FIFTEEN YEARS OF PARTNERSHIP
by Ong Keng Yong
Secretary-General of ASEAN
2006 has been earmarked as an important “Year of Friendship and Cooperation between ASEAN and China” as both sides commemorate the 15th Anniversary of their dialogue relations. A series of commemorative activities are being conducted this year to celebrate the Anniversary, including the ASEAN-China Commemorative Summit, which will be held on 30-31 October 2006 in Nanning, China.
ASEAN-China dialogue relations, which began in 1991, have developed rapidly, with the two sides enjoying good political relations, steady progress in economic and trade cooperation, and expanded cooperation in other fields of mutual interest, with enhanced mechanisms to facilitate cooperation. China became a full Dialogue Partner of ASEAN at the 29th AMM in July 1996 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Political and Security Cooperation
In the political and security realm, a good foundation for the long-term ASEAN-China dialogue partnership is in place with both sides having concluded a number of important documents.
December 1997 was a turning point in ASEAN-China dialogue relations, when ASEAN initiated the ASEAN Plus Three Summit (China, Japan and the Republic of Korea) and an Informal Summit between ASEAN and China. This put in place a top-level mechanism of annual meetings, which has now been formalised, between the leaders of both sides. The leaders of ASEAN and China issued a Joint Statement on ASEAN-China cooperation toward the 21st Century, mapping out the direction for the ASEAN-China dialogue relations.
The relationship reached a new height with the signing of the Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity at the 7th ASEAN-China Summit in October 2003 in Bali, Indonesia. Consequently, a five-year ASEAN-China Plan of Action to implement the Joint Declaration was adopted at the 8th ASEAN-China Summit in November 2004 in Vientiane, Lao PDR.
As a contribution to peace and security of the region and for the establishment of a tranquil regional environment to pursue economic development, ASEAN and China have concluded the Joint Declaration of ASEAN and China on Cooperation in the Field of Non-traditional Security Issues and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Both sides convened the ASEAN-China Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) on the Implementation of the DOC on 7 December 2004 in Kuala Lumpur and on 31 May 2006 in Siem Reap. The ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the DOC was also established to study and recommend measures to translate the provisions of the DOC into concrete cooperative activities that will enhance mutual understanding and trust. The Joint Working Group met twice, on 4-5 August 2005 in the Philippines and on 8-9 February 2006 in Sanya, China.
In order to implement the Joint Declaration in the Field of Non-Traditional Security Issues, ASEAN and China signed an MOU on Cooperation in the Field of Non-traditional Security Issues in January 2004 in Bangkok, Thailand. Both sides have executed the 2004 and 2005 Annual Work Plans and are now implementing their 2006 Annual Wok Plan. ASEAN and China convened the Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime Plus China Consultation on 30 November 2005 in Ha Noi to exchange views on strengthening ASEAN-China cooperation to combat transnational crime.
China was the first Dialogue Partner to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia at the ASEAN-China Summit in October 2003 in Bali, Indonesia.
Following the decision of the 8th ASEAN-China Summit on 29 November 2004 in Vientiane, the ASEAN-China Eminent Persons Group (ACEPG) was established to undertake an overall review of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations in the past 15 years and come up with future-oriented policy recommendations for cooperation in the next 15 years and beyond. The ACEPG Report with 38 strategic recommendations was considered by the 9th ASEAN-China Summit on 12 December 2005 in Kuala Lumpur and the Ministers and Senior Officials have been tasked to look into these recommendations. Both sides are studying the measures and prioritising them for possible implementation.
ASEAN and China have also strengthened consultations and coordination on regional and international issues to promote the healthy development of the ASEAN Plus Three cooperation, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Asia Cooperation Dialogue, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Forum for East Asia–Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) and other regional and trans-regional cooperation mechanisms.
Over the years, ASEAN-China cooperation in the economic field has grown rapidly, especially since the signing of the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation in November 2002, establishing the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (FTA). The FTA is deemed as the biggest FTA in terms of population with a market of 1.85 billion consumers and a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of almost US$2.5 trillion. Both sides have targeted to realise the FTA in 2010 for Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and China, and 2015 for Cambodia, LaoPDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam. The implementation of the Early Harvest Programme (EHP) was launched since 1 January 2004. At the 8th ASEAN-China Summit in November 2004, ASEAN and China signed the Agreements on Trade in Goods and Dispute Settlement Mechanism under the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation. The Agreement on Trade in Goods has been implemented since 20 July 2005, while the Agreement on Dispute Settlement Mechanism (DSM) will provide support to the smooth implementation of the ACFTA.
