Build more platforms for China-Asean cooperation in the face of challenges, urges DPM Heng

DPM Heng Swee Keat gave a virtual speech at the opening ceremony of the 19th China-Asean Expo held in Nanning, Guangxi, in China. PHOTO: HENG SWEE KEAT/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - In the face of diverse challenges countries have to deal with, more platforms for cooperation must be built.

These platforms can channel energies towards constructive relations and stronger cooperation among nations, as well as build a shared future together, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Friday.

"To build a better shared future for all of humanity, we must strengthen cooperation, because no country can take on these challenges alone," he said.

DPM Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, gave a virtual speech at the opening ceremony of the 19th China-Asean Expo held in Nanning, Guangxi, in China.

The four-day event, an annual trade fair which promotes economic cooperation between Asean and China, is one such platform, he added. Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng was at the opening of the expo which has more than 1,000 participating enterprises.

DPM Heng noted that Asean leaders and Chinese President Xi Jinping had committed to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership last year at the Asean-China Special Summit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of dialogue relations.

This partnership advances Asean-China cooperation in all fields to build an open, inclusive and sustainable region.

"Economic cooperation is a key pillar of this strong partnership, as we work towards greater regional economic integration," said DPM Heng, adding that Asean and China are now each other's top trading partner.

They are also part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the largest trading block in the world.

"We are working towards a new round of upgrades for the Asean-China Free Trade Area, the cornerstone of our relations," DPM Heng said. "These efforts will boost our economies and create new opportunities for our workers and businesses."

He suggested strengthening partnership in two areas: boosting connectivity and building a digital and green economy for the future.

To enhance connectivity, Asean and China can work together to harness the full potential of the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor under the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity.

The corridor provides a direct connection between Western China and South-east Asia through Guangxi's Qinzhou Port, reduces time and costs in the movement of goods and provision of services, and strengthens supply chain resilience.

The corridor has proven itself as a viable alternative to traditional trade routes during the pandemic, with cargo flow growing at 30 per cent year on year in the first half of 2022, DPM Heng said.

Air connectivity is equally important, he added, and suggested that the Asean-China Air Transport Agreement, which supports civil aviation and tourism industries as they emerge from the pandemic, should be further liberalised.

On building a digital and green economy, he said: "The digital economy is a key building block for the future, while the pandemic is an opportunity for us to pursue a green recovery."

He noted that Asean and China have taken important first steps towards this end.

They recently approved the Action Plan on Implementing Asean-China Partnership on Digital Economy Cooperation, as well as the 2022 Asean-China Digital work plan.

Asean and China also issued the Joint Statement on Enhancing Green and Sustainable Development Cooperation last year.

DPM Heng wrote on his Facebook and LinkedIn on Friday that trade links between China and South-east Asia go back many centuries, and have evolved and thickened over time.

"We are in a time of great uncertainty in global history... we need more platforms to strengthen cooperation," he reiterated in his post.

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