President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping underscored strong multilateral ties between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to facilitate an early and full recovery of the regional economy from the pandemic.
In separate addresses during Friday’s opening of the 17th China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) and China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (CABIS), both leaders rallied ASEAN member states in the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
To give substance to the alliance, Xi promised that when its COVID-19 vaccines are available for use, China will actively consider the needs of ASEAN countries.
Xi then said elevated cooperation will be crucial to jumpstart economic activities under the new normal.
“China will enhance coordination with ASEAN countries and take the 10th anniversary of the full establishment of the China-ASEAN free trade agreement as an opportunity to enhance ties,” Xi said.
Mr. Duterte said, in turn, that the “important annual economic event is vital in strengthening multilateral ties between China and ASEAN.”
Collaboration is vital “especially now as we collectively face the challenges of economic recession and uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Chief Executive added in his message.
“China will provide financial support to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund and work with ASEAN in developing the Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies for Public Health Emergencies and launching a Liaison Mechanism for Public Health Emergencies with ASEAN,” he said.
Medics training offered
Xi pledged that he will act on the China-ASEAN Human Resources Training Program of Health Silk Road (2020-2022) to train 1,000 administrative and specialized personnel in the health sector in ASEAN countries in a bid to help deliver higher quality public health services in the region.
The Philippine leader also thanked China for its substantial investment in trade, infrastructure, telecommunication and transportation which he noted to have strengthened economic integration, productivity and financial stability in the region.
“Let us ensure a harmonious collaboration among our countries and achieve the goal of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) under the blueprint of the China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership Vision 2030,” Mr. Duterte added.
The President assured that the Philippines remains a strong partner in promoting mutual prosperity of the China-ASEAN economic community for the years ahead.
The trade volume between China and ASEAN rose from $292.8 billion in 2010 to $641.5 billion in 2019.
In the first three quarters of 2020, it reached $481.8 billion, up by five percent from a year ago, making the ASEAN China’s largest trading partner.
RCEP key to reboot
Xi said he is looking forward to the RCEP’s early implementation.
The world’s biggest FTA was signed by its 15 members on 15 November at the fourth RCEP summit in Hanoi.
It covers nearly a third of the global population and about 30 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).
“China will work with ASEAN countries to sustain the smooth flow of trade, promote mutual investment, open up markets wider to each other, and foster deeply integrated industrial, supply and value chains,” Xi pledged.
This year is designated as the China-ASEAN Year of Digital Economy Cooperation.
Xi said China will work with ASEAN countries to seize opportunities presented by the new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation.
“We could create more highlights of cooperation in areas such as smart city, 5G, artificial intelligence, e-commerce, big data, blockchain and telemedicine, and strengthen the protection of data security and policy communication and coordination, as these efforts will help nurture new drivers for the social and economic development of our two sides,” he elaborated.
Xi also called on the strengthened cooperation against COVID-19 and enhance capacity building in public health.
It is important that we join forces in fighting the coronavirus and step up information sharing and cooperation on the production, development and deployment of vaccines, he noted.
MSME chief beneficiary
Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Assistant Secretary Allan Gepty said the Philippines’ participation in the RCEP will be beneficial to the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) as well as various economic sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture.
“The signing of the RCEP Agreement is a welcome development because it is a strong demonstration of the region’s commitment in ensuring a stable and predictable regional economic architecture amid uncertainties and the growing trend in protectionism worldwide,” Gepty added.
“It is in effect an affirmation to a rules-based system for international trade.
It is also viewed as a confidence-building milestone in this time of pandemic, especially as we work towards recovery from the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.
For the Philippines, the RCEP will complement ongoing trade and investment reforms and initiatives for the resurgence of the country’s manufacturing sector, enhancement of its investment regime, strengthening of the agriculture sector, and integration of MSME into the global value chain through market access.