By H.E. Li Keqiang
Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China
Vientiane, 7 September 2016
Your Excellency Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith,
It is a great pleasure to join you in Vientiane as we mark the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations. I wish to thank the Lao government and Prime Minister Thongloun for the elaborate preparations and thoughtful arrangements made for this meeting. I also thank Singapore, the country coordinator for China-ASEAN relations, as well as other ASEAN countries, for their efforts and contribution in growing China-ASEAN relations.
We have just attended the ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations to review the extraordinary path of development of our relations. Since our dialogue relations were established in 1991, China and ASEAN have, holding high the banner of development and cooperation and staying committed to mutual respect, mutual understanding, mutual trust and mutual support, made major strides forward in growing our relations and gained much valuable experience along the way. Development of our relations has effectively promoted peace, stability, prosperity and development in the region. Many colleagues from ASEAN countries have said that among all ASEAN’s dialogue partnerships, relations with China are the most dynamic and most fruitful. I, too, am very much encouraged by the development of our relations.
The past 25 years has witnessed the ever strengthening of our political mutual trust. China is not a country from the ASEAN region, yet it was the first to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the first to unequivocally support ASEAN centrality in regional cooperation, the first to establish strategic partnership with ASEAN, the first to openly state the willingness to sign the protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone and the first to start negotiations with ASEAN on an FTA. These many “firsts” are testimonial to China’s pursuit of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness in its neighborhood diplomacy. They have added up to show China’s strong resolve in developing relations with ASEAN. They are also indicative of the strong will on both sides for cooperation, and they reflect the farsightedness and vision on both sides to lead cooperation in the region.
The past 25 years has seen fruitful results in China-ASEAN practical cooperation. Both sides have given priority to our cooperation with each other. We have steadily improved the cooperation mechanisms and shared development opportunities with each other. In recent years, the two sides have worked actively to align the initiatives of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road with individual national development strategies of the region. As we all know, by now, the negotiations on upgrading the China-ASEAN FTA have completed, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has been set up and the Lancang-Mekong cooperation mechanism has been instituted. Over the past 25 years, the two-way trade volume has gone from $8 billion to $472.2 billion, an increase of almost 60 folds. China has been ASEAN’s biggest trading partner for seven years running and ASEAN has been China’s third largest trading partner for five years in a row. Two-way investment has registered fast and balanced growth with a total amount of $160 billion in accumulative terms. Chinese companies have set up 26 projects in eight ASEAN countries. These projects, being overseas economic and trade cooperation zones in nature, have attracted over 300 Chinese companies, achieving a total investment of $1.77 billion and an output of $9.02 billion. This is a new highlight of China-ASEAN cooperation that has worked for our mutual benefit. Our cooperation in production capacity has made solid steps forward and construction of a number of major projects, including railways, roads and power stations, has been started or completed. Our cultural and people-to-people exchanges have increased day by day, with 180,000 students studying in each other’s countries, and over 23 million mutual visits being made every year. China has by now become ASEAN’s biggest source of tourists. Such cooperation meets our own development needs and has brought tangible benefits to the people of both sides.
Looking ahead, China-ASEAN relations still enjoy vast prospects. China takes ASEAN as a significant force for regional peace and stability, regional integration and also for multi-polarity in the world. China will continue to give priority to ASEAN in its neighborhood diplomacy. China will continue to firmly support ASEAN’s community building, ASEAN’s centrality in regional cooperation as well as ASEAN playing a greater role in international and regional affairs. The theme of ASEAN for this year is “turning vision into reality”. China will work with ASEAN countries to strengthen strategic communication, push forward the implementation of the “2+7 cooperation framework” and enhance cultural and people-to-people exchanges. By so doing, we could inject fresh impetus to our cooperation, jointly build a closer China-ASEAN community of shared destiny and realize the vision of greater peace, stability, development and prosperity in the region.
With our joint efforts, China-ASEAN relations have stood the test of changing international landscape and grown into an exemplary relationship of equality and joint pursuit for development between big and small countries. Looking back at the path we have traveled over the past 25 years, I believe the following points are important for the development of our relations.
Only by upholding mutual trust could we strengthen the foundation of our relations. If we compare China-ASEAN cooperation to a big tree, then political mutual trust is at its root. There is a proverb in the Laos which goes to the effect that when the tree takes deep root, it will be able to defy the swaying of its branches. Over the past 25 years, the two sides have viewed each other in a positive way and taken each other as opportunities rather than challenges for their development. We respected the development paths of each other’s choice and accommodated each other’s major concerns. This has led to a sound situation of equality, mutual trust and mutual support between big and small countries. As a result, the relations between the two sides have stood the test of numerous challenges and shown a vigorous momentum of development.
