Journal

Work Together to Build a Community of Common Future and Open Up New Prospects for East Asian Cooperation

Wang Yajun Director General of the Policy Planning Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China
The year 2015 has been an unusual year in the history of international relations, a year of intranquility for many parts of the world. As the international community commemorates the 70th anniversary of the victory of the World War against Fascism and the founding of the United Nations with the yearning for peace and development, the world is still overshadowed by sluggish economy, geopolitical turmoils and terrorist attacks.
 
On the other hand, the world is once again looking to the East, where regional cooperation in East Asia has made big strides as evidenced by the smooth progress of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the resumption of the China-Japan-ROK Summit, the convocation of APEC and EAS meetings, the establishment of the Lancang-Mekong River Cooperation Mechanism and the upgrading of the China-ASEAN FTA. From Boao at the beginning of the year to Kuala Lumpur toward the end of year, the progress of East Asian cooperation has been truly remarkable.
 
Interests are more closely integrated. Despite the increasing downward pressure on the world economy, the East Asian economy continues to lead the world this year, growing at a pace of about 6.5% and contributing to 40% of the world economic growth. This has been made possible by more integrated and upgraded industrial and value chains. China is ASEAN's largest trading partner and ASEAN is China's third biggest trading partner. Two-way trade in the first ten months of the year approximated US$380 billion. During the ASEAN+China leaders' meeting, the two sides signed the Protocol to upgrade China-ASEAN FTA. Building on the zero-tariff treatment to nearly 95% of goods provided in previous FTA agreement, the Protocol has included further steps to enhance trade and investment facilitation and open up the service sector, and identified cross-border e-commerce as a new area of cooperation. China and 16 ASEAN countries issued the RCEP Leaders' Joint Declaration, which signals substantive progress in RCEP negotiations and commits to complete negotiations by 2016. This modern, comprehensive, high-standard, mutually beneficial free trade agreement will put half of the world population, who enjoys one-third of the world economy, in one and same economic bloc. Regional integration will stay vigorous when it unleashes economic vitality and improves people's wellbeing. East Asian cooperation, which meets people's aspiration and expands common interests, is an unstoppable trend.
 
Cooperation is expanded into wider areas. With varying development levels, East Asian countries have much to offer each other. Regional cooperation has been expanded from exchange of goods to the entire industrial chain. On the ASEAN part, most countries need to promote industrialization, modernization and infrastructure development, which calls for funding and technological support. China, on its part, has become a huge consumer market and exporter of capital and production capacity thanks to decades of reform and development. It now plays a bigger role in strengthening regional connectivity and cooperation on production capacity and finance. Two-way investment between China and ASEAN has exceeded US$150 billion in accumulative terms. The Belt and Road initiative provides an important platform for cooperation between China and regional countries in all areas. As things stand now, ASEAN+3 cooperation covers 24 areas. About 230 projects have been successfully launched since 2014, ranging from traditional areas of economy and trade to finance, food, connectivity, energy, maritime affairs and people-to-people and cultural exchange.
 
Institutional drive is stronger. As the main avenue for East Asian cooperation, the ASEAN+3 cooperation mechanisms have grown to more than 60, including 17 ministerial meeting mechanisms. The institutional framework of East Asian cooperation has been improved in both quantity and quality terms. The ASEAN Summit has announced that the ASEAN Community underpinned by the Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Socio-Cultural Community will be established at the end of this year, representing a breakthrough in regional integration. The China-Japan-ROK Summit was resumed after a suspension of three years and reached important consensus on advancing trilateral cooperation. This is yet another significant event in East Asian cooperation. If relevant country could go along with the historical trend and properly handle the sensitive issues in its relations with neighboring countries, East Asian cooperation would have two wheels, namely ASEAN and China-Japan-ROK, supported by sound interaction between Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, the two major groups of countries in the regional. On the sub-regional level, the first Foreign Ministers' Meeting on Lancang-Mekong River Cooperation between China and relevant countries was held in China. This will consolidate the institutional basis of East Asian cooperation.
 
