By Huang Xilian
The Jakarta Channel as a new concept in China-ASEAN relations was officially announced by Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in September 2018 when he met with a visiting delegation from the Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN and ASEAN Secretariat in Beijing. In his remarks, Wang gave full recognition to the “Jakarta Channel” and indicated high expectations for it to play a bigger role in growing China-ASEAN relationship.
Concept & Role
It is not surprising that the term emerged from the China-ASEAN lexicon. Since its establishment in 1991, China-ASEAN relationship has played a pioneering role in ASEAN’s relations with dialogue partners. China was the first country to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), the first to support ASEAN centrality in regional cooperation in explicit terms, the first to establish a strategic partnership with ASEAN and the first to sign an FTA with ASEAN. Together, China and ASEAN have set an example of jointly upholding multilateralism and seeking common development through mutual respect and win win cooperation.
Furthermore, through consultation via the Jakarta Channel last year, the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 was completed as a key outcome document of the 21st ASEAN-China Summit. It made China ASEAN’s first dialogue partner to map out a medium and long-term vision for the relationship going forward.
To broaden the scope of the Jakarta Channel, the Chinese Mission to ASEAN and the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to ASEAN as the coordinator of China-ASEAN relations, co-founded the “Jakarta Forum on China-ASEAN Relations” (“Jakarta Forum” for short) with enthusiastic support from the ASEAN Secretariat. It aims to stimulate discussions and innovative ideas, identify new growth areas and pool wisdom and resources towards building a regional community with a shared future. The forum was inaugurated with a theme of East Asia Financial Cooperation in early March, which resulted in a stronger resolve to facilitate closer regional financial cooperation and firm commitment to the rules-based multilateral trading system.
The Jakarta Channel, in broader terms, refers to the multilateral platform of East Asia cooperation, with Jakarta (the home of the ASEAN Secretariat) as the headquarter, supported by mechanisms led by ASEAN and the extensive network of ASEAN and its dialogue partners. In recent years, growing dynamism and a more significant role of the Jakarta Channel have resulted in substantial increases in resources from various partners including human capital and cooperation projects, with a common goal of advancing regional cooperation and reinforcing regional stability and development. Among the many tasks at hand, drafting outcome documents of leaders meetings is now taking a bigger share. In recent years, more than two thirds of the outcome documents under ASEAN Plus One, ASEAN Plus Three, and the East Asia Summit were negotiated and completed via the Jakarta Channel. From poverty alleviation to smart cities, from marine environmental protection to counter-terrorism and combating transnational crimes, the Jakarta Channel is gaining increasing weight both regionally and globally as a platform for upholding multilateralism and enhancing cooperation on regional governance, setting or improving codes of conduct, and nurturing shared values.
Philosophy & Ethos
The Jakarta Channel champions multilateralism with East Asian characteristics, featuring established principles governing state-to-state interactions including ASEAN centrality, equality, consensus, mutual learning and shared benefits, to name only a few. These principles are rooted in the traditions, cultures and values that countries in this region proudly share such as mutual respect, seeking common ground while preserving differences, openness, inclusiveness and mutual assistance. These are unique features underlying the multilateral approach of the Jakarta Channel, and the spirit we uphold in regional cooperation.
For years, guided by these beliefs, we have worked together to counter challenges and difficulties, enhance friendship and mutual trust through cooperation and mutual learning, and properly handle differences and expand consensus. Through joint efforts, the Jakarta Channel has become a model for multilateralism. What is happening in the Jakarta Channel is not a solo or a duet, but a symphony of extensive participation, joint contributions and shared benefits.
Opportunities & Challenges
The decades of peace, stability and growth in East Asia can be attributed not only to the diligence and wisdom of the people, but also to the process of economic globalization, free trade, regional cooperation and multilateralism. This has been the case in the past and will remain so in the future.
Yet amid dynamic changes in global and regional landscapes, uncertainty and elements of instability—in particular the headwinds of unilateralism, protectionism and power politics—are stronger than ever. Multilateralism is under great threat.
A superpower, for whom hegemony is the usual practice, apparently believes it has been taken advantage of by every other country in the world. It excuses itself for exercising maximum pressure on others through weaponizing tariffs and other coercive and protectionist measures at the expense of the existing international rules, order and the multilateral trading system that it once claimed to hold so dearly.
In order to prevent others from getting ahead, it targets foreign private companies and exerts disproportionate state power under the name of “national security threat.” By fabricating stories, it seeks to deceive its own people and force others to join its league. Ironically, one of its highest-ranking officials who bragged that they “lied, cheated and stole” has been busy traveling around the world selling these “universal values.”
While it is hard to say whether such “universal values” are losing traction, multilateralism is certainly under severe threat. And it is already crystal clear from whence comes the threat. If such arbitrary deeds and use of maximum pressure are considered fair game, the world will return to the era of dark forests ruled by jungle law, and the final toll will be paid by each and every country. Should such a scenario occur, big countries may have some room to maneuver, but small and medium-sized countries and the multilateralism they rely on would take the heaviest blow.
In these circumstances, the Jakarta Channel is even more valuable, and its multilateral spirit with East Asian characteristics is even more relevant in today’s world. Recently, a growing number of countries, especially regional countries, have made their common voice heard, whether at the just-concluded ASEAN Plus Three Senior Officials Meeting, Shangri-La Dialogue or the Future of Asia conference, among other multilateral fora. They expressed clear opposition to unilateralism and protectionism and voiced strong support for free trade and multilateralism.
We are now at a crossroads, and our future hinges on what we believe in and act upon. It is the call of our times that the Jakarta Channel play a bigger role and shoulder greater responsibility in championing and defending multilateralism for our future and for generations to come.