ASEAN-China cooperation anchors Asian stability and progress

The 42nd ASEAN Summit, which convened on May 10-11 in Labuan Bajo of eastern Indonesia, is an important event for Asia’s steady regional economic recovery and development despite the continuing global economic and geopolitical uncertainties.

Asia is once again in the forefront of positive yet still tenuous global economic growth, especially with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its biggest trading partner, China, both registering robust economic growth rates, which are substantially higher than the average world economic growth. The World Bank on March 31 reported that economic growth in developing East Asia and the Pacific is forecast to accelerate in 2023 as China’s economy reopens.

The harmonious diplomatic relations and dynamic economic cooperation between ASEAN’s 10 resource-rich countries and modernizing, industrializing China have become a strong anchor of stability and progress for Asia and even the world. Earnest efforts by all Asians should uphold our regional peace and lessen geopolitical strife for the sake of economic development.

Another factor for the long-term peace and sustained prosperity of East Asia is the noninterference of outside countries in the affairs of the region. ASEAN is geographically strategic in location at the crossroads of the Asia-Pacific region, and therefore, it is also important for regional peace as it seeks consensus with China to accelerate implementation of the code of conduct for Asian security in the South China Sea.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is geographically strategic in location at the crossroads of the Asia-Pacific region, and therefore, it is also important for regional peace as it seeks consensus with China to accelerate implementation of the code of conduct for Asian security in the South China Sea

ASEAN and China concluded a Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea in 2002. Since the negotiations were not easy, a nonbinding and ambiguous document was the most they could agree upon. They have since been trying to negotiate and trying to agree on an ideal code of conduct. Observers said the negotiations had produced a single negotiating text in 2018, but it is still a mix of contradictory positions on contentious issues.

In recent days and months, with increasing international incidents in the South China Sea among various ASEAN countries and China, it is crucial that leaders of all these countries muster the wisdom and political will to complete code-of-conduct negotiations without delay and with realistic compromises from all sides. I believe accelerating the consensus and implementation of the code of conduct is of utmost urgency and paramount importance for a better future of ASEAN and China.

The momentum of Asian economic progress shall continue unimpeded if there are fewer geopolitical and military tensions in the region, and if long-term stability and consensus can be achieved.

The statistics and economic trends on ASEAN-China trade cooperation are very positive, reinforcing the forecasts that the 21st century is indeed the Asian Century.

ASEAN is also the world’s third-most populous region, with over 662 million people representing 8.3 percent of the total world population, next only to China and India. By comparison, the European Union has about 448 million people, and the United States has around 335 million people.

Also a positive factor for economic productivity and consumer spending is ASEAN’s very young population, with over half between the ages of 20 to 54, and one-third 19 years old or younger in 2017.

Thanks to good education and human development efforts, it is estimated that over 100 million people have joined ASEAN’s labor force in the past 20 years, plus an additional 59 million expected by 2030, making ASEAN the world’s third-biggest labor force. Thus despite the prevailing uncertain global economic climate, ASEAN remains a very attractive region for foreign direct investment, trade and expansion of diverse industries, especially for the world’s emerging economic and industrial superpower China.

Other areas for increasing cooperation between ASEAN and China include food production, natural resource and mineral resource extraction and processing, public health, regional security, digital revolution and modernization.

ASEAN is important to the world’s food security and is one of the most productive agricultural baskets on Earth in terms of outputs of such major commodities as rice, corn, sugar cane, soybean, cassava, etc. China’s 1.4 billion increasingly affluent population has also become the biggest market for foods.

In terms of the digital revolution, ASEAN’s relatively young and upwardly mobile populations have experienced rapid expansion of digital connectivity, the acquisition of mobile phones (many of which are manufactured in China), and widespread use of social media. ASEAN and China are dynamic partners in the digital revolution and technological progress in recent decades, uplifting convenience, economic efficiency and quality of life throughout Asia.

The author is moderator of the Pandesal Forum, a multiaward-winning writer, a columnist of the Philippine Star newspaper, an economics and politics analyst, and chairman of the Anvil Business Club.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.