Xu Ningning: Elevating China-ASEAN Economic Relations

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Xu Ningning, Executive Director of CABC, has been busy promoting China-ASEAN economic relations.

By Zhang Lijuan

It has been a very busy summer for Xu Ningning, executive director of the China-ASEAN Business Council (CABC).

“I was in Singapore last week. This week I am here with you. Next week, I’ll go to Singapore again, and then to Malaysia. In early August, I’ll lead a business delegation to Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam,” Xu said in an interview with China Report ASEAN. His busy schedule has left him exhausted. But when asked about ASEAN countries and the work he has done, Xu could not hide his excitement. As he put it: “In promoting the development of China-ASEAN economic relations, I’ve been busy, but it’s my pleasure to do this kind of work.”

CAFTA Construction

The China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA) is undoubtedly the most positive result of China-ASEAN economic and trade relations, Xu said.

In November 2000, then Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji proposed the establishment of a free trade area at the Fourth China-ASEAN Leader’s Meeting. His proposal received a positive response from ASEAN leaders. On November 8, 2001, the CABC was founded. Xu was elected its executive director due to his years of experience in trade with ASEAN countries.

“There’s a large number of chambers of commerce in both China and ASEAN member states,” Xu said. “These organizations are playing an important role in economic development, as well as forming bridges that bond companies, governments and society.”

Thanks in large part to the deeply positive feelings Xu has toward ASEAN countries, he was excited by his new post. At the same time, his instincts told him that “the building of the CAFTA cannot succeed without enterprises. Similarly, the enterprises will count on the CAFTA to accelerate their steps of ‘going global’”.

Since the establishment of China-ASEAN dialogue relations, the number of Chinese enterprises seeking business opportunities in ASEAN countries has increased. However, the number of enterprises that have recognized and seized opportunities thanks to the CAFTA has been very limited, Xu said. To help Chinese enterprises better understand the CAFTA, its current situation and market opening timetables, Xu decided to research the facts himself. In the nine months running up to the official launch of the CAFTA, he travelled to 31 Chinese cities. During that time, he explained CAFTA business policies to Chinese enterprises. He also assisted enterprises in identifying their own positions and goals within the framework of the CAFTA, so that their efforts to branch out into Southeast Asian markets would be smooth and stable.

Meanwhile, Xu worked to lead his team in making special contributions to the construction of the CAFTA by discussing the characteristics and advantages of chambers of commerce.

“There’s a large number of chambers of commerce in both China and ASEAN member states,” Xu said. “These organizations are playing an important role in economic development, as well as forming bridges that bond companies, governments and society.”

There have been a lot of connections and efforts to enhance cooperation between the chambers of commerce in China and ASEAN countries. This sort of cooperation is a vital component of state-to-state economic and trade cooperation. It’s a supporting force for intergovernmental cooperation and an important channel for expanding cooperation between enterprises. Relationships and cooperation between Chinese and ASEAN countries’ chambers of commerce have brought strong mutual benefit to the region. It works well for both governments as well as the private sector.

The latest Chinese Ministry of Commerce statistics show that by the end of May 2016, combined two-way investment between China and ASEAN exceeded US$160 billion. ASEAN has become a major destination for Chinese outbound investment in areas of trade, logistics, construction, energy, manufacturing and business services. Xu and his colleagues have made important contributions to these investments.


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Xu Ningning addresses an investment promotion forum.


Advancing the Belt and Road Initiative

“I’ll do whatever is conducive to the development of China-ASEAN economic and trade relations,” Xu said.

In 2013, when Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road Initiative, Xu’s career was entering a new phase.

“The Belt and Road vision has had a major impact on the ASEAN community and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,” Xu said. “The priority of the Belt and Road Initiative is economic cooperation. Economic cooperation is a strong driving force behind the implementation of the Belt and Road, as well as a priority behind the CAFTA. Linking the Belt and Road with the CAFTA meets the common interests of both China and ASEAN countries. We must work hard for its implementation.”

On March 28, 2015, China issued Vision and Actions on Jointly Building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (“Vision and Actions” for short), which included a framework of ideas relating to the Belt and Road.

Xu has represented the Chinese government in presenting these initiatives to officials of ASEAN member states. In 2015, CABC initiated a series of events promoting Vision and Actions, with the first event held in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, and subsequent events in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore.

“Publicity is crucial to sharing the benefits of the Belt and Road,” Xu said. “That is to say, it’s essential for China and ASEAN to further strengthen communication and enhance mutual understanding to better deal with existing issues. That way, we can meet everyone’s interests.”

Xu stressed that as China is the initiator of the Belt and Road Initiative, it has a responsibility to make Vision and Actions accessible to those in ASEAN countries. A key part of this is translating the document into ASEAN languages, according to Xu.

As a trade professional long dedicated to the development of China-ASEAN economic and trade relations, Xu is making it his personal responsibility to contribute to these efforts.

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