Closer, deeper cooperation expected as Wang Yi kicks off Southeast Asia tour amid US creating division
Published: Aug 10, 2023 10:30 PM
Wang Yi (left), director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee, speaks during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus Three Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Jakarta on July 13, 2023. Photo: AFP

Wang Yi (left), director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China's Central Committee, speaks during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus Three Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Jakarta on July 13, 2023. Photo: AFP

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi kicked off his visit to three Southeast Asian partners on Thursday to bolster strategic communication amid the sound momentum of China-ASEAN relationship. Chinese experts view Wang's three-nation tour as a signal of strengthening cooperation and building stronger ties with ASEAN member countries. 

Wang's visit also comes against the backdrop of US creating tensions and divisions in the Asia-Pacific, which experts believe further highlights the importance of regional solidarity and connectivity to avoid misunderstanding caused by discord sowed by the US. And it's also believed that in the face of challenges, any move that undermines regional stability and prosperity will be opposed by countries in the region.

Wang, also a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, is scheduled to visit Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia from August 10 to 13 upon invitation. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said China hopes the visit will bolster strategic communication with the three Southeast Asian countries, put the new characterization of the China-Singapore relations into action, achieve solid progress in building a community with a shared future with both Malaysia and Cambodia, deepen high-quality Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation and bring the bilateral relations to new heights.

China stands ready to work with the three countries to implement the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative, boost economic recovery, safeguard peace and stability deepen exchanges and mutual learning and make even greater contribution to peace, stability and development of the region and beyond, the spokesperson said.

Gu Xiaosong, dean of the ASEAN Research Institute of Hainan Tropical Ocean University, told the Global Times on Thursday that Wang's visit is a signal that China will continue to strengthen cooperation with ASEAN member countries and build an even stronger relationship.

Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, believes that 2023 is a significant year for China-ASEAN cooperation, and a special moment to promote ties. 

The year 2023 marks the 20th anniversary of China's accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), and the 10th anniversary of an initiative for China to work with ASEAN member countries for a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and for a closer China-ASEAN community with a shared future.

The year 2023 also marks the 10th anniversary of the BRI and vision of building a global community of shared future for mankind.

Southeast Asian countries have been at the forefront of advancing BRI cooperation, as well as the key to ensuring the sustainable stability of China's external environment, Li said. 

"The same is true for ASEAN members as well, as most ASEAN countries want the lasting and stable prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region maintained, rather than an Asia-Pacific region with conflict and division," Li said. 

Peacemaker vs troublemaker  

During the China-ASEAN (10+1) Foreign Ministers' Meeting held in July, Wang along with other diplomats vowed to advance their comprehensive strategic partnership. Wang said China will make new contributions to peace and prosperity in the region. 

One month later, the US and Philippines defense chief reiterated commitment to bolstering military cooperation, according to a statement released by the Pentagon on Wednesday, amid the recent tension between China and the Philippines over the Ren'ai Reef in China's Nansha Islands.

Before Wang's visit, US President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he would visit Vietnam soon to elevate bilateral ties at the Vietnam's invitation, according to media reports.

"Relations between the Philippines and the US are strengthening… Vietnam is balancing between China and the US, but its relations with the US in general are also elevating," Gu said. 

Southeast Asia is the most important part of the "Indo-Pacific Strategy" of the US, and it cannot be ruled out that some countries are forced to become a wedge for the US to drive into ASEAN, Gu noted. 

A disruptive factor in ties between China and ASEAN members is the US, Li said. He said Washington attempts to form an "anti-China consensus" in Southeast Asia through playing up "China threats." Only when more division and confrontation are created can the US regional hegemony be established. 

As the US wants to kidnap ASEAN members onto its chess board against China, the future development of regional countries will face greater challenges, Li said.

Nevertheless, analysts believe that the vast majority of Southeast Asian countries are highly alert to the US moves, which would be conducive to the stable development of China-ASEAN relations.

"ASEAN member countries have realized that since the establishment of the full dialogue partnership with China in 1991, the economic growth of the Southeast Asia countries has accelerated… Most of them has come to a consensus of not taking sides," Gu said. 

ASEAN has been China's largest trading partner for three consecutive years. In the first half of 2023, trade with ASEAN member countries accounted for 15.3 percent of China's total trade, reaching 3.08 trillion yuan ($428.96 billion), up 5.4 percent from 2022. 

The US intervention in to Southeast Asia, on the other hand, highlights the importance of regional exchanges, Gu said. 

By continuously strengthening economic and trade mutual benefit, people-to-people exchanges and political communication, China and ASEAN members can reduce and avoid misjudgments or misunderstandings that are maliciously provoked by the US, Gu remarked. 

2023 is an important year for China and ASEAN to deepen exchanges and cooperation. The 2023 ASEAN-China Summit is scheduled to be held in September, followed by the 20th China-ASEAN Expo and China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit. The APEC Summit in November will be also attended by ASEAN nations and China. 

Whether to become a vassal of the US or to unite with the majority of Southeast Asian countries to maintain regional stability, I believe that most countries should choose their own strategic autonomy, Li said. 

Any attempts to undermine the sound momentum of Asia-Pacific solidarity and cooperation will not be welcomed, Li noted. 

At the opening of ASEAN-China Week 2023 in Fuzhou, East China's Fujian Province, on Sunday, China's Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong said the China-ASEAN comprehensive strategic partnership enjoys a sound momentum of development, and  China has always followed the neighborhood diplomacy guideline that advocates amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness, and is willing to remain committed to win-win cooperation with ASEAN and build a peaceful, safe and secure, prosperous, beautiful and amicable home together.