China, ASEAN member states enjoying closer relations, more shared objectives
Senior diplomats of China and its Southeast Asian neighbors are engaged in a slew of intensive talks, and fresh consensuses and outcomes are being reached regarding their joint fight against COVID-19, keeping their economies afloat and ensuring there is no interference in other nations' internal affairs.
State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is in eastern China's Fujian province hosting visiting foreign ministers of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines for a series of one-on-one meetings that started on Wednesday.
Observers said the lingering pandemic is bringing China and all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations even closer, and their renewed commitment to common growth and the peaceful settlement of disputes and conflicts has further transcended geopolitical considerations.
As a part of frequent official contacts between China and ASEAN members, Wang paid official visits to Myanmar, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines from Jan 11 to 16. In addition, Wang talked with Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith via video link on Feb 3.
After his ongoing series of meetings are completed on Friday, Wang will have held bilateral ministerial-level talks this year－in person or via video link－with seven of the 10 ASEAN member countries.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, China and ASEAN countries have maintained frequent high-level contacts, and the fight against the virus has made constant progress, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday.
She added that the series of exchanges between Wang and his Southeast Asian counterparts shows the "ever-increasing bond" among the neighbors.
ASEAN became China's largest trade partner last year, and this year marks the 30th anniversary of the start of the China-ASEAN dialogue partnership.
Beijing looks forward to strengthening strategic mutual trust, boosting the building of the Belt and Road and bringing China-ASEAN ties and bilateral ties with nations to a new level to further ensure regional peace and growth, Hua said.
"China is one of the Strategic Dialogue Partners with which ASEAN has the most substantial cooperation," Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Xinhua News Agency