Chinese premier throws his weight behind ASEAN upon maiden Asian trip
Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Tuesday voiced his support for the central status of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in regional cooperation upon his arrival at Jakarta to attend meetings with the regional bloc.
Earlier in the day, Indonesia, chair of ASEAN, opened the 43rd ASEAN Summit under the official slogan "ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth."
China firmly supports the central status of ASEAN in regional cooperation and a bigger role in international affairs, said the Chinese premier right after he landed at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in the capital city. He said he looks forward to having in-depth exchanges of views with all parties on major topics of regional cooperation.
Li is scheduled to attend the 26th China-ASEAN Summit and the 26th ASEAN Plus Three Summit on Wednesday, and the 18th East Asia Summit on Thursday. This trip marks the Chinese premier's debut on the ASEAN stage and his first visit to an Asian country after assuming office in March.
A series of economic deals will be signed between China and ASEAN during the summits, said Zhang Jie, a senior fellow on Asia-Pacific studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
New energy vehicles will be one focus, said Zhang, expecting cooperation in the sector and other technological innovations, including new energy and AI, to usher in broader economic prospects in the region.
The Association of Indonesia Automotive Industries has reported soaring sales of electric vehicles in Indonesia over past three years.
China and ASEAN have enormous development potential to tap, said Zhang. "And a shared economic growth will be a solid guarantee for lasting security in the region."
ASEAN and China remain each other's top trading partner. Latest data from China's General Administration of Customs showed, for the first seven months in 2023, the total trade value between China and ASEAN was 3.59 trillion yuan (519 billion US dollars), accounting for 15.3 percent of China's total foreign trade.
Founded in 1967, ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The bloc is deemed one of the world's most vibrant markets as it has a combined GDP of approximately 3.7 trillion US dollars and over 670 million people, according to Indonesian statistics.
"This makes ASEAN the third-largest economy in Asia and the fifth-largest in the world," ASEAN Secretary-General Kao Kim Hourn said. "By 2030, ASEAN is projected to be the fourth-largest in the world."
In the past decade, the grouping's average annual economic growth reached 3.98 percent, above the global rate of 2.6 percent, data released by ASEAN showed.
When he addressed the opening ceremony of the ASEAN summit, Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged ASEAN to stay united and not be a proxy to any power.
"Don't make our ship, ASEAN, become an arena of rivalry that causes damages to each other," he said. "Make our ship the foundation to build cooperation and create prosperity, stability and peace, not only for the region but also for the world."
The United States is courting ASEAN countries to join its Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China.
"What ASEAN countries want is strategic independence. They want to have a say in their own development," said Zhang from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
China, which supports the region's independence, "always seeks inclusive, rather than exclusive, cooperation with ASEAN countries," said Zhang.
In the long run, their cooperation can stabilize the global economy amid anti-globalization sentiments and uncertainties, according to Zhang.
Kin Phea, director general of the International Relations Institute of Cambodia, highlighted the role of China and ASEAN in regional peace and prosperity.
"Closer China-ASEAN ties are even more important to ensure long-lasting peace, security, stability, food security, sustainable development and prosperity in the region," he told Xinhua.