BEIJING – China is now Asean’s largest trading partner, according to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who spoke to the media late last week at a press conference on the sidelines of the first session of the 2018 National People’s Congress (NPC).
Mr Wang said this year marked the fifteenth anniversary of the establishment of the strategic partnership between China and Asean, and that China is looking to build a closer relation and a “shared future” with Asean members.
“As we celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the relation this year, 2018 is of particular importance for the future of the China-Asean strategic partnership. In the last 15 years, I’ve seen China-Asean cooperation grow from strength to strength and bear rich fruit,” he said.
Mr Wang pointed out that last year two-way trade between China and Asean reached $500 billion. “All of which brought real benefits to our combined population of nearly two billion,” he said.
According to Mr Wang, China-Asean cooperation is the most successful and dynamic economic and diplomatic relation in the Asia-Pacific region.
“In the year ahead we will continue to give high priority to cooperation with Asean, upgrade our strategic partnership and build a more closely linked community of shared destiny,” he said.
During the conference, Mr Wang addressed the situation in the South China Sea, saying that China’s approach to the South China Sea issue is a responsible one that takes into account the interests of the Chinese people, history, and international law.
“China’s stance is firm and consistent. As you can see, the situation in the South China Sea is improving. There is a golden opportunity for China and Asean countries to agree to develop a code of conduct in the South China Sea.”
He said China and Asean are willing to cooperate to draft regional rules to meet their common requirements and aspirations, adding that both parties will speed up work on the code of conduct consultation, while exploring mechanisms of cooperation among the coastal states.
“In the year ahead China will work with Asean countries to seize opportunities, broaden cooperation, prevent interference and overcome challenges,” Mr Wang said.
He also said many of the problems in the South China Sea are caused by foreign powers who are not happy with the prevalent calm and are trying to stir up tension.