Asean and China share a strong, substantial and mutually beneficial relationship, said Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In a letter to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang yesterday marking the 15th anniversary of the Asean-China Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity, Mr Lee noted that the partnership has broadened and deepened significantly across the political-security, economic and socio-cultural pillars.
On the economic front, China has been Asean's top trading partner for eight consecutive years and is also Asean's third-largest source of foreign direct investment.
On the Asean-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA), signed in 2010 and upgraded in 2015, he said: "The ACFTA has played a significant role in Asean's economic integration."
Mr Lee also noted that Asean and China had worked closely together and shared a commitment to substantially conclude negotiations by the end of this year on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The free trade deal is being negotiated between the 10 Asean states and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Remarking on the rapid growth in people-to-people exchanges between Asean and China, with two-way tourist arrivals exceeding 30 million in 2016, Mr Lee said: "To bring our regions even closer, both sides are exploring ways to enhance connectivity through synergies between the Master Plan on Asean Connectivity 2025 and China's Belt and Road Initiative.
"We are also working towards the full liberalisation of the Asean-China Air Transport Agreement."
On strategic ties, he said both sides had made strides towards deepening mutual trust, confidence and understanding, noting that Asean and China had adopted the Framework of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) last year, and announced the agreement on a Single Draft COC Negotiating Text earlier this year. The COC sets out rules and norms related to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Mr Lee also mentioned the first Asean-China maritime exercise held in August at RSS Singapura - Changi Naval Base.
"Underlying our close cooperation is a shared belief that a peaceful and stable region serves the interest of both Asean and China," he said.
Mr Lee thanked Mr Li for his "personal efforts" in advancing China's relations with Asean and said he looked forward to meeting Mr Li next month.
"I look forward to the adoption of the Asean-China Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 statement at the 21st Asean-China Summit in November in Singapore. The statement will chart the strategic direction of our cooperation going forward," Mr Lee said.
A successful conclusion to the "Asean-China Year of Innovation", which has driven a search for new areas of collaboration such as fintech, e-commerce and smart cities, will also be marked.
Premier Li, in his letter to Mr Lee, said China-Asean ties have developed steadily over the years, as seen in stronger political mutual trust, closer business ties and robust people-to-people exchanges.
"This relationship has delivered tangible benefits to the two billion people of our both sides, and prompted peace, stability and prosperity of this region and beyond," Mr Li wrote.
He added that China-Asean relations, which are set to mature and upgrade, are embracing new opportunities, and China has always seen Asean as a priority in its neighbourhood diplomacy.
"China is committed to be Asean's good partner for common development, peace, greater openness, win-win progress, innovation, inclusiveness and mutual learning. We will work with Asean to build a strategic partnership at a higher level and an even stronger community with a shared future, taking our relations to an even brighter future," Mr Li wrote.