Jakarta: China is one of ASEAN's important partners. Since a couple of decades ago, China has established a number of collaborations with ASEAN in several fields such as trade and investment.
China has various expectations in terms of cooperation between the two economies as well as ASEAN's role in the region. Here is Medcom.id's interview with the Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN Huang Xilian at his residence on Friday, February 1, 2019.
How do you see the relationship between China and ASEAN?
China and ASEAN are close neighbors. We enjoy a very long history of friendship. Since ancient time, we have been engaging each other for many many years.
Since we established the dialogue partnership in 1991, particularly after we established our strategic partnership in 2003, our relationship has achieved remarkable progress. Last year, we were celebrating the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the China-ASEAN strategic partnership.
We are very happy to see that our strategic partnership has been the most substantive and most successful relationship among countries in this region. Politically, we have become strategic partners for many years. We have worked on a lot of issues over our common concerns.
Economically, China and ASEAN are very close partners. China has been ASEAN's number one trading partner for ten consecutive years, while ASEAN has been China's top three trading partner for eight consecutive years. Our two-way trade volume reached USD587 billion last year. It grew by 14 percent compared to the previous year.
So ASEAN is one of China's fastest-growing trade partners. Considering the sluggish recovery of the world economy and international trade, I think our trade growth is very promising and very encouraging.
Of course we are both major investors between China and ASEAN. China is the number three investor in ASEAN. I think ASEAN is also ranked as one of the top investors in China.
In terms of people-to-people ties, we have a lot of mutual visits. Last year, mutual visits between China and ASEAN countries have surpassed more than 50 million people. This promotes mutual understanding and mutual trust among our people.
We also have exchange students. I think we now have 200 thousand exchange students who are studying either in China or ASEAN member states. They are very important forces who have been promoting friendship and understanding between our countries.
Our relationship has come to a very crucial moment. We need to promote a higher level of strategic partnership. Our President Xi Jinping has proposed to establish a higher level of strategic partnership and to forge a closer community with ASEAN.
Last year, under his guidance, China and ASEAN countries have issued a very important document. We call it China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership Vision 2030. This is a very important document which will guide the future development of our relationship in the next decade and beyond.
We believe that, under his guidance, build on what we have achieved in the past 15 years, we will achieve even greater in the future. We believe it will bring more and more benefit to the people of ASEAN countries and China.
The South China Sea is still one of the issues discussed in ASEAN, what is China's response about this?
There are some differences between China and some ASEAN member states over the South China Sea. But we are happy to see that the situation in the South China Sea is calming down in the past few years. The temperature is calming down. The cooperation in the South China Sea is moving forward. The whole momentum is turning positive. I think this is the result of the close cooperation between China and ASEAN countries.
On one hand, we are moving forward with consultations on the code of conduct in the South China Sea. We have worked out the single draft negotiation text last year. We hope that we could complete the first reading of the text within this year.
The Chinese side has proposed that the consultations on the COC should be concluded within the next three years. It has been positively responded by ASEAN countries. So this shows the kind of political will and determination of China and ASEAN member states to manage well the South China Sea and to promote peace and stability in the South China Sea.
On the other hand, we are also making very gratifying progress in terms of pragmatic cooperation in the South China Sea. In 2018, China and ASEAN member states conducted the first ever joint maritime drill in Zhanjiang, China. It is the first ever such exercise which showcases the kind of increased mutual trust between China and ASEAN member states to promote stability and peace in the South China Sea.
We are also working on areas such as safety navigation, environmental protection and scientific studies. We are conducting pragmatic cooperation in such fields. These kinds of cooperation should in return promote our mutual trust and confidence in the South China Sea and contribute to an early conclusion of the code of conduct in the South China Sea. So we believe that with joint efforts between China and ASEAN member states we will continue to enjoy more and more peaceful situation in the South China Sea.
We hope external forces would take into account the interests of the regional countries. We hope that they don't interfere with the consultations on the COC. We hope that they don't interfere with the efforts of China and ASEAN member states to stabilize the situation.
In the past, some external forces tried to fish in troubled water. Now when the situation is stabilizing, some of them continue to make the water a troubled water. so we hope that all parties concerned would respect the positive efforts of China and ASEAN countries in the South China Sea.
What is China's main goal in Southeast Asia regarding the Belt and Road Initiative?
The Belt and Road initiative was first proposed by our President Xi Jinping in 2013 during his visit to Indonesia. That shows the importance of Southeast Asian countries in the Belt and Road Initiative since its inception. ASEAN has been the major partner in terms of international cooperation on the Belt and Road initiative.
In the past few years, since the initiative was proposed five years ago, we have been working very closely with our neighbors particularly our ASEAN countries in promoting connectivity, people-to-people exchanges as well as financial cooperation along the Belt and Road. We are happy to see that our efforts are bearing fruits. Quite a lot of projects have been achieving positive progress in the past five years. Some of the projects actually are making substantive progress and producing tangible results.
We want to continue this kind of cooperation. We want to share the benefits of the Belt and Road with our neighbors. The Belt and Road initiative was proposed by China. But the benefits will be shared with the rest of the world particularly our neighbors.
We hope that ASEAN countries which are also on the fast track of this development can work together with China to move forward the Belt and Road initiative for the greater benefits of our people. We also need to learn how to conduct this kind of cooperation in a more sustainable way. We believe that we have the wisdom and capability to conduct closer and more fruitful cooperation.
Could ASEAN be China's top trading partner?
Like I said ASEAN is the third largest trading partner for China. It means ASEAN is one of the top markets for China. Our trade is increasing very rapidly. But we are happy to see that China is importing more and more from ASEAN.
Especially in the past few years, we have been promoting imports from ASEAN. Last year, we convened the first China import exhibition. ASEAN businesses and ASEAN delegation from all ASEAN member states attended the event.
This event has greatly promoted business exchanges and trade between China and ASEAN countries. So we hope that the market is growing rapidly. We want to import more from our ASEAN neighbors.
Has China ever doubt ASEAN's effectivity?
No, as an organization, ASEAN is a very effective organization. It has enjoyed unity and prosperity in the past 50 years. During the 50th anniversary of ASEAN, our president Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to the chair of ASEAN.
We believe that ASEAN is a strong organization. It has an important role in promoting peace and stability in the region as well as providing a very important platform for major countries. That is a very important merit of ASEAN.
Same as China, ASEAN is an emerging market. It is a great market with great potential. We believe ASEAN can move forward in even faster pace.