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China-ASEAN share the same vision

The opening ceremony of the 15th China-ASEAN Expo and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in Nanning, south China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region on Sept. 12, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

The Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN), founded in 1967, now comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

For the last nine years, China has been its largest trading partner, while providing the third largest market for ASEAN; the two-way trade volume is now about US$500 billion, six times what it was when the China-ASEAN strategic partnership was initiated in 2003.

Over the last 15 years, mutual investment has totaled more than $200 billion, while 400,000 enterprises have been established through direct investment, and 300, 000 jobs created.

Launching the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, China made sizable investments in infrastructure to revive and expand economic ties along the old Silk Road and beyond. In the process, it also helped in reducing the massive infrastructure development gaps across the two continents of Asia and Africa.

Boosting industrial development in the ASEAN countries was also top priority as these are valued business destinations for China. In addition, they contribute stability in their geo-strategic zone. Consequently, ASEAN remains at the very heart of the Maritime Silk Road under the BRI linking Asia, Africa and Europe through both land and sea routes.

Becoming a bridge between the dynamic economies of China and ASEAN, the BRI has provided improved technology and services for this potentially fast-growing economic bloc to enhance their accessibility with railway networks.

Added to maritime links, these rail routes will create new opportunities for production and distribution across the 10-member states. In turn, improved connectivity benefits the local tourism industry with modern amenities, while the upgrading of ports and roads helps improve resource distribution and market integration.

Basically, having under-invested in the field of infrastructure ever since the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s, the region contains several poorly-developed countries even though rich in resources. Lagging in industrial development, this has pegged back economic growth as a whole across ASEAN.

Hoo Ee Khor, from the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO), says: "They have been investing 2.5 percent when they should have been at six percent – so there's a gap of 3.5 percentage points."

Lately, the region has been discussing an ASEAN Master Plan for Connectivity (AMPC) which complements the BRI as it aims to promote better transport connectivity. Entrenching the trade-embedded China-ASEAN relationship further, APMC fits well with China's outreach policy, making it possible for both networks to function in tandem.

Recently, in Singapore, the economic ministers of China and ASEAN countries re-affirmed their trade ties and welcomed the Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 statement to be adopted at the ASEAN-China Summit in November.

Notably, the complementary attributes of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity and the BRI were appreciated. Opening up the Chinese market further, the China-International Import Expo will be held in Shanghai in early November. Thus, the future looks promising for the China-ASEAN relationship as there is ample room to grow together.

Potentially, the successful implementation of these trade initiatives could allow the ASEAN to surpass the European Union (EU) as China's largest trading partner in coming years.

Amid such a vibrant economic scenario, the BRI is vital for growth as it helps to develop new economic zones. Investing in the latest infrastructure, China is playing a key role in promoting greater inter-continental links.

According to DBS research strategist Chris Leung, the BRI will have a positive impact on the ASEAN countries. He predicts, "Southeast Asia will be the first to reap economic benefits from this mega-trend."

Mutual trust and cooperation will remain the most important factor in ensuring that the BRI gives results as projected. With ties on an upward trajectory, people-to-people links are constantly increasing. Not only do students from ASEAN countries receive the largest numbers of Chinese government scholarships, the bilateral exchange of personnel surpassed 30 million in 2016.

Having had no major strategic or political divergences, the ASEAN countries are an example of China's successful multilateral diplomacy. In the coming years, the China-ASEAN cooperation framework will be upgraded with a free trade agreement and special focus on political security, economy and trade, and people to people links.

Sabena Siddiqui is a foreign affairs journalist and lawyer based in Pakistan.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of  Editor:Lucky

(Source_title:China-ASEAN share the same vision)