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Sino-ASEAN Cooperation Enjoys Broad Prospects

Source: Science and Technology Daily | 2022-08-11 12:37:00 | Author: QI Liming

Full view of Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge in Manila. (PHOTO: SCREENSHOT)

Edited by QI Liming

According to the report by independent think-tank Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI), China has deepened its ties with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) during the COVID-19 pandemic at a pace that the U.S. failed to match.

The promise of vaccines, pandemic aid and high-level conversations among leaders increased China's influence and strengthened its ties with regional countries.

China's heavily promoted pandemic aid, especially the supply of vaccines when these were in very short supply from the West, won gratitude from people in the region.

The high-level bilateral and regional diplomacy kept up a brisk pace, while the focus of the region's other major partners was at home. China's ability to contain the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 and keep its economy open to lift bilateral trade, positioned China as the road to economic recovery.

The country met the region's needs through broad diplomatic and material support, looking outward while the U.S. and its allies were mostly looking inward.

In this regard, firstly, China was willing to provide medical assistance and vaccines in large numbers, while the U.S. and its partners were prioritizing domestic needs.

China was the first country to deliver vaccines to hard-hit Southeast Asia, having donated more than seven million doses across nine Southeast Asian countries by the time the first donation from the U.S. was delivered in July 2021, according to Bridge Consulting and the Kaiser Family Foundation, which provided vaccine tracking data on China and the U.S. respectively.

Secondly, the gravitational pull of China's economy, its geographical proximity and growing infrastructure connectivity, and the sustained attention and engagement across Southeast Asia in recent years have seen its presence, role and influence grow considerably.

In the 2022 ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute State of Southeast Asia Survey, which surveys government, business, and civil society elites, nearly 77 percent of respondents saw China as the most influential economic power in the region.

Thirdly, trade with China grew during the pandemic and ASEAN became China's largest trading partner. The pandemic did not prevent China-Southeast Asia from a bilateral trade increase. In 2020, ASEAN displaced the EU and became China's top trading partner, which continued in 2021.

The strong growth in trade with China was driven by a combination of factors, including China's success in containing the pandemic in 2020, and strong consumer demand.

Last but not least, China's investments and grants in Southeast Asia, as indeed across the world, are often in the form of large infrastructure projects, many of which form part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

These include high-speed railways in Indonesia and Thailand, as well as the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge in Manila, which opened to the public in July 2021.

From 2020, even though some of these investment and construction programs were impacted due to the pandemic, investment has recovered mildly since 2021, and construction has improved more quickly.

A report released by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs found that China is more trusted than Japan in ASEAN, which was seen as quite astonishing to Japan's media.

Based on the Results of the 2021 International Public Opinion Survey on Japan, when asked which country will be an important partner in the future, 48 percent of respondents said China, followed by Japan with 43 percent. It is the first time Japan has been overtaken by China in this survey since 2007.

Editor: 汤哲枭

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