Top 10 Stories of China-ASEAN Cooperation in 2021

The year 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations. Despite the protracted pandemic, China-ASEAN cooperation continued strengthening with fruitful results in multiple areas. In collaboration with the Institute of Asian Studies of China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU), China Report ASEAN chose the top 10 stories on China-ASEAN cooperation in 2021 and invited experts and scholars to share views on this unique year.

1The Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations

On November 22, Chinese President Xi Jinping attended and co-hosted a Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations in Beijing via video. He delivered an important speech titled “For a Shared Future and Our Common Home.” It was China’s most important neighborhood diplomatic activity in 2021, and the first time President Xi held a meeting with so many leaders of ASEAN member states.

Expert View | Liu Qing, vice president and senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies

Over the last 30 years, China and ASEAN have grown together and supported each other in creating the miracle of East Asia’s economic take-off. Their cooperation has become the most successful and dynamic model of Asia-Pacific regional cooperation and a vivid example of promoting building a community with a shared future for mankind. The achievements of China-ASEAN cooperation benefit from the unique geographical proximity and cultural bonds between the two sides. Furthermore, the two sides have followed the trends of the times and abided by the principles of mutual respect, win-win cooperation, mutual assistance, inclusiveness and mutual learning.

2Upgrading of China-ASEAN relations benefits both region and world

At the Special Summit to Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations held on November 22, China and ASEAN countriesjointly announced the establishment of the China-ASEAN comprehensive strategic partnership. It was a new milestone in the history of bilateral relations that immediately injected new impetus into regional and world peace, stability, prosperity, and development.

Expert View | Guo Yanjun, director and research fellow at the Institute of Asian Studies at China Foreign Affairs University

The establishment of the China-ASEAN comprehensive strategic partnership showed that political mutual trust between the two sides has reached new heights. Over the last 30 years, the regional and international landscapes have changed dramatically. The two sides have firmly analyzed historical trends and never wavered in their original aspirations to maintain regional stability, promote regional cooperation, and realize common development. 

3Success of the 24th China-ASEAN Summit deepens cooperation

On October 26, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attended the 24th China-ASEAN Summit and delivered a speech outlining six proposals for the next phase of China-ASEAN cooperation: First, to jointly build a line of defense for health. Second, to deepen economic integration. Third, to promote inclusive development. Fourth, to uphold an innovation-driven approach. Fifth, to expand green cooperation. Sixth, to cement the foundation of popular support.

Expert View | Zhai Kun, vice president of the Institute of Area Studies at Peking University

Bilateral cooperation will continue to blossom in multiple areas. In the healthcare sector, China regards ASEAN as its primary cooperation partner in fighting the pandemic. In the economic field, the RCEP will promote the formation of a new pattern of open regional economic development. The two sides are also expected to make new breakthroughs in education. The governments and people of the two sides will work together to promote “soft connectivity” of hearts and minds.

4ASEAN congratulates the Communist Party of China (CPC) on its 100th founding anniversary

On July 1, ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi sent a letter to Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to extend warm congratulations on the 100th anniversary of the CPC’s founding. In the letter, Lim wrote that under the guidance of the foreign policy of the CPC, China has become one of ASEAN’s most substantive and dynamic dialogue partners and that the two sides remain committed to further strengthening the strategic partnership, mutually beneficial cooperation.

Expert View | Lin Yongliang, director and research fellow at the Center for Contemporary World Studies at the CPC Central Committee’s International Department

China and ASEAN countries have conducted intensive exchange of governance experience and strengthened mutual learning. The more they work together, the more it will help both sides continuously optimize and improve their development paths, which will not only benefit their own development, but also make new and greater Asian contributions to the progress of human civilization.

5China and ASEAN earnestly implement the China-ASEAN Public Health Cooperation Initiative

China announced that it’s ready to work with ASEAN countries to jointly build a “health shield” for the region. Under the initiative, China is ready to donate another 150 million doses of COVID vaccines to ASEAN countries to raise vaccination rates in the region. China will contribute an additional US$5 million to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund, step up joint vaccine production and technology transfer, and collaborate on research and development of essential medicines to help ASEAN increase its self-reliance. China will support ASEAN in strengthening primary-level public health systems and cultivating human capital for ASEAN to build stronger capacity to respond to major public health emergencies.

Expert View | Qiao Youlin, professor at Beijing Union Medical College

As of December 2021, China had provided nearly 600 million doses of vaccines to ASEAN countries. China and ASEAN will continue to work together with the purpose of realizing regional economic recovery and common development, uniting, and cooperating to build a China-ASEAN community of health for all.

