The world is encountering changes unseen in a century, and once again stands at a historical crossroads. On the one hand, the new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation is gaining momentum, and the aspiration for win-win cooperation among the economies has grown even stronger.

On the other hand, the international and regional landscapes are undergoing profound transformation, with instability and uncertainties, to some extent, on the rise.

There are concerns over geopolitical tensions due to shift of power. Global governance sustains risks of fragmentation and bloc confrontation. The Ukraine crisis is still dragging on, severely affecting global security in energy, food and supply chains.

The aftermath of the once-in-a-century pandemic continues to create difficulties for a world struggling for a speedy and steady post-pandemic recovery. Not to mention challenges in other significant areas such as addressing climate change, narrowing the digital divide and realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.

What shall we do facing such a changing and challenging world? How can we navigate through the uncertain waters safe and sound? I believe ASEAN and the related cooperation mechanisms are something worthy to be explored and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations definitely has more to expect and offer.

A most dynamic region in post-pandemic era

Despite the complexities in the international situation, ASEAN has successfully managed to maintain peace and stability in the region, sustain the good momentum of growth, and make remarkable economic and social achievements. Now ASEAN stands out as one of the most dynamic regions in the world, leading the post-pandemic recovery of the global economy.

Despite the impact of COVID-19, the GDP growth rate of ASEAN in 2022 was 5.2 percent, one of the highest among all the main economies and economic groupings. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund has upgraded its growth projections for five ASEAN member countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand — to 4.6 percent for this year, which is 0.6 percent higher than average emerging market and developing economies and 3.1 percent higher than average advanced economies.

In spite of the rise of unilateralism and protectionism in some parts of the world, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership has entered into full force for all its 15 signatory states, which will bring more dividends to the peoples in the region.

Notwithstanding the complexities in the international situation, the ASEAN-led cooperation mechanisms in East Asia have registered a good momentum of growth, yielding dividends of cooperation to our peoples. As the theme of ASEAN’s chairmanship this year “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth” goes, ASEAN has been and is playing an important role in both regional and international affairs. And this role is surely to become more important in the years to come.

The success of ASEAN lies in its right choice of progress over regression, cooperation over confrontation, and openness over isolation. The success of ASEAN also lies in its adherence to solidarity and independence, in its cherishing of peace and development, in its respect for cultures and traditions of various members, and in its drawing on wisdom of Asian civilizations.

The “ASEAN Way” has been known to us for quite a long time, underpinned by such key principles as mutual respect, consensus-building and accommodating the comfort levels of all parties, which lays a solid foundation for lasting peace and development in the region. This is really what needs to and should be carried forward and further promoted.

Ties with China contribute to success of ASEAN

The success of ASEAN also lies in its establishment of a multi-tiered and effectively-managed architecture of regional cooperation together with its dialogue partners, among which ASEAN-China relations have long been one of the most vibrant and productive ties. Two decades ago, China acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, making it the first among major countries to join the treaty.

Two decades later, it is more than gratifying to see that ASEAN and China are trying their best to build on a comprehensive strategic partnership which is well poised to benefit us all and the parties beyond. The past years witnessed ASEAN-China cooperation yielding gratifying outcomes in various areas.

Both sides have become each other’s largest trading partner, with trade volume in 2022 almost topping $1 trillion, up 11.2 percent year-on-year and more than double the volume a decade ago. China is also one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment in ASEAN.

By the end of July this year, cumulative two-way investment had surpassed $380 billion, with China setting up more than 6,500 enterprises with direct investment in ASEAN member states. Against the backdrop of a bleak global economic rebound, Asia, especially East and Southeast Asia have become bright spots. We have every reason to make this spot even brighter.

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China firmly supports ASEAN community-building and ASEAN centrality in the regional cooperation architecture. Early this month, the series of leaders’ meetings on East Asia Cooperation were held in Jakarta.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang attended the 26th ASEAN-China Summit, the 26th ASEAN Plus Three Summit and the 18th East Asia Summit, and reaffirmed that China is ready to continue working with ASEAN member states to stay true to the original aspiration of unity and self-improvement, uphold the spirit of win-win cooperation, work together to meet challenges, so as to build a common home of peace, tranquility, prosperity, beauty and friendship, and ensure East Asia continuously serves as an important engine for global development, adding strong impetus to continued advancement of ASEAN-China comprehensive strategic partnership.

Way forward with the ACC’s efforts

The ASEAN-China Centre was co-founded by the 10 ASEAN members and China in 2011. It is a milestone in the history of ASEAN-China relations. During the past 12 years, the ASEAN-China Centre has been working as a bridge and driving force to tap into the potential, secure opportunities and implement concrete projects of cooperation in such areas as trade, investment, education, culture, tourism and media between the ASEAN members states and China, boosting the growth of ASEAN-China comprehensive strategic partnership, and helping nurture better understanding between the peoples on both sides.

In face of new opportunities and challenges ahead, it is the ASEAN-China Centre’s commitment to keep ASEAN-China relations and cooperation at the forefront of the times, and join hands with its partners and stakeholders to make this region an epitome of development and a promising land for cooperation. For that, the two sides should focus on the following four aspects.

First, they should continue to strengthen strategic dialogue and mutual trust. Just as Premier Li has said at the 26thASEAN-China Summit, sincerity is the key that opens the heart, and trust is the bridge that connects the minds. As good neighbors, brothers and partners that cannot be separated, ASEAN and China have shared goals and responsibilities in maintaining peace, security and prosperity in the region.

The two sides should take measures to deepen political mutual trust, strengthen policy coordination in regional and world affairs, support the centrality and leadership of ASEAN in regional affairs, and promote the further development of the ASEAN-led regional cooperation mechanisms. In this respect, the ASEAN-China Centre will continue to play a key role as a facilitator and contributor in addressing concerns of both sides and advancing cooperation, and build more branded platforms of dialogue and communication, such as the ASEAN-China Week and the ASEAN-China Centre Roundtable Series.

Second, they should continue to deepen economic integration. Economic and trade cooperation has always been the ballast of ASEAN-China relations, and promoting economic recovery still remains the top priority for regional countries.

Both sides should continue to synergize development policies, promote mutually beneficial cooperation between the Belt and Road Initiative and the “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific”, take full advantage of the high-quality implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and work on the early conclusion of the negotiation of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement 3.0 and the potential shaping of the Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area.

The ASEAN-China Centre will continue to advance the aforesaid key areas of cooperation, and organize more activities to promote trade and investment policies of the ASEAN member states and China by cooperating with the ASEAN member states’ embassies, government departments, business associations and think tanks.

Third, they should continue to pursue innovation-driven growth. Emerging industries are indispensable to high-quality cooperation between ASEAN and China and high-quality and sustainable development in an era of innovation when the digital economy, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, quantum technology, as well as green technologies are developing at an incredible speed.

Early this month in Jakarta, our leaders released the Joint Initiative on Advancing the China-ASEAN Science, Technology and Innovation Enhancing Program at the 26th ASEAN-China Summit. The ASEAN-China Centre will make more efforts to expand our endeavors in such fields as science, technology and innovation so that the ASEAN member states and China could seize the opportunities of transformation and foster new growth drivers.

Last but not least, they should continue to garner strength from public support. Amity among our peoples holds the key to sound state-to-state relations. With 2024 being designated the ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges, more efforts should be made to continue deepening exchanges and cooperation in the fields of tourism, education, culture, sports, and among the media, academia and youth.

In this respect, the ASEAN-China Centre will make the most of the advantages of networking in facilitating lectures, training programs, workshops and exchanges in education, culture and tourism, stay connected with the media and carry out more public relations activities to further raise public awareness about ASEAN-China relations.

The success of this region is not something to be taken for granted, but it should be earnestly cherished and actively promoted, especially amid the profound transformation that we are witnessing and living through. Soon we will see both ASEAN and China taking part in a series of major events, including , the 19th Asian Games and the 3rd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, in addition to the 20th China-ASEAN Expo which was opened last weekend

It is hoped that the ASEAN member states and China will make the most of the opportunities created by the aforesaid important events so as to open up new vistas for ASEAN-China friendly relations and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Divided, we fail; united, we prevail

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said at the 26th ASEAN-China Summit, “The world’s oceans are too wide to be sailed alone”, and telling Premier Li on the same occasion that “One needs good companions to travel with and good neighbors to live with”.

Looking ahead, we must answer the call of the present time and garner strength to strive for win-win cooperation. ASEAN and China should always bear in mind that, on a journey seeking common development and prosperity, divided, we fail, united, we prevail.

The author is the Secretary General of the ASEAN-China Centre

This Article has previously been published by China Daily

**The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization neither endorses nor assumes any responsibility for the content of this article.

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