China to buy $150b in farm goods from ASEAN, almost double current level
Efforts show determination to boost bilateral cooperation, help bloc
Published: Nov 22, 2021 09:58 PM
Photo taken on May 27, 2020 shows a container truck carrying Vietnamese lychees exported to China at Kim Thanh II International Border Gate in Vietnam's northern Lao Cai province, which borders China. (VNA via Xinhua)

Photo taken on May 27, 2020 shows a container truck carrying Vietnamese lychees exported to China at Kim Thanh II International Border Gate in Vietnam's northern Lao Cai province, which borders China. (VNA via Xinhua)

President Xi Jinping announced on Monday several major initiatives to boost economic cooperation between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including striving to import $150 billion worth of agricultural products from ASEAN members over the next five years, offering additional financial assistance to the bloc's economic recovery and anti-epidemic efforts, as well as providing advanced technology.

The initiatives, particularly the plan to nearly double imports of ASEAN agricultural products, demonstrate China's determination to boost bilateral cooperation and help revive the bloc's economy while also injecting certainty into the world amid global geopolitical complexities, analysts said.

Xi made the remarks while attending and chairing a special summit commemorating the 30th anniversary of China-ASEAN dialogue relations on Monday via video link. During the meeting, the two sides jointly announced the establishment of a China-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, setting a new milestone for the relationship and also paving the way for integrated economic ties.

On the economic front, Xi proposed several initiatives for deepening cooperation between China and ASEAN, including calling for working toward a new round of upgrading of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area at an early date, and increasing high-quality imports from the bloc. Xi proposed to buy up to $150 billion worth of agricultural products from ASEAN in the next five years.

According to the Global Times' calculations, the $150 billion could mean China may almost double its farm imports from ASEAN in the next five years. In 2018, China imported $18.48 billion worth of agricultural products from ASEAN members, according to an article published on, a website under China's agriculture ministry, citing an industry report.

"The commitment comes as agricultural cooperation between China and ASEAN has been expanding in recent years. Apart from major categories such as tropical fruits, China also stepped up imports of rice and soybean meal during trade conflicts with the US," Jiao Shanwei, editor-in-chief of, a website specializing in grain news, told the Global Times on Monday.

China has signed more than 30 bilateral agricultural cooperation agreements with ASEAN members and implemented more than 200 agricultural technology exchange projects. In 2020, bilateral trade of agricultural products reached $43 billion, accounting for 17.2 percent of China's total foreign agricultural trade, official data showed.

ASEAN members, including Thailand and Indonesia, are among China's top 10 import sources.

Jiao said that in the next five years, tropical fruits would be the main beneficiary of China's $150 billion buying plan.

According to customs statistics, the China-ASEAN fruit and vegetable trade in 2020 was worth about $15 billion. The total fruit exports of ASEAN members to China stood at about $6 billion, and exports of fresh durian alone reached $2.3 billion. 

China's demand for fruit from these countries has continued to increase in recent months. From January to August, total China-ASEAN fruit and vegetable trade was already close to the full-year level of 2020, of which ASEAN fruit exports to China exceeded $6.4 billion, data from China's Commerce Ministry showed.

Apart from efforts to expand imports and boost bilateral trade, Xi also announced that China is ready to provide ASEAN with another $1.5 billion of development assistance in the next three years to support ASEAN members' fight against COVID-19 and their economic recovery.

Nick Koay, chairman of the Malaysian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China, Greater Bay Area, told the Global Times on Monday that he's more confident in expanding the domestic production of agricultural products that China needs after hearing the announcements.

China's main purchase of Malaysian agricultural products is palm oil, Koay said, noting that more than 90 percent of the country's cubilose is now sold to China. "The amount of agricultural products we produce now cannot meet the demand of China, because the Chinese market is too big, so our country is now supporting the development [expansion] of these sectors."

Moreover, to boost cooperation in technology, Xi said that China will launch the China-ASEAN Science, Technology and Innovation Enhancing Program, and will provide 1,000 items of advanced and applicable technology to ASEAN and support a program for 300 young scientists from ASEAN to come to China for exchanges in the next five years.

Analysts said that all these proposals are made based on China's advantages and also reflect the most urgent needs of ASEAN members, showing China's sincerity in offering help to the region's economic recovery and construction. 

Dai Yonghong, director of the Institute of Bay of Bengal Studies, Institute of China's Overseas Interests, Shenzhen University, told the Global Times on Monday that China can provide ASEAN members with technologies that are applicable to their demand, predicting that future technology exchanges may center around 5G, artificial intelligence, and agricultural technologies. 

To further boost the region's economy, Chinese experts reiterated calls for the remaining participating countries to finish ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a landmark achievement of regional cooperation among 15 Asia-Pacific nations, so as to further facilitate trade and investment in the region.