China Focus: Deeper China-ASEAN integration to propel regional economic recovery

With its economic ties with ASEAN countries demonstrating resilience through the COVID-19 pandemic, China has stated its readiness to further boost economic integration and recovery in the region through mutually beneficial cooperation with ASEAN.

"China and ASEAN countries need to harness our strengths of geographical proximity and industrial complementarity to pursue regional economic integration at a higher level," said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the 24th China-ASEAN leaders' meeting via video link.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of dialogue relations between China and ASEAN, and in the past 30 years, trade cooperation of the two sides has been continuously advancing.

In 2020, despite the impact of the pandemic, China and ASEAN recorded positive trade growth and became each other's largest trade partners.

In the first three quarters of this year, trade between the two sides maintained growth momentum. ASEAN remained China's largest trade partner and the bilateral trade with ASEAN took up 14.4 percent of China's total foreign trade.

The signing of the China-ASEAN FTA has sped up the two-way opening of the two sides' markets, which has also helped promote regional development of trade facilitation, said Liu Xiangdong, a researcher with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges.

To accelerate regional economic integration, Li announced at the meeting that China will work with ASEAN to officially launch a joint feasibility study to further enhance the China-ASEAN FTA.

The upgrading of the FTA will effectively lower the institutional cost of trade, promote regional economic integration, and provide more power to regional economic cooperation, according to Shen Minghui, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

In addition to institutional arrangements, another reason for the rapid development of the bilateral economic development lies in the complementarity of the two economies, analysts believe.

Yuan Bo, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce, said regional cooperation has promoted the integration and interdependence of industrial chains between the two sides.

Closer economic cooperation between China and ASEAN will not only provide more jobs and drive economic growth for ASEAN countries, and accelerate their pace out the shadow of the pandemic, but also has a role to play in forming China's new development paradigm, Shen said.

Shen added that China-ASEAN cooperation will also have positive effects on world economic recovery and stabilize the global industrial and supply chains.

For specific cooperation areas, China has proposed to strengthen cooperation in the digital economy, green economy and other new areas in the future.

In fact, the cooperation between China and ASEAN in manufacturing, agriculture, infrastructure, high technology, digital economy and green economy has steadily expanded in recent years.

Yuan agrees the two sides have large cooperation potential in the digital economy field, in which China has accumulated rich experience and is ready to share with ASEAN countries.

As a signature outcome of East Asian cooperation, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will soon reach the threshold of entry into force. Premier Li stressed the need to hasten work for the agreement to take effect as early as possible, so that people of all regional countries get to benefit from its outcomes at an early date.

The RCEP is set to further promote the integration of the industrial chains between China and ASEAN, benefit cross-border trade and investment and eventually contribute to the regional economic recovery, according to Shen.

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