By Zhao Jun, Dong Yan
The ASEAN-China Center (ACC) is an intergovernmental organization co-founded by China and the 10 ASEAN member states. Since its establishment, it has promoted multilateral cooperation in trade, investment, education, culture, tourism and information. It has also promoted amity and trust between China and ASEAN, in addition to pragmatic cooperation, thus further contributing to friendship. So far, the center has completed more than 90 China-ASEAN cooperation projects, and has also organized or participated in nearly 500 activities.
On the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations, ACC Secretary-General Yang Xiuping sat down with China Report ASEAN, talking about how the bilateral relations will develop into a new stage and bring benefits to nearly 30 percent of the world’s population.
China Report ASEAN: The year 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations. This is also a year of critical importance to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative. What new opportunities will that bring to China-ASEAN cooperation?
Yang Xiuping: Over the past 25 years, relations between China and ASEAN have gone through an extraordinary journey. With the strengthening of political mutual trust, economic and trade cooperation has been very close. Cultural and people-to-people exchanges have been fruitful.
China-ASEAN relations have been more profound, interactive and productive compared to ASEAN’s relations with other dialogue partners. This set of positive relations has vigorously promoted economic and social development in the countries concerned, as well as regional cooperation, and turned out to be an important pillar of peace, stability, development and prosperity in the region.
Compared with 25 years ago, both China and ASEAN have changed a lot. Both are standing at a new starting point. Looking into the future, there are bright prospects for further cooperation between China and ASEAN. Joint efforts should be made to create an even closer community. The leaders of both sides have identified a direction for the development of relations, as outlined in the Action Plan to Implement the Joint Declaration on China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity 2016-2020. The establishment of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, the launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Lancang Mekong Cooperation mechanism have all lent new impetus to the further development of China-ASEAN relations.
The Belt and Road Initiative was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visits to Central Asia and Indonesia in 2013. What impressed me the most was the setting in which President Xi introduced the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. At that time, I was serving as the Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN in Jakarta. When President Xi addressed the Indonesian Parliament and elaborated on the initiative, the whole audience was excited. The concept was very well received.
My understanding of the Belt and Road Initiative is that it is not a Chinese solo, but a symphony performed by all countries involved. Although first proposed by China, the construction of the Belt and Road is not only China’s business. Over the past two years, the international community has come to understand the major significance of the proposition and opportunities for development. Dozens of national governments and international organizations have taken part. I believe that the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative will bring tangible benefits to the countries and people along the route.
China Report ASEAN: On December 31, 2015, Anifah Aman, Foreign Minister of Malaysia, then-rotating chair of ASEAN, announced the official establishment of the ASEAN Community. How significant is this milestone in ASEAN’s history?
Yang Xiuping: More than six months have passed since the official announcement of the ASEAN Community, but that does not mean its construction has been completed. Ninety-two percent of the community has been built, and the remaining eight percent, often described as “tough nuts to crack”, might take some more time to complete. This represents a new starting point for the economy, security and culture of the ASEAN Community.
For the ACC, we’ll make efforts to assist with the development of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) in ASEAN countries so they can gain a better platform for the display and sale of their products. This will lead to better channels of communication for commercial and investment information.
Chinese SMEs are considered large-scale enterprises by ASEAN countries. ASEAN markets are very attractive to Chinese SMEs, which would like our center to help them get in touch with the right people in ASEAN markets. Therefore, there’s broad opportunity for Chinese private enterprises in the future of China-ASEAN pragmatic cooperation.
We don’t have to worry about what the Western media has reported. Instead, China and ASEAN countries should find their own way forward in terms of development. The purpose of the China-ASEAN cooperation mechanism is to promote political trust and amity among us by means of pragmatic cooperation.
China Report ASEAN: This year marks the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations, as well as the starting point of a new stage of development for China-ASEAN relations. Some Western media reported that ASEAN countries do not have the same position on some China-related issues, which will have a negative impact on their relations. What are your thoughts?
Yang Xiuping: We don’t have to worry about what the Western media has reported. Instead, China and ASEAN countries should find their own way forward in terms of development. The purpose of the China-ASEAN cooperation mechanism is to promote political trust and amity among us by means of pragmatic cooperation. I dare not flatter some Western media reports, because I believe news coverage should always pursue objectivity and fairness. A sound China-ASEAN relationship is undoubtedly beneficial to the peace and stability of both sides, and is also beneficial to the economic development of the region. Although there are different views on China-ASEAN relations, and difficulties in certain periods, I believe the development of China-ASEAN relations has generally been very successful, with great achievements.
The 10 ASEAN member states are at different stages of development, with different historical and cultural backgrounds. Economically, average annual income in Singapore is around US$50,000, while that of Myanmar has not yet reached US$1,000. Apart from economic development, their relations with China are also at different stages of development. It might not be fair to make evaluations with the same criteria. China has advocated that relations between states should be handled through dialogue and consultation on the basis of equality. All countries, big or small, should have equal rights to participate in international affairs and regional affairs. Cooperation is the mainstream of China-ASEAN relations, whereas differences and difficulties are minor inconveniences.
China Report ASEAN: Before your current appointment as the SecretaryGeneral of the ACC, you were already a very experienced diplomat, including the three times you served as an ambassador, representing the Chinese government. What are the main differences between serving as a state ambassador and the secretary-general of an international organization?
Yang Xiuping: I previously worked in seven overseas diplomatic positions. Currently, I work as the Chinese-side secretary-general of the ACC, which is an intergovernmental organization serving 11 countries with a total population of 2 billion people. This position requires me to bear the motherland in mind, while also serving the common interest of the 2 billion people of 11 countries. We’ll do whatever is conducive for the development of China-ASEAN relations, whatever is beneficial for the interest of the people of 11 countries.
Therefore, I think the role that I played has changed from bilateral to multilateral. As the Chinese ambassador, I served my own country. Now, as the ACC Secretary-General, I am serving 11 countries. With that change, it is essential that I am aware of the essence of this new role, so that I can fulfil my mission to the best of my ability.