The trend of the times keeps moving forward. The above-mentioned progress of East Asian cooperation, which meets the aspiration of people in the region for peace, development and cooperation, is a result of a natural process. And meanwhile, it has by no means come easily. As a matter of fact, it has been made possible by overcoming disturbances and focusing on cooperation. In recent period, some countries in and outside the region have upgraded military alliances, amended constitution for military build-up or stirred up troubles on the sea, adding factors of instability and uncertainty to the situation in East Asia. Media hype-up around these issues, be it intentional or otherwise, have created noises of various kinds that continue to disturb East Asian cooperation.
 
II
 
Looking back on the fruitful achievements in East Asian cooperation in the past year, people may wonder how various parties in East Asia have managed to go beyond disturbances and obstacles and stay committed to East Asian prosperity along the right track of East Asian cooperation. Success depends on following the right direction and path. Both the region's history and reality show that the path of East Asian cooperation must take root in Asian culture, serve Asian goals and meet Asian needs.
 
First, keep to the Asian direction of peaceful development. Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue partnership. These 25 years have been a crucial period in East Asian cooperation and a golden period of remarkable economic and social progress in East Asia. One important experience is that East Asian countries have followed the post-Cold War trend, developed mutual trust and cooperation, and ushered in a new era of peaceful development. The experience of East Asia shows that the prosperity of a region and the success of regional cooperation are, to a large extent, determined by whether countries could keep to the fundamental principles of refraining from political instability, military confrontation, economic self-isolation and cultural exclusion.
 
Second, uphold the Asian model of inclusiveness. Pluralistic political systems, multi-speed development and cultural diversity are often seen as challenges in regional cooperation. These, however, are both the basis and characteristics of East Asian cooperation. Recognizing their differences and diversity, countries in the region have embraced an inclusive approach, instead of following one single set of values while rejecting everything else. Such an approach is a lighthouse that guides East Asian cooperation. Countries treat each other as equals, respect and tolerate each other, and accommodate each other's comfort level. They decide on affairs within the scope of their sovereignty by themselves and consult with each other on issues affecting all countries. Such an Asian way of engagement is along the same line as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence initiated by China and other Asian countries and the widely recognized ASEAN code of conduct. It could also inspire countries with different social systems, development levels and religions as they cooperate with each other.
 
Third, stay committed to the Asian vision of win-win cooperation. A country could not choose its neighbors but can choose how to live with its neighbors. From ASEAN to ASEAN+3, RCEP negotiations (ASEAN+6) and East Asia Summit (ASEAN+8), the concentric circles are expanding in both scope and substance. Cooperation between ASEAN and China-Japan-ROK started with their joint efforts in addressing the Asian financial crisis. With their combined population, GDP and trade accounting for 57%, 88% and 50% of the Asia's total respectively, ASEAN+3 is undoubtedly the most mature cooperation architecture in East Asia. The parties of ASEAN+3 have grown into a community of shared interests and common future. They support each other like passengers in the same boat rather than introduce the "beggar thy neighbor" policy that undermines each other's efforts. They strive to build momentum for expanding cooperation while avoiding creating troubles that escalate tensions. They seek win-win cooperation while rejecting the "winner takes all" approach. And they work together to uphold common interests, overcome common challenges and undertake common responsibilities. This is the rule guiding East Asian cooperation. It is also the shared responsibility of all parties.
 
China has insisted practicing the above principles and ideas, and spared no efforts in promoting the sound development of East Asian cooperation. The ASEAN+China (10+1) cooperation has been leading the regional integration process. Over the past 10-plus years, China has been the first non-ASEAN country to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the first to establish a strategic partnership for peace and prosperity with ASEAN, the first to build the world's largest FTA of developing countries, and the first to complete negotiations on an upgraded FTA with ASEAN. All these have generated positive energy and magnetic effects for East Asian cooperation. In 2015, China and ASEAN held the first China-ASEAN Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting in China, the first China-ASEAN Ministerial Dialogue on Law Enforcement and Security Cooperation, and the Year of China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation. Moreover, the two sides have accelerated efforts to advance the "Belt and Road" initiative and made progress in production capacity cooperation. And the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has been in operation. All these have played a constructive role in promoting regional cooperation.
 
