Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s Thoughts on ASEAN-China Relations

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in 2008
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in 2008

Before you read on this week’s topic of PH.CN, let me just first congratulate the ten world titles holder, the greatest boxer of our time – Manny Pacquiao for winning and retaining the WBO Welterweight World Title in the United States. CCTV5, the national sports channel here in China have broadcasted today (Sunday) his fight for the delight of boxing aficionados in China. Mabuhay ka Congressman Manny! You’ve made global Filipinos proud. May you also be successful in your bringing progress to your constituents in the Philippines.


Before leaving for a state visit in Indonesia last week, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao gave a rare interview on three Southeast Asian journalists regarding his view on ASEAN-China Relations, free trade agreements, territorial disputes, the so-called China threat”, and the U.S. presence in Southeast Asia. In this first part of a special two-part PH.CN articles on ASEAN-China relations, let me first share to you Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s thoughts on ASEAN-China relations.

ASEAN-China relationship has made big progress in the recent years. Do you see any challenges in ASEAN-China relationship? What steps will China take to promote ASEAN-China relationship? Some countries, including Indonesia, have some concern over the implementation of CAFTA. What’s your view on that?

You asked a big question, that is the relationship between China and ASEAN. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of dialogue relationship between China and ASEAN. Over the past 20 years, we have moved from a dialogue relationship to good-neighborly relations and to a relationship of strategic cooperation. China and ASEAN now enjoy all-round cooperation. Take China-Indonesia relations for example. Our two countries established the strategic partnership in 2005, and later we formulated the plan of action for the implementation of the strategic partnership, bringing our bilateral relations into a new stage.

Now China-ASEAN relationship has entered a stage of forging ahead in all respects. ASEAN integration has made steady progress. The China-ASEAN FTA has been established. And our cooperation in finance, infrastructure, connectivity and other areas has deepened. Although ASEAN members are at different stages of development, I believe we can all benefit from our cooperation on the basis of mutual benefit and win-win results.

I had the privilege of attending all China-ASEAN leaders’ meetings since 2003. I have witnessed the progress in ASEAN integration building and the gradual improvement of such cooperation mechanisms as 10+1, 10+3 and China-Japan-ROK. I believe all these cooperation mechanisms have reinforced each other by drawing upon each other’s strengths and achieved common development. They have developed into fairly full-fledged cooperation mechanisms. I hope that China-ASEAN cooperation will continue to move along this healthy track in the right direction.

You are interested in the China-ASEAN FTA. I would like to say that much preparation was made before the FTA was officially inaugurated last year. I believe that the China-ASEAN FTA has brought benefits to both China and ASEAN countries. We have witnessed tremendous growth of trade between the two sides. For example, China-Indonesia trade expanded by nearly 40% in the first quarter of this year, and achieved basic balance.

I want to use this opportunity to address the concerns on the minds of some businesses and individuals with regard to CAFTA. The China-ASEAN free trade arrangement is of mutual benefit and brings win-win results to all parties concerned. We need to make full use of the favorable conditions, especially the preferential policies set out in the FTA. And in the course of China-ASEAN FTA development, we should constantly improve this arrangement in the light of actual circumstances. We need to accommodate the interests of small- and medium-sized enterprises, and work together to ensure that the FTA will contribute to the economic development of all sides. With regard to all these aspects, China has always pursued an open approach.

ASEAN and China have stood with each other in tiding over the difficulties of the two financial crises. When Indonesia was struck by severe tsunamis and when China was hit by a devastating earthquake in Wenchuan, we helped and supported each other through those tough times. I believe that all these fully demonstrate the strong brotherly bond between China and ASEAN and between China and Indonesia. Thank you.

Malaysia and China have had some frictions over some islands and reefs of the Nansha Islands, such as the Swallow Reef. However, the relationship between Malaysia and China has moved forward steadily. I would like to ask whether China will hold talks with Malaysia and other countries who have sovereignty disputes with China in the South China Sea on the joint development in the South China Sea?

China remains committed to the Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. Territorial disputes and disputes over maritime rights and interests should be resolved between the countries concerned through peaceful consultations. We disapprove of referring bilateral disputes to multilateral forums because that will only make these issues bigger and more complicated. As you rightly pointed out, although China and Malaysia have some territorial disputes over some islands and reefs in the South China Sea, this has not prevented us from peaceful coexistence.

