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Asean-China Week kicks off to reaffirms cooperation, closer ties

August 10 ------ CHINA and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) reaffirmed the importance of solidarity and cooperation in the face of challenges and vowed closer and stronger ties in the future as the first Asean-China Week 2023 opened in the eastern Chinese city of Fuzhou, two days before Asean Day, the organization's 56th birthday.

The event is co-hosted by the Asean-China Center (ACC) and the Foreign Affairs Office of the Fujian provincial government and Fuzhou municipal government. Over 300 senior government officials, diplomatic envoys, entrepreneurs and think tank experts from Southeast Asia and China attended the event, which last until Friday. During the main themed forum on a "Forward-looking Asean-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in the New Era," representatives of both China and Asean members stressed the importance of regional peace and stability. During the Asean-China (Fujian) Forum on Trade and Investment Cooperation on Sunday afternoon, three public service platforms under the China-Indonesia "Two Countries, Twin Parks" were unveiled. Strategic cooperation framework agreements for nine projects under "Two Countries, Twin Parks" were also signed.

Sessions like a gourmet carnival, Asean film week and an Asean -China symphony concert were held during on opening day. The Shangri-La Hotel in Fuzhou offered food from Asean members and China for participants to enjoy, with majority of whom used chopsticks instead of knives and forks, while films from Asean members were introduced on a huge screen. Despite the complexities in the international situation, Asean has successfully managed to maintain peace and stability of the region and sustain good growth momentum, Shi Zhongjun, Secretary-General of the ASEAN-China Center, said in his opening speech on Sunday.

Shi said Asean was one of the most dynamic regions and is leading the post-pandemic recovery of the world. The success of Asean "lies in its right choice of progress over regression, cooperation over confrontation and openness over isolation... [it] lies in its adhering to solidarity and independence, in its cherishing peace and development." The year 2023 marks the 20th anniversary of China's accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), and the 10th anniversary of an initiative for China to work with Asean members for a 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road and for a closer China-Asean community with a shared future.

Ambassador of Thailand to China Arthayudh Srisamoot hailed the Asean-China Week's role in creating more knowledge and understandings about Southeast Asian culture, as the Chinese public will have an opportunity to learn about Asean , products and meet new people through the event. 2023 also marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Ambassador Srisamoot hailed the initiative's role in fostering connectivity between nations. The free flow of Thai exports has enjoyed very good market access in China... the BRI provides an ideal neighboring environment for the two countries to cooperate, not only in transportation, logistics, but also in people-to-people exchanges of culture and youth between two nations, the ambassador told the Global Times.

Ong Tee Keat, senior fellow with the Taihe Institute and chairman of Malaysia-based think tank the Center for New Inclusive Asia, told the Global Times on Sunday that since the relationship between China and Asean has been upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership, it becomes more necessary to develop all-round and multi-dimensional relations. Nonpolitical sessions during the event seek to break down barriers between the people to avoid unnecessary suspicion, just in case a third party sows discord and inciting populism when there's misunderstanding, Ong said. Ong is former deputy speaker of Malaysia's lower house of parliament, Malaysian transport minister and president of the Malaysian Chinese Association. He believes that the "Track II diplomacy," which stresses people-to-people and cultural exchanges and non-official contact, is crucial for China to deepen ties with Asean.

Asean-China Week, which came after the Foreign Ministers' Meeting held in Jakarta in July, is viewed as an important event to promote other China-ASEAN exchanges in the second half of 2023. The 2023 Asean-China Summit is scheduled to be held in September, followed by the 20th China-Asean Expo and China-Asean Business and Investment Summit. The APEC Summit in November will be also attended by Southeast Asian nations and China.

Benito Gosiaco Techico, special envoy of the Philippines' president to China for trade, investment and tourism, told the Global Times on Sunday that Manila was looking forward to more investment collaboration with China, particularly in agriculture, information, technology, tourism, manufacturing and renewable energy. "The prospect is definitely positive," he said. The Asean has been China's largest trading partner for three consecutive years. In the first half of 2023, trade with Asean members accounted for 15.3 percent of China's total trade, reaching 3.08 trillion yuan ($428.96 billion), up 5.4 percent from 2022.



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