III
 
The world economy is in the middle of deep adjustment. East Asian countries are at a crucial stage of development. According to the economist Stephen Roach, Asia's potential does not come from the development of a number of countries, but from the benefits of pan-Asia integration. As a Chinese saying goes, a boat sailing against the current must forge ahead or it will be pushed back. If China and other parties in East Asia could tap their potential and form synergy, it will add new impetus to their own development, regional cooperation and world peace and stability.
 
First, cultivate the awareness of a community of shared interests and a community of common future. Over 2,000 years ago, China and its Asian neighbors started trading goods and engaging in mutually beneficial cooperation both on land and on the sea along what was known as the Silk Road. We are as wise as our ancestors, if not more, and should carry forward and enrich this cultural legacy in keeping with the times. We need to expand converging interests and nurture new areas of cooperation to deliver tangible benefits to people in our countries and pass on our friendship to future generations. At the same time, we need to bear in mind the larger interest of peace and stability in the region, properly manage differences and disputes and take good care of the hard-won favorable situation in East Asia. Undergoing economic structural reform, China still contributes to nearly one third of global growth this year. As it implements the 13th Five-Year Plan, it will bring more and better opportunities to East Asian countries.
 
Second, strengthen the two forces of ASEAN centrality and major-country interactions. We need to continue to support ASEAN centrality in East Asian cooperation and increase assistance to underdeveloped ASEAN countries in order to narrow the development gap within ASEAN and support the building of the ASEAN Community. We should also advance the consultations on a treaty of good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation between China and ASEAN countries. The important consensus reached at the China-Japan-ROK Summit should be implemented to steadily advance cooperation between the three countries and fire the engine of economic cooperation between the three major East Asian economies so as to take forward regional cooperation as a whole. We need to work hard to realize the goal of building an East Asia Economic Community by 2020 to make new contribution to the development of mankind.
 
Third, set in motion the two wheels of economic development and political security. We must make real efforts toward economic integration and focus on the goal of development that is of utmost importance to most countries in the region. At the same time, we need to enhance cooperation on political security and strive to build an open and stable architecture for security cooperation that is consistent with the reality on the ground and accepted by all countries in the region. We need to work hard to complete RCEP negotiations by 2016, implement the outcomes of the negotiations on upgrading China-ASEAN FTA, improve connectivity, maintain regional financial stability and promote regional economic integration. We should take the summit commemorating the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relationship as an opportunity to deepen political trust, uphold the Asian concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, regularize the China-ASEAN Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting, and strengthen non-traditional security cooperation in transnational crimes, terrorism and disaster management. The issue of South China Sea is not an issue between China and ASEAN. Nor should it be placed at the center of  China's relations with relevant Southeast Asian countries. Relevant disputes must be peacefully resolved through negotiation and consultation.
 
Fourth, uphold the two principles of openness and inclusiveness and regionalism. Openness and inclusiveness means that all constructive initiatives that are conducive to peace and stability, common development, solidarity and cooperation of regional countries are to be welcomed. Regionalism means that efforts must be made to independently explore a path of regional cooperation in keeping with the reality of the region. The cause of peace and development in East Asia, based on the region’s historical traditions and realistic conditions, depends ultimately on the efforts of the people in the region. Having moved beyond the confrontation of regional blocs, East Asian cooperation has taken off on a good start. Any attempt to go against the historical trend is doomed to fail. Today, the world is turning its eyes to East Asia. We must stay committed to open regionalism, take destiny in our own hands, create our shared future with wisdom and confidence, and continue to write success stories of regional cooperation in the 21st century.       
 
 
Wang Yajun is Director General of the Policy Planning Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.

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