Second, I fully believe that in spite of their territorial disputes and disputes over maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, the countries concerned should and can carry out joint development in the South China Sea. This is in the interest of peace and stability in the South China Sea. It also serves the interests of the countries concerned and all relevant parties.

Let me address a subject that I deem very important, that is China’s development and where China is heading. I know some ASEAN countries have shown a keen interest in this topic. I would like to say that China remains a developing country. With over 30 years of reform and opening-up, we have achieved much progress in our economic and social development. However, China remains a big country with a large population and a weak economic foundation. That means we still have to work long and hard if we are to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects and achieve our goal of modernization. China adheres to an independent foreign policy of peace, and the policy of building good-neighborly relationships and partnerships with neighboring countries. This is our policy when China is not a developed country. It will remain to be our policy even when China becomes a developed country in the future. China will never seek hegemony.

China’s development in itself is a major contribution to human progress and prosperity. China’s development also represents an opportunity for its neighboring countries, especially ASEAN countries. China is a big country that does not shirk its responsibilities. We have played our part in upholding world peace, security and stability. We are of the view that only by maintaining a peaceful external environment and a stable domestic environment can China and ASEAN countries enjoy continuous development and progress. I believe that on this subject we will have the long-term understanding and cooperation of ASEAN countries.

Great changes have taken place in the region of East Asia. How will China handle its relations with extra regional powers like the United States which has been included in the East Asia Summit? The second is what responsibility and obligation will China undertake to maintain the regional peace and stability. And also since the United States and Russia have joined the East Asia Summit, the regional mechanism of cooperation has changed and adjusted. What is your view on this issue?

I have personally experienced the entire course of development of the East Asia Summit. In approaching the new dynamics in East Asian cooperation, I believe it is important that we follow the following three principles: First, we need to consolidate, enhance and further develop the existing cooperation mechanisms. This is of the highest and most practical significance. We need to work together to establish and improve long-term cooperation plans, increase input in cooperation and work for the full implementation of all cooperation plans with a view to delivering real benefits to people of all East Asian countries. Second, we need to respect the diversity of East Asian cooperation. New dynamics in our cooperation mechanisms reflect the diversity of East Asian cooperation. In carrying out East Asian cooperation, China has always advocated and adhered to the one important principle, that is, East Asian cooperation should always have ASEAN play the leading role, and contribute to the progress of ASEAN integration and development of all ASEAN countries. Third, East Asian cooperation should stay open and inclusive. Our cooperation has been constantly expanded. And from this year, leaders of the Untied States and Russia will attend the East Asia Summit. I believe the East Asia Summit should stick to its nature as a leaders-led strategic forum. This forum should be conducive to peace and stability in East Asia and contribute to stronger East Asian cooperation and development and progress of East Asia.

China is a responsible country. China adheres to its path of peaceful development, and assumes its due responsibilities for regional security and stability in such areas as counter terrorism and maritime security. China has always advocated that efforts should be made to ensure navigation freedom and safety in accordance with the relevant principles of international law. And China has contributed its part to this end. China has been a beneficiary of the international shipping lanes in the South China Sea. As known to many people, many of China’s goods, including energy imports are transported through the Malacca Strait. We want to enhance cooperation with other countries to uphold navigation security in the South China Sea and security in the Malacca Strait.


Photo credit: World Economic Forum, some rights reserved.

J. Sun E.

Sun, a Filipino based in China, writes PH.CN on ProPinoy, a weekly column on Philippines-China relations, politics, history, and current events. He studied Political Science, History, and Foreign Languages in Philippines and China. Follow him on Twitter @phdotcn

  • J_ag8

    When will China unpeg its currency and make it more convertible on the world markets?

    It has profited immensely on the state model of command and control and isolated its currency from the global market place to the detriment of its neighbors.

    The world needs a multilateral international currency system that is fair and equitable. The dollar hegemony must be broken and China has to step up and become a mature and responsible global citizen otherwise economic struggles will evolve into serious political struggles between nation states and war could ensue.