China-ASEAN links stressed for regional recovery

China-ASEAN links stressed for regional recovery

The two sides must work closely to bolster economic integration and promote sustainable post-pandemic growth, forum hears

China and member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations need to work together and strengthen regional integration to promote economic recovery in the post-pandemic era, an international forum heard on Dec 16.

Senior officials, top business leaders and experts who participated in the Global Chinese Economic and Technology Summit, or GCET, discussed the need to develop both physical and digital infrastructure and to invest more on renewable energy in line with global climate commitments.

Noting that ASEAN is now China’s biggest trading partner, they said the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will take effect on Jan 1, together with China-led previous initiatives like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative, will further strengthen diplomatic and economic ties between two sides.

The GCET, an annual international event organized by the KSI Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific, was held at the Shangri-La Rasa Sayang resort in Malaysia’s Penang state. The forum on “Promoting Business, Cultural and Digital Economy Cooperation and Diplomacy” took place both online and offline.

“Despite the pandemic and a slowdown of economic growth, Chinese market has been becoming much more open for international investors and companies,” Fan Gang, president of the China Development Institute and director of China’s National Economic Research Institute, said in his welcome speech delivered via video link.

“There are risks and difficulties we need to discuss. But it is also the time for us to think of how to explore and utilize all the new opportunities ahead,” said Fan, adding that the RCEP, touted as the world’s biggest free trade pact, could “provide great … opportunities for all of us”.

China’s Ambassador to Malaysia Ouyang Yujing said in his special address that China will share many development opportunities with other countries. He also talked about China’s relations with Malaysia and how both countries agreed to cooperate to support economic recovery and promote digital economy and the green economy.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said his country is a “firm believer of free, fair and open trade” and that the nation’s signing of the RCEP agreement “signifies Malaysia’s commitment to regional integration while boosting economic activity”.

Ismail Sabri, who delivered his opening address via video link, said Malaysia is the first ASEAN country to formalize diplomatic relations with China in 1974 and that bilateral ties have flourished since then. He said China is one Malaysia’s biggest investors and export markets and that the economic cooperation was strengthened with the signing of a 5-year program for economic and trade cooperation and the BRI.

Jusuf Kalla, former vice president of Indonesia, said in his video address that the global economy will recover through cooperation and participation of all.

Zhang Xiaoqiang, executive vice chairman of the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges and former vice minister of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, said in his speech that the Chinese diaspora is an important element for the development of China’s economy.

ASEAN countries are home to some of the world’s biggest ethnic Chinese communities and part of the global Chinese diaspora.

“We are willing to work together with other Chinese (community) organizations to exchange our ideas and to strengthen our relationship and cooperation in this post pandemic environment,” Zhang said in a video address.

Experts and business leaders also gathered online to talk about “The Rise of Dragon - China’s Role in Post Pandemic World Economy” in the forum’s first panel discussion.

Chheang Vannarith, president of Asia Vision Institute in Cambodia, talked about ASEAN’s efforts to develop clean energy and how China can help the region develop clean energy technology. He said that China can also help in developing digital infrastructure in the region.

The pandemic did not stop the construction of huge projects in Cambodia and Laos, Vannarith said, citing the recent launch of the China-Laos railway.

Vannarith is “very optimistic” about China-ASEAN relations, saying China will be “more essential” for regional development and prosperity.

“We need to do a multi-layer, multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder partnership, so that our partnership will be sustainable, inclusive, and resilient,” he said.

Danny Alexander, vice president for policy and strategy at AIIB, said there is a “strong focus on the infrastructure that is needed to enable connectivity and to enable recovery to take place in a green (environmentally-sustainable) way”.

“(We need to) recognize that the action that we take in this decade … is absolutely critical to achieving the financial flows that are necessary to the developing world,” Alexander said.

Din Syamsuddin, chairman of the Jakarta-based Centre for Dialogue and Cooperation among Civilizations, said Indonesians are “delighted to see the two countries — Indonesia and China — to be in close relationship and cooperation” and that they aim to promote more people-to-people dialogue.

Wang Huiyao, counselor to China’s State Council and president of the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization; Felix Sutter, president, Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce; Yan Lijin, chairman of Silk Road International Foundation / China Silk Road Group; Stephen Lai, strategic adviser to Penang State Minister for Trade, Industry and Entrepreneur Development and chairman of the Malaysia-China-Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Technology and Innovation Alliance; and Jonathan Choi, chairman of the Sunwah Group of Hong Kong and Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay Area Entrepreneurs Union, participated in the discussion.

The discussion was moderated by Steve Howard, secretary general of the Australia-based Global Foundation.