Working Hand in Hand for a Brighter Future of East Asian Cooperation
It is a great pleasure for me to come back to Southeast Asia as the annual leaders' meetings on East Asian cooperation are about to open in Bangkok. This is my third visit to Thailand, the "Land of Smiles", as Chinese Premier. Coming to Thailand gives me a heart-warming feeling of visiting a relative or a close neighbor. I wish to express my appreciation to Thailand for its efforts in organizing the meetings, and I look forward to renewing friendship with other leaders and jointly discussing ways to promote East Asian cooperation.
East Asia is a place we all call home. I am pleased to see the strong momentum of East Asian cooperation, and, in particular, the dynamism and vibrancy of China-ASEAN cooperation, which leads ASEAN's cooperation with other countries. China has been ASEAN's biggest trading partner for ten years in a row, and ASEAN has risen to the second place among China's trading partners this year. More and more specialty products of Southeast Asian countries, such as durian from Thailand and Malaysia, banana from the Philippines, rice from Cambodia, coffee from Vietnam and palm oil from Indonesia, are entering Chinese households. Quality products made in China, such as smart phones, home appliances and toys, are also popular in ASEAN countries.
East Asia is also an important engine for world economic growth. In the past 70-odd years after the end of the Second World War, East Asia has maintained overall peace and stability and achieved an economic miracle that has impressed the world. In 2018, the ASEAN member states, China, Japan and the ROK together accounted for 27 percent of global GDP and 26 percent of global trade, and contributed close to 60 percent of global growth, with China alone accounting for more than 30 percent. Together, we successfully managed the impact of two financial crises, promoted liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment, and deepened regional economic integration, turning East Asia into one of the most dynamic and promising regions in the world.
That said, mounting downward pressure on the world economy and rising protectionism and unilateralism have brought new challenges to East Asia's development. How to fend off risks, maintain economic growth, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation and enhance the well-being of our peoples is a question that we all need to ponder about.
We can perhaps draw the following inspirations from the journey of East Asian cooperation and development.
– Only by maintaining peace and stability can we lay the bedrock for development and prosperity. Endeavoring to enhance unity and mutual assistance, the ASEAN member states have succeeded in building the first sub-regional community in Asia's history and created the widely applauded "ASEAN miracle". China, on its part, has pursued the path of peaceful development, followed a neighborhood policy of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness, and advocated and promoted a new vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. The political trust between China and its neighbors has been deepening, and China has acted as a staunch force for peace and stability in the region. In keeping with the principles of openness, inclusiveness, mutual respect, dialogue and consultation, China and ASEAN have worked closely together to build an ASEAN-centered regional cooperation architecture that has served as a cornerstone for peace, stability and prosperity of East Asia.
– Only by promoting openness and cooperation can we achieve win-win outcomes. China's reform and opening-up has not only catalyzed its own development, but also created important opportunities for the rest of the world, especially ASEAN and other neighboring countries. China was the first to launch FTA negotiations with ASEAN, and the two sides have established the world's biggest FTA among developing countries. This FTA was further upgraded this year to spell out improved rules of origin, enhanced market access and expanded areas of cooperation. China and the ASEAN member states are working together to advance the negotiations on a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), with the aim of building an FTA with the largest population, the most diverse membership and the biggest potential, and cultivating a more open Asian market. We are working together for a higher level of connectivity through high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. Taking a train from Kunming to Bangkok will become a reality in the not too distant future. We are also working together to foster an open, cooperative and non-discriminatory environment for innovation. We will seize the opportunity of the China-ASEAN Year of Digital Economy Cooperation in 2020 to enhance cooperation on 5G communications, artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things and smart city and share the convenience brought by science, technology and innovation.
– By enhancing cultural and people-to-people exchanges we will further cement the bond of friendship between us. The ancient maritime Silk Road opened more than two thousand years ago witnessed the bustling scene of numerous merchant ships setting sail both ways, showing flourishing trade and lively exchanges between China and Southeast Asia. Not long ago, President Xi Jinping awarded China's Friendship Medal to HRH Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in Beijing for her outstanding contribution to China-Thailand friendship, marking a new culminating moment in China's friendly association with Thailand and ASEAN as a whole. More and more ordinary people are also becoming envoys of friendship as interactions grow even closer. Right now, nearly 4,500 flights travel between China and ASEAN countries every week; the number of mutual visits reached 57 million last year. Southeast Asia is the most popular tourist destination for Chinese visitors; Thailand alone received more than 10 million visits last year. Close to 100,000 students from ASEAN countries are now studying in China. We expect more to follow with the support of the China-ASEAN Young Leaders Scholarship launched this year. In China, we say, "A close neighbor can be more helpful than a distant relative." The close ties and kinship shared by China and Thailand will help bring China and all ASEAN countries closer and make us truly a family with a shared future.
– By adhering to dialogue and consultation we will expand areas of consensus. The East Asian culture values peace, understanding and harmony, and the ASEAN Way stresses consensus building and accommodating each other's comfort levels. Our cultural affinity predisposes both sides to handle issues and differences through dialogue and consultation. Admittedly, disputes do exist between China and some ASEAN countries over territory and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea. Yet such disputes have not hindered the growth of China-ASEAN relations; in fact, they presented an area where we can work together. We are jointly promoting the full implementation of the DOC and advancing consultations on the code of conduct. Last year, I proposed that we conclude the COC in three years' time by the end of 2021, drawing a positive response from various parties. The first reading of the single draft negotiating text for the COC has been completed ahead of schedule and the second reading has kicked off smoothly. Through dialogue and consultation, we are confident that China and ASEAN countries will deliver a substantive, high-quality and effective document based on the realities of our region, take forward rule-making in our region, and make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.
I am looking forward to my official visit to Thailand at the invitation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. As next year marks the 45th anniversary of China-Thailand relations, our bilateral relationship is poised for a new start. Both countries need to redouble efforts to boost cooperation in priority areas such as connectivity, technological innovation, industrial capacity and third-party collaboration. These efforts will facilitate development in both our countries and deliver more benefits to our peoples.
Let us work together to promote continued deepening of China-Thailand friendship and map out a better future for East Asian cooperation in the new era.