In terms of trade volume between the two sides, for the period 2002-2004, bilateral trade grew at an annual rate of 38.9%, reaching US$105.9 billion in 2004. The latest trade statistics further revealed that bilateral trade grew by 25% during the first half of 2005 to US$59.76 billion as China continues to be ASEAN’s fourth largest trading partner and vice-versa. As such, this can only grow further as more tariff reduction and elimination take place in order to realise the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area.
Meanwhile, negotiations on the trade in services and investment agreements for the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area are underway. For 2004, the latest figures revealed that Chinese investments to ASEAN grew by 20% to US$226 million, bringing China’s cumulative investment in ASEAN from 1995 to 2004 to about US$1 billion. On the other hand, about 2.8 million Chinese tourists visited ASEAN in 2005, whilst about 3.4 million ASEAN nationals visited China.
The annual China-ASEAN EXPO (CAEXPO), showcasing ASEAN and China products was successfully organised in November 2004 and October 2005 in Nanning, China. Many innovations have been introduced from private sectors of ASEAN and China. The Expo is meant to complement developments in the realisation of the ASEAN-China FTA.
The first and second ASEAN-China Business and Investment Summits were also held back-to-back with the CAEXPO. This event serves as an effective way of bringing government and private sector together to exchange views on matters affecting the economy and business of ASEAN Member Countries and China. The private sector has been playing an important role in facilitating the realisation of closer economic ties between ASEAN and China.
The third CAEXPO and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit will be held back-to-back on 31 October-3 November 2006 in Nanning.
Cooperation in Other Fields
At the 9th ASEAN-China Summit, the Leaders of ASEAN and China endorsed five new priority areas of cooperation, namely energy, transport, culture, public health and tourism, in addition to the existing five priority areas of agriculture, information technology, two-way investment, human resources development and Mekong River Basin Development, which was agreed at the ASEAN-China Summit on 6 November 2001 in Brunei Darussalam.
ASEAN and China have been cooperating closely in implementing the above-mentioned ten priority areas and other areas of common interest, including youth and people-to-people exchanges.
Both sides have signed an MOU on agriculture, non-traditional security issues, information communication technology, transportation, culture and the Greater Mekong Sub-region Cooperation to forge closer and beneficial cooperation between the two sides. ASEAN and China are now discussing a draft MOU on quality inspection and quarantine cooperation.
In the area of youth, the First China-ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Youth (CAMMY) was held on 29-30 September 2004 in China. The Ministers signed a Beijing Declaration on ASEAN-China Cooperation on Youth and adopted a Joint Work Plan for implementation.
China continues to cooperate with ASEAN in narrowing the development gaps through the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) and other sub-regional programmes such as the Mekong Basin cooperation, ASEAN Mekong Basin Development Cooperation (AMBDC) and the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). China is now a development partner in the BIMP-EAGA.
The ASEAN-China strategic partnership was also evident in the joint efforts to handle major natural disasters and emergencies. From 2003 to 2005, China and ASEAN cooperated closely on SARS, avian flu, earthquake and tsunamis within the ASEAN-China dialogue and ASEAN Plus Three cooperation frameworks.
At the track II level, the Centre for ASEAN and China Studies (CACS) was launched on 20 December 2005 to facilitate research and studies on ASEAN and China, promote networking among scholars and researchers of ASEAN and China, and enhance public awareness about ASEAN-China relations.
The ASEAN-China dialogue partnership has achieved a steady growth over the last 15 years and is expected to further strengthen as both sides focus their cooperation in areas of mutual interest and in building the comfort at all levels. The broad-based cooperation guided by the comprehensive Plan of Action for enhancing the strategic partnership, and the will of both sides to further enhance the cooperation and mechanisms will provide the impetus for the relations to develop further contributing to the peace, and economic prosperity of the region. The cooperation will continue to be underpinned by an equal partnership based on the common good and mutual benefit for the peoples of ASEAN and China.