narrative of economic interdependence in this region, which is essential for all governments as they seek to recover from the current pandemic-related economic recession," said Aleksius Jemadu, a professor of international politics at Universitas Pelita Harapan in Indonesia.
An increase in trade and investment between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in recent decades has produced tangible benefits for both sides, Jemadu said. Both sides needed to continue economic cooperation to ensure East Asia is a growth engine for the global economy.
At a special summit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations chaired by President Xi Jinping via video link on Nov 22, the two sides upgraded their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership.
During his speech, Xi said China and ASEAN have spearheaded economic integration in East Asia, promoted common development and prosperity, and delivered better lives to more than 2 billion people. "Drawing wisdom from East Asian civilization, we have steered regional economic integration with an open mind," said Xi.
Jemadu said cooperation between China and Indonesia can set a good example as both countries have shown strong commitment to cooperation based on mutual respect.
State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday that China and Indonesia had lead the way in vaccine cooperation, both regionally and globally, and set a model for major developing countries in terms of a joint COVID-19 response. Wang made the comment when meeting with Indonesia's Coordinator for Cooperation with China and Coordinating Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.
The 10-nation bloc can be a connector that brings together East Asian countries as it is an important trade and investment destination in the region, said Kriengsak Chareonwongsak, chairman of the Nation-Building Institute in Thailand.
ASEAN remained China's biggest trading partner in the first 11 months of 2021, data released by China's General Administration of Customs on Tuesday showed. Bilateral trade reached 5.11 trillion yuan ($802 billion), up 20.6 percent year-on-year and accounted for 14.4 percent of the total value of China's foreign trade during the same period.
ASEAN became China's largest trading partner in 2020, and China has maintained its status as the bloc's largest trading partner for 12 consecutive years.
Kriengsak said strengthening the China-ASEAN relationship will benefit all countries in the region and promote faster integration, which is important to mitigate the pandemic-induced global slump and counter the rise of protectionism and nationalism.
Lim Tai Wei, an adjunct senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute at National University of Singapore, said ASEAN can benefit from being a bastion of free trade and anti-protectionist sentiments.
Lim said the absence in East Asia of "beggar thy neighbor" policies－that benefit one country at the expense of others－exemplifies a new phase in bilateral ties in the region. The region's economic cooperation has matched by sharing vaccines, medical supplies and expertise to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.