6China-ASEAN connectivity accelerates with opening of the China-Laos Railway

On December 3, 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a virtual meeting with General Secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) Central Committee and Lao President Thongloun Sisoulith and attended the opening ceremony of the China-Laos Railway via video link. Significant progress has been made in China-ASEAN connectivity projects including completion of the longest-span continuous beam of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway and the launch of the first China-ASEAN freight train from Changsha to Hanoi. 

Expert View | Lu Guangsheng, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Yunnan University

The China-Laos Railway is a landmark project of the Belt and Road Initiative and China-Laos friendship. Its opening will provide important impetus for accelerating construction of the China-Laos Economic Corridor and the China-Laos community with a shared future. It has an obvious role in promoting economic and social development in Laos and connecting the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

7Bilateral trade hits a record high, heralding bright prospects for free trade agreements

In the first 11 months of 2021, China-ASEAN two-way trade increased by 29.8 percent year on year and was projected to set a new record by the end of the year. Total value of deals signed at the 18th China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit reached a record high and increased by 13.7 percent over the previous edition. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement and China-Cambodia Free Trade Agreement will enter into force on January 1, 2022. China-ASEAN economic and trade cooperation will shift to the fast track, which is symbolically significant for regional economic integration and global economic stability.

Expert View | Wang Yuzhu, director of regional cooperation studies at the Institute of Asia-Pacific and Global Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

In 2021, China-ASEAN two-way trade maintained rapid growth despite the impact of the pandemic, demonstrating the great potential of China-ASEAN economic and trade cooperation. On January 1, 2022, the RCEP agreement will go into effect in China and some ASEAN countries, which will inject new vitality into China-ASEAN cooperation under the framework of Belt and Road cooperation.

8Innovative potential for cooperation in digital, blue, and green economies

New industries have emerged endlessly in China and ASEAN, making technology an increasingly important part of bilateral economic and trade cooperation. Huge potential for development of the digital economy has emerged and shown broad market prospects. Consensus on blue economic partnership has increased, and maritime cooperation has made progress. The concept of sustainable development has taken root in the hearts of the people and become a strong driving force for cooperation.

Expert View | Zhu Caihua, professor at the Institute of International Economics, University of International Business and Economics

In 2021, the digital economy, led by mobile payments and e-commerce, became a new driving force for rapid growth of China-ASEAN trade. The two sides continued to promote establishment of a blue economic partnership and increased their commitments to sustainable development and utilization of marine resources. Entry into force of the RCEP agreement will further expand space for cooperation in agriculture (green economy).

9Solid progress in people-to-people exchange forges closer bonds

In 2021, numerous activities such as the China-ASEAN Culture and Tourism Exchange Week, China-ASEAN Education Exchange Week, China-ASEAN Youth Camp, and China-ASEAN Friendly Cooperation Short Video Contest provided more opportunities for the people of China and ASEAN countries to deepen their reciprocal understanding.

Expert View | Yang Yue, deputy director and associate professor at the Institute of Asian Studies at China Foreign Affairs University

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, China and ASEAN continued to carry out offline and online exchanges and made remarkable achievements in fields of education, science and technology, culture, health, think tanks, and youth. Projects in the pipeline include establishment of the China-ASEAN Senior Education Officials’ Meeting Mechanism, an increased quota of the China-ASEAN Young Leaders Scholarship, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics Games, implementation of the China-ASEAN Public Health Cooperation Initiative, and China’s additional contribution to the China-ASEAN Cooperation Fund. All of these activities will contribute to bilateral people-to-people and cultural exchange and cooperation.

10 China-ASEAN Year of Sustainable Development Cooperation boosts bilateral relations

The 2021 China-ASEAN Year of Sustainable Development Cooperation aimed to strengthen cooperation in ecological and environmental protection, disaster prevention and mitigation, climate change response, and poverty reduction to create favorable conditions for sustainable development in the region. More than 20 relevant activities were carried out last year, including the China-ASEAN Environmental Cooperation Week, the China-ASEAN Climate Investment and Financing Dialogue, and the China-ASEAN Regional Mangrove Protection Practice Seminar.

Expert View | Li Xia, section chief of the China-ASEAN Environmental Cooperation Center

China and ASEAN share the same sustainable development goals, such as tackling climate change, biodiversity conservation, and marine debris control. The region is the most sensitive and vulnerable region in terms of the global climate change response, so China and ASEAN conducting low-carbon and green development cooperation is tremendously significant. The year 2022 will be an extension of the Year of Sustainable Development Cooperation, which will inject new impetus to the green, low-carbon and sustainable development in the region.

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