Only by cherishing genuine friendship could we enrich the soil to sustain growth of our relations. Valuing friendship is part of the culture and tradition in both China and ASEAN. Over the past 25 years, we have managed to stay as good neighbors and good partners helping each other in times of need and in a joint pursuit for common development. We stood with each other to overcome difficulties and challenges, financial crisis, natural disasters and cross-border infectious diseases, to name just a few. What we forged is a genuine friendship that is more precious than gold, and that helps lay the foundation of strong popular support for our relations to grow even further.
Only by pursuing common interests could we strengthen the bond for our relations to grow. Win-win cooperation is the anchor and propeller of our relations. Through the past 25 years of seeking joint development, the two sides have advanced trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, achieved leap-forward progress in business cooperation and made the pie of common interests even larger. As a result, there has formed a pattern of greater interconnection and win-win cooperation, which has benefited the two billion people in our 11 countries. Such cooperation, based on common interests, will be the strongest and longest-lasting of all.
Only by valuing peace and harmony could we ensure overall development of our relations. Nothing can be achieved without a peaceful and stable environment. Both China and ASEAN countries have suffered from war, and that’s how we come to know the importance and value of peace. Over the past 25 years, we have followed the principles of openness, inclusiveness and seeking common ground while shelving differences. We have made popular the idea of good-neighborliness and have stayed committed to properly resolving disputes through dialogue and consultation. As a result, peace and stability have become the main theme of our relations, providing a strong guarantee for the development and cooperation of the region.
These mentioned above represent the political wisdom of leaders of past generations on both sides. They are important experience as well as valuable assets that we need to doubly cherish and carry forward. As long as we stay true to these concepts and principles, we will move China-ASEAN relations toward even greater development.
In recent years, the South China Sea has seen some tension that shouldn’t have been there at all. Yet I am pleased to note that with the joint efforts of both China and ASEAN countries, the situation is moving in a positive direction. The China-ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting held this July issued the Joint Statement on Full and Effective Implementation of the DOC, by which the foreign ministers reaffirmed the efficacy of the framework of regional norms. The statement also reiterated the return to the right track of solving related issues through negotiations and consultations, in order to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and promote common prosperity and development of countries in the region.
It has been proved that the DOC reached between China and ASEAN countries in the spirit of respecting the principles of international law is indeed a feasible norm for countries to follow in the region. For more than a decade, China and ASEAN countries have jointly maintained peace and stability in the South China Sea, and for that to happen, the DOC principle of peacefully settling disputes by countries directly concerned through negotiations and consultations has played a crucial role. China and ASEAN countries are now working actively on COC consultations, in order to properly settle the South China Sea issue and to manage differences, defuse tensions and enhance cooperation pending final settlement of disputes. A basis for COC consultations is the implementation of the DOC. If the DOC is not properly implemented and observed, how could COC consultations be moved forward? The truth is, COC consultations will only move forward in an effective manner when the DOC is truly observed.
Regarding COC consultations, China has proposed four visions, including the prospect of reaching a COC framework by the middle of next year. This speaks fully to China’s good faith and sincerity in working with ASEAN countries to properly handle disputes and jointly uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea. This meeting will adopt the Guidelines for Hotline Communications among Senior Officials of the MFA of China and ASEAN Member States in Response to Maritime Emergencies, and the Joint Statement on the Application of the Code of Unplanned Encounters at Sea in the South China Sea. These will be important steps taken to increase mutual trust and confidence, lower risks at sea and safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Peace and stability in the South China Sea is simply indispensable when we talk about development of countries in the region. As countries in the region, we are the ones that benefit the most from a peaceful South China Sea, and we will all stand to suffer if peace is ruined here. History and reality have proved time and again that the South China Sea will be peaceful and stable only when we, countries in the region, take the key to problems firmly in our own hands. China stands ready to work with ASEAN countries to remove disturbances and properly handle the South China Sea issue in the spirit of the DOC and consistent with the “dual track” approach. So long as we keep in mind the long-term interests and work together, we will rise above differences and make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation that benefits all countries in the region.
Currently, the world economy is experiencing weak recovery, and problems of terrorism, refugees and geopolitical risks are on the rise. Globalization has run into setbacks and there have been growing distablizing factors and uncertainties in the international landscape. Against such backdrop, East Asia has on the whole maintained vigorous growth and social stability, and made steady progress in its integration process. It stands out as the most dynamic and promising region in the world. China will work with ASEAN to seize opportunities, overcome obstacles and build and grow our relations for the benefit of people in the region. To make it happen, I wish to propose the following:
First, let’s write a new chapter of China-ASEAN relations. China has now entered a decisive stage for completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects, while ASEAN is implementing its ASEAN Community Vision 2025. This provides an opportunity for us to keep moving to the overall direction of bilateral relations, better align our development goals and paths and build an even closer China-ASEAN community of shared future. China welcomes the Joint Statement to Commemorate the 25th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Dialogue Relations as adopted at this summit. The two sides may work under the guidance of the 2+7 cooperation framework and the third Action Plan for the China-ASEAN strategic partnership to deepen cooperation across the board and steadily expand common interests. China will continue to support regional cooperation programs for Asia, especially for the ASEAN region. China also wishes to be an active part in celebrations for the 50th anniversary of ASEAN and we wish ASEAN even greater development.
Second, let’s build a new platform for cooperation on political and security issues. China wants to discuss with ASEAN countries an early conclusion of a treaty of good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation, which will provide a legal and institutional framework for our friendship to go forward. China supports ASEAN’s efforts to build a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Southeast Asia. If ASEAN intends to sign a protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asian Nuclear-weapon-free Zone respectively with the nuclear weapon countries, China could be the first to put its signature on the document. We may also institutionalize, at an early date, the informal meeting between China-ASEAN defense ministers to enhance our defense and military interactions. We may build on last year’s success of a first ministerial dialogue on law enforcement and security cooperation to make this mechanism even more practical. Just a few days ago, the Davao City of the Philippines has suffered a terrorist bombing attack that caused many casualties. China strongly condemns terrorist attacks against innocent civilians and firmly opposes terrorism in any form. We may also establish a special committee on long-term counter-terrorism cooperation to jointly meet the rising non-traditional security threats such as cross-border crimes and terrorism, with the view to upholding peace and stability at both the regional and international levels.
Third, let’s foster new impetus to business cooperation. The protocol to upgrade China-ASEAN Free Trade Area was signed last year and came into effect this July. It is time that we step up efforts to deliver the outcomes and enhance the liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment. China hopes to welcome ASEAN leaders at the upcoming 13th China-ASEAN Expo through which to strengthen our trade and investment links. China is willing to work with ASEAN countries in building the “Belt and Road”. We could synergize our development plans and vigorously, effectively and in an orderly fashion work to enhance our connectivity through major projects like the China-Laos railway, China-Thailand railway and Jakarta-Bandung railway. We could work out a strategic plan for transport cooperation and a document for cooperation on transport science and technologies. China welcomes the Joint Statement on Production Capacity Cooperation to be issued by the meeting, and will deepen industrial cooperation with ASEAN countries to achieve a higher level of industrialization. China supports the building of a China-ASEAN information port, and hopes that an action plan for deepening the China-ASEAN partnership for common development in the ICT field (2017-2021) could be formulated at an early date.
Fourth, let’s make people-to-people exchanges a new pillar for cooperation. Friendship between the people holds the key to state-to-state relations. China will work with ASEAN countries to make people-to-people ties a third pillar for our relations, in addition to the two pillars of political and security cooperation and business cooperation. This year is the China-ASEAN Year of Educational Exchange, in which we have successfully run events like the 9th Education Cooperation Week and the second Education Ministers’ Roundtable Conference. These activities have boosted our interactions and cooperation in education, culture and between the youth. We may further enhance people-to-people ties with education and tourism being a priority of cooperation. China has proposed an upgraded version of the “Double 100,000 plan” to bring our student exchanges to 300,000 person times by 2025. To meet this goal, China will set up “China-ASEAN maritime silk road scholarships”, and provide 1,000 to ASEAN students next year. It is hoped that a China-ASEAN action plan on education cooperation (2016-2020) could be worked out at an early date. China applauds making 2017 the China-ASEAN Year of Tourism Cooperation. We could discuss a plan for tourism cooperation and set a target to achieve 30 million mutual visits by 2020. China looks forward to an early entry-into-force of the newly signed MOU on the ASEAN-China Center and hopes that the center will play an even greater role in enhancing our people-to-people interactions.
Fifth, let’s work together to open up new prospects for regional cooperation. The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation initiative, put forward by the Chinese side at the 17th China-ASEAN Summit in response to Thailand’s idea, is aimed at narrowing development gaps among ASEAN members, and could well be a new highlight in China-ASEAN cooperation. The first LMC leaders’ meeting, held this March in Sanya, identified the three cooperation pillars of political and security issues, economic and sustainable development and people-to-people exchanges, as well as the five key priority areas of connectivity, production capacity, cross-border economic cooperation, water resources, agriculture and poverty reduction. China came up with a number of initiatives at the meeting, and 45 early harvest projects, such as establishment of the Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation center, were agreed upon. These initiatives and projects are now being actively implemented. The special fund for LMC cooperation has officially been launched and will be used for cooperation on related programs between countries in the sub-region.
If we could call the past 25 years as a period of growth for China-ASEAN relations, I believe the coming 25 years will be a period of maturity for our relations, in which we could move our relations from fast development to growth of higher quality at higher levels. Of course, we would embrace new opportunities as well as new challenges along the way. As we say in China, distance tests the strength of a horse, and time reveals the true character of a person. China will work hand in hand and in good faith with ASEAN countries. Let’s build on what we have achieved and do what we can to promote even broader and deeper growth of China-ASEAN relations in the next 25 years, thus making even greater contribution to enduring peace and common prosperity of the region and beyond.