By Chen Shi, Tan Xingyu, Wang Fengjuan
Founded in 2004, the China-ASEAN Association (CAA) is a non-governmental organization initiated by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. Its mission is to promote all-round friendly exchanges between China and ASEAN countries through nongovernmental efforts.
As China and ASEAN are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their dialogue relations, Gu Xiulian, Vice Chairwoman of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People’s Congress (2003-2008) and President of the China-ASEAN Association, sat down with China Report ASEAN for a discussion on her experiences working on China-ASEAN people-to-people exchanges.
China Report ASEAN: President Gu, what are your general thoughts on the development of China-ASEAN relations?
Gu Xiulian: China-ASEAN relations and cooperation over the past 25 years have made fruitful achievements. Multi-level dialogue mechanisms have become more mature. The two sides have strengthened their political relations. High-level visits are now a common occurrence. Economic and trade cooperation has developed rapidly, and China was the first to establish a strategic partnership with ASEAN. China was also the first to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), and the first to the express willingness to sign the protocol of the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ). Of all ASEAN dialogue partners, China has taken the lead in negotiating and building the largest free trade area among developing countries. In 2015, they reached an agreement on upgrading the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, which came into effect on July 1, 2016.
In cultural and people-to-people exchanges, China and ASEAN have become much more intimate in recent years. The last three years have been the Year of Cultural Cooperation, the Year of Marine Cooperation and the Year of Education Exchange, respectively. In 2003, two-way personnel exchanges totalled 3.87 million. In 2015, that number increased to 23 million, and 180,000 of those were students. Each week, more than 1,000 flights travel between more than 100 Chinese and ASEAN cities. China has become ASEAN’s largest source of incoming tourists. It’s fair to say that with our joint efforts, the China-ASEAN bilateral relationship has become the most active and dynamic one among all the relations between ASEAN and its dialogue partners.
China Report ASEAN: An ancient Chinese thinker once said: “Amity among the people holds the key to stateto-state relations”. In the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, what part do you think your association can play?
Gu Xiulian: The countries along the Belt and Road are endowed with various natural and human resources. They are mutually complementary economically, with great potential and space for cooperation. As you quoted in your question, amity among the people holds the key to state-to-state relations. The second part of the quote goes: Mutual understanding is essential in fostering amity among the people.
The CAA has made full use of its advantages to engage in public and people-to-people diplomacy, with emphasis on enhancing mutual understanding between China and ASEAN. Since its founding in 2004, CAA has launched numerous bilateral and multilateral exchange programs, such as the Conference on ASEAN-China People-to-People Friendship, the ChinaASEAN Cooperation Tour, the ChinaASEAN Brightness Action, the ChinaASEAN Youth Cultural Exchange Festival, the ASEAN-China Governors/ Mayors Dialogue, the Indonesia-China Economic Cooperation Forum, the SinoThai Youth Elite Program, the SinoVietnamese Friendship Forum and the Sino-Vietnamese Border Festival. These programs have contributed to laying the foundations for positive public opinion, enhancing the traditional friendship and mutual understanding between China and ASEAN. At the same time, we have actively built bridges by other means and channels to promote the continuation of cooperation in different fields.
China Report ASEAN: The economic and trade exchanges between China and ASEAN have been very active. What has your association done in strengthening exchanges between the two sides? What are the key emphases for the future?
Gu Xiulian: In strengthening the economic and trade links between China and ASEAN, CAA has done the following:
First, we have built platforms for entrepreneurs to establish connections for cooperation through bilateral and multilateral programs. For example, within the framework of the Conference on ASEAN-China People-to-People Friendship, we have set up the ChinaASEAN Trade Fair, the Indonesia-China Economic Cooperation Forum (14 of them so far) and the Sino-Thai Youth Elite Entrepreneurs Program.
Second, we have made full use of our resources to carry out social services programs to benefit local people, paving the way for our enterprises to invest and operate in the region. For example, we have cooperated with an invited CAA council member from the Hong Kong SAR to conduct the Sino-Cambodian Brightness Action program, which provided free surgery for the local cataract patients. Another example is the free provision of 50 solar power supply units by one of our member units, the ZK Energy Technology Inc, on Con Co Island in Vietnam, which solved the power supply problem for the island’s inhabitants. That move consolidated traditional friendship between China and Vietnam in a small but important way.
In the future, we will continue to work to improve China-ASEAN economic and trade cooperation. What’s especially important is that many of the members of China-friendly organizations in ASEAN countries are local entrepreneurs, some of whom are leaders of well-known enterprises. We’ll try to motivate their initiatives through exchange programs, so as to achieve mutual benefit and win-win results in economic cooperation.
China Report ASEAN: What has your association done to promote people-to-people exchanges with ASEAN countries?
Gu Xiulian: People-to-people exchanges are the key to nongovernmental diplomacy. The essence of CAA’s work is to enhance mutual understanding between peoples. There is a strong bond that links the peoples and cultures of China and ASEAN. The CAA’s mission is to inherit and develop this bond.
With this goal in mind, our association has worked in the fields of culture, sports, education, charity and others. Main activities include the ChinaASEAN Cooperation Tour, the ChinaASEAN Youth Cultural Exchange Festival, the ASEAN-China Governors/ Mayors Dialogue, the Sino-Thai Youth Elite Program and the Sino-Vietnamese Friendship Forum.
China Report ASEAN: What are your most memorable experiences as the President of the CAA?
Gu Xiulian: For me, the most memorable experiences as the CAA President are my many visits to ASEAN countries. During the visits, I personally experienced how friendly the ASEAN people are toward China and the Chinese people. I was also touched by their appreciation for peace and friendship, and their pursuit for happiness, just like us.
During the Sino-Cambodian Brightness Action program, when I removed the gauze on the eye of a senior Cambodian cataract patient who recovered his sight after a surgery, he expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the Chinese doctor. That was unforgettable.
When we were in the Philippines for the Conference on ASEAN-China Peopleto-People Friendship, super typhoon Haiyan raged. At the conference, we organized a donation of US$10,000 for organizations we were working with in the Philippines. Our friends there were deeply moved. That too was unforgettable.
At the 2nd China-ASEAN Youth Cultural Exchange Festival in Hebei Province, the youth representatives from the 10 ASEAN countries were directed to “claim” a Mongolian yurt as a yurt of their own country. The kids truly enjoyed “claiming” a yurt, and that experience was also very memorable.
When I visited Brunei, I met with H.R.H. Princess Hajah Masna. Her polite, easygoing style was truly impressive.
All in all, most memorable are the friendly feelings that people in China and ASEAN cherish towards each other. Those feelings are the driving force behind our work, as well as the purpose and objective of our association.