MANILA – Even during the global health emergency, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and China were able to make the most out of its dialogue relations under the coordination of the Philippines.
During the initial virus outbreak in Wuhan province where the first coronavirus disease 2019 case was recorded, Asean member states were quick to send aid.
“We set out with an ambitious resolve to promote this relationship and bring its benefits to our people. Unfortunately, the pandemic quickly tempered what could be done. Instead, Asean and China refocused their energies on the most pressing challenge the world faces and what is demanded of the relationship,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Maria Theresa Lazaro said in a virtual forum hosted by the Association for Philippines – China Understanding on Tuesday.
“Together with the Philippines’ proactive approach and close coordination with China, we were able to make the most out of the situation and still got a few things done,” she added.
As the virus hit developing countries hard, China extended assistance to other Southeast Asian nations in the form of medical supplies, sharing of expertise, and vaccine contributions.
Despite the adjustments brought by the pandemic, Lazaro said the two parties engaged in several areas of cooperation including in the digital economy, cybersecurity, and in maintaining peace and security in the region.
On the South China Sea issue, Lazaro said negotiations on the crafting of a code of conduct (COC) between Asean and China is ongoing.
“The Philippine team had been instrumental in streamlining the text of the COC, reorganizing and reclassifying the text, and spearheading the discussions on the important issues that will define the success of the COC negotiations,” she said. “Even as the Philippines has turned over the country coordinatorship and the co-chairing of COC negotiations to Myanmar, we have made commitments to continue participating actively in the COC negotiations.”
The Philippines served as the country coordinator to the Asean-China dialogue relations from 2019 until it turned over the co-chairmanship to Myanmar in August this year.
30 years of partnership
Asean deputy secretary general Kung Phoak, meanwhile, sees a “bright future” in terms of Asean and Beijing’s trade and investment cooperation, particularly when the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal is enforced.
“With the RCEP, it’s going to pave way for us to work closely together even more in the future,” he said.
Latest data from the Asean showed that total merchandise trade between the two partners reached USD516.9 billion in 2020 alone, registering an increase of 1.8 percent year-on-year despite the challenging trade environment caused by Covid-19.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) flows from China to Asean amounted to USD7.6 billion in 2020, accounting for 5.5 percent of Asean’s total FDI, which placed China as the fourth largest source of FDI among Asean’s dialogue partners.
China had been Asean ‘s largest trading partner for 12 consecutive years.
As the two partners mark 30 years of relations, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian said Beijing would continue recognizing Asean as a priority in its neighborhood diplomacy.
“China has been firmly supporting the unity of Asean and Asean Community building, upholding Asean centrality in the regional architecture. Over the past 30 years, we have made unremitting efforts to promote common development and prosperity as well as peace and stability in the region,” he said. “We look forward to the China – Asean relations standing firm for progress and forging ahead toward a new era for regional cooperation.”
The Chinese Embassy in Manila said China and Asean are set to hold a historic commemorative summit soon. (PNA)