July 13, 2023
BEIJING – The two decades since China’s accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) prove that China has been and will always be a good neighbor, friend and partner of Southeast Asia, veteran Chinese diplomat Fu Ying said.
And amid challenges today, ASEAN members have the capability to stick to principles, keep centrality, and not be manipulated by one major country against the interests of another, she said in an interview with China Daily.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of China’s accession to the TAC, a foundational peace treaty for ASEAN established by its founding members in 1976. The treaty embodies the principles of peaceful coexistence and friendly cooperation among Southeast Asian states and China, setting out guidelines for interstate relations in the region and beyond while promoting perpetual peace and cooperation among the signatories.
China was the first among major countries to join the TAC and establish a strategic partnership with ASEAN. This was not only a milestone in China-ASEAN relations but also an event of great significance for the whole region, said Fu Ying, a former Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom who also once served as vice-minister of foreign affairs.
“China’s accession to the Treaty cleared major political hurdles and trust deficits, providing an important impetus for the relationship to move into a golden period of 20 years,” said Fu Ying.
In terms of connectivity, Fu Ying highlighted the China-Laos railway as a good example and voiced great expectations in regard to construction of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, the China-Thailand railway and some other Belt and Road projects in ASEAN covering a wide range of fields, including transport, commerce and clean energy.
“Those projects that have been carried out under the partnership between China and ASEAN have improved the well-being of more than 2 billion people,” she emphasized, adding that people-to-people exchanges in the community have become more active thanks to platforms such as the China-ASEAN Expo, the China-ASEAN Education Cooperation Week and the ASEAN-China Centre.
She said China and ASEAN have successfully followed a path of good-neighborliness and common development over the past 20 years, especially in the past decade since President Xi Jinping put forward the idea of building a closer China-ASEAN community with a shared future.
“Our cooperation has become a model of most vibrant and productive cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, effectively promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the region,” Fu Ying noted.
Regarding the South China Sea disputes, Fu Ying pointed out that China’s sovereignty and maritime rights and interests over the islands and reefs in the sea have long been established through history.
The disputes over territorial sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction between China and some countries in the region began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and are related to the geopolitical status of the South China Sea, the establishment of the relevant regime of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the discovery of oil and gas resources.
“China has long advocated and engaged in peaceful negotiations to resolve differences, primarily to maintain the general stability of the China-ASEAN relationship and to protect a peaceful and cooperative security environment in its neighborhood,” Fu Ying emphasized.
In 2002, China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea with ASEAN countries, and is committed to managing differences over the sea, promoting maritime collaboration, strengthening the partnership of good neighborliness and mutual trust, and jointly maintaining peace and stability in the region.
In 2014, China and ASEAN countries proposed to adopt a “dual-track approach”, which calls for friendly consultation with related countries to resolve disputes peacefully, and made an appeal for joint efforts to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Fu Ying said peace and stability in the South China Sea bears on the overall development of countries in the region and is the common concern of the international community.
“China and ASEAN countries should adhere to the spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, respecting international laws and managing differences and disputes properly for regional peace and stability,” she said.
“All parties should stay vigilant to resist any attempt or practice that jeopardizes cooperation, peace and stability within this region,” Fu Ying said, calling for a joint effort to build the South China Sea into “a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation”.
As the world now finds itself in a new period of turbulence and transformation, there is a prevailing view in the United States that Washington was pulling some ASEAN states into attempts to counterbalance China.
US political manipulation
Fu Ying pointed out that the United States changed its policy from supporting China’s sovereignty over the isles after World War II, to retreating to “maintaining neutrality” later, and to “taking sides” and “publicly interfering” in South China Sea disputes.
Regarding concerns of smaller countries amid the “jungle of major countries”, Fu Ying stressed that manipulating small and medium-sized countries is not the way a responsible power should behave.
She said Southeast Asia has painful memories of being enslaved and exploited by foreign powers in modern history. After the Cold War ended, countries in the region focused on economic development, actively participated in cooperation, and, as a result, enjoyed better times.
“They fully supported economic globalization, improvement of relations between major powers and mutually beneficial integration between countries because they understand that this security policy best serves their own interests,” Fu Ying added.
“I have talked to diplomats from ASEAN countries. They often said that major powers are like elephants in the jungle, while other countries are like grass. And when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers,” she said.
“ASEAN countries promote their own reform and development and they highly value China’s recognition and support,” she added.
It is noted that the US has made China a target of strategic competition and is pursuing its so-called Indo-Pacific strategy, which is actually a move that pushes the region back into the abyss of Cold War confrontation. The strategy reflects an outdated Cold War mentality that is dangerous and runs counter to the will of people, she said.
“China and ASEAN are close neighbors. China will uphold the diplomatic policy featuring amity, sincerity, mutual benefit, and inclusiveness. We always promote friendship and partnership with our neighbors, and will not ask ASEAN countries to choose between China and the US,” Fu Ying stressed.
She added that ASEAN countries have their own perceptions and capabilities, and can adhere to their own diplomatic principles and their “centrality” in building frameworks for regional collaboration and security.
“We also believe that ASEAN countries will be unwilling to be manipulated by one major power to harm the other,” Fu Ying said.