President Xi Jinping said on Monday that China will not seek “hegemony” or intimidate small countries by announcing $ 1.5 billion in development assistance for ASEAN in addition to elevating ties towards a comprehensive strategic partnership to strengthen security cooperation with the bloc of 10 nations. , amid the push by the United States into the resource-rich Indo-Pacific.
Xi made the remarks at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -China special summit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue relations.
Addressing the summit via video link, President Xi reaffirmed that China “resolutely opposes hegemonism and power politics, wishes to maintain friendly relations with its neighbors and jointly maintain lasting peace in the region. and absolutely will not seek hegemony or even less, intimidate the little ones ”.
“While distance tests a horse’s strength, time reveals a person’s heart,” Xi said. “China was, is and always will be a good neighbor, a good friend and a good partner of ASEAN. I would like to stress that China will unhesitatingly make ASEAN the priority of its neighboring diplomacy.”
China, which was the first to establish a special relationship with ASEAN countries Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, reaped big profits as trade with the block exceeded $ 732. billion dollars last year, Beijing becoming its biggest trading partner.
India, which shares a special relationship with ASEAN countries, also held its India-ASEAN summit last month in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi said 2022 would be celebrated as “the year of the ASEAN-India friendship “to mark the 30 years of their partnership.
Addressing the summit, Xi announced the establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership.
China has several categories to label its ties with different countries. The lowest level is partnership, while the highest level is the Global Strategic Coordinating Partnership for a New Era that is specific to its ties with Russia, Beijing’s emerging close ally.
“This is a new milestone in the history of our relations and it will inject new impetus into the peace, stability, prosperity and development of our region and the world,” Xi said.
“China stands ready to provide ASEAN with an additional $ 1.5 billion in development assistance over the next three years to support ASEAN countries’ fight against COVID-19 and economic recovery,” did he declare.
China stands ready to import more quality products from ASEAN countries, including purchasing up to $ 150 billion worth of ASEAN agricultural products over the next five years, he said.
“We are supporting the creation of a China-ASEAN knowledge network for development. China is also ready to strengthen exchanges and cooperation with ASEAN on poverty reduction to promote balanced and inclusive development, ”he said.
He also said China was ready to donate 150 million additional doses of COVID vaccines to ASEAN countries to support higher vaccination rates in countries in the region, in addition to $ 5 million to the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund.
Xi said China will modernize the ASEAN free trade area established in 2011 and transfer more advanced technologies.
In order to establish more beneficial relations, Xi proposed close security cooperation with ASEAN countries, notwithstanding the South China Sea (SCS) dispute involving a number of ASEAN countries.
“To meet these challenges, it is important to seek common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, and to deepen cooperation in areas such as defense, counterterrorism, search, rescue and maritime exercises. spouses, the fight against transnational crime and disaster management ”. Xi said.
He also said that “joint efforts are needed to preserve stability in the South China Sea and turn it into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.”
“We are seeking high-quality” Belt and Road “cooperation with ASEAN and cooperation between” Belt and Road “initiative and ASEAN Indo-Pacific outlook,” a- he declared.
China, while expressing reservations about the Indo-Pacific concept, also voiced concerns over the US big push into the region as well as the formation of a Quad alliance involving the US, the India, Japan and Australia in addition to UKUS, the United States, Australia and the British alliance. . Beijing says these alliances were meant to stifle its rise to power.
The United States, now joined by allies, has stepped up naval and air patrols over the SCS to assert freedom of navigation, much to Beijing’s dismay.
As it developed political and economic issues within ASEAN, China has forged a closer strategic partnership with Cambodia and Laos in recent years, which critics say has stifled chances of a united push from the 10-member bloc to take a more assertive stance against Beijing.
Significantly, ASEAN countries resisted China’s efforts to compel Myanmar’s military ruler Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, whose regime faced serious allegations of human rights violations, to attend the summit.
The virtual summit hosted by Xi was held without a representative from Myanmar despite intense lobbying from Beijing to welcome Hlaing. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei are said to have opposed China’s proposal to include the Myanmar junta leader.
In a statement, Myanmar’s information ministry thanked China for inviting its representative to attend the meeting and complained that some members of the bloc had pressured a “non-political” representative to attend the meeting. assist.
Commenting on the summit, Chen Xiangmiao, associate researcher at the National Institute of South China Sea Studies, said China and ASEAN have yet to establish a formal dialogue mechanism between defense ministers. and that both parties could work on it.
“Security cooperation between China and ASEAN has not been sufficient over the years,” Chen told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
“There was some breakthrough in 2018 when China and ASEAN held their first joint exercise, but there is still no formal platform for dialogue between their defense ministers.”
Chen said another cooperation could cover supply chains and infrastructure connectivity.
Xu Liping, a Southeast Asian expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China and the United States recognize the importance of ASEAN. The United States saw the region’s potential role in combating Beijing’s growing influence, while China aimed to deter ASEAN countries from siding with the United States, he said. he adds.
“The region is important to both China and the United States,” Xu said. “It is an important military and commercial passage for the United States.”
Chen said the United States aimed to use its military bases in ASEAN countries and exert diplomatic pressure on Beijing. “The United States hopes to make ASEAN its partner, to compete with China,” he told the Post.
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