September 15, 2023
HONG KONG – The ASEAN-China partnership should not be overshadowed by issues such as the South China Sea as there are many other areas in which the two sides can realize a shared future, said ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn in Hong Kong on Thursday.
Kao told “The Dialogue” forum, held by the Research Hub on Institutions of China (RHIC) of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), that media reports of disagreements between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China over the South China Sea were simply not true.
“We have so many other areas of cooperation that bring people closer together,” said Kao.
Instead of magnifying issues like the South China Sea, it is important for ASEAN to look at ways to strengthen and leverage its partnership with China, which is solid and built on long-term trust, he said.
Speaking on the theme “Shared Future: Toward a Closer ASEAN-China Community”, Kao said it is important for ASEAN to work with partners like China to reduce tensions, maintain peace, and promote prosperity for future generations.
“The Dialogue” forum series is an initiative launched by the RHIC in the fall of 2021, aiming to bring together opinions and perspectives from China and around the world, as well as foster global exchanges and communication.
In his opening remarks, HKU President and Vice-Chancellor Zhang Xiang said the ASEAN community will be one of the leading engines of global economic growth in decades to come.
“The diversity of culture, language, and history across ASEAN’s members is complemented by sheer value and commitments to comprehensive economic development,” said Zhang.
Noting that the China-ASEAN relationship is mutually beneficial, Zhang said the two sides not only have deep economic ties but also share cultural connections that date back centuries.
China has remained the largest trading partner of ASEAN for 14 consecutive years and is the 10-nation bloc’s second-largest foreign investor.
Expecting China-ASEAN economic ties to be deepened, Kao said it is important for both sides to give priority to economic development and improve people’s livelihoods.
He added that he hopes the two sides can update the bilateral free trade agreement to version 3.0 and make it more relevant to businesses.
Kao is scheduled to lead the ASEAN Secretariat’s team to attend the 20th China-ASEAN Expo and related events in Nanning, Southwest China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, from Sept 15-18. He will co-moderate the opening ceremony of the expo and meet with top government officials from ASEAN member states and China.
Kao said the shared future will also concentrate on how the two sides can cooperate to preserve the environment to tackle global challenges like climate change, as well as jointly prepare for public health crises.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proposal to jointly build a closer China-ASEAN community with a shared future via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Noting there are many BRI-related projects taking place in different ASEAN member states, Kao said the bloc welcomes China’s expanding investment in ASEAN and connection to the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025.
“The purpose is to bring greater prosperity to the people,” said Kao.
He noted that the ASEAN region will need a lot of investment to develop and funding from international institutions like the World Bank will not be enough, which makes it necessary to get concession loans of low interest from other investors like China.
According to the Asian Development Bank, ASEAN economies will need at least $2.8 trillion in infrastructure investment from 2023 to 2030 to sustain economic growth, reduce poverty, and respond to climate change.
To build a closer ASEAN-China community, Kao said key focuses should include cooperation and collaboration, connectivity, contribution, and commitment.
He said he also hopes to see more people-to-people exchanges between the two sides so young people can better understand each other and work together for a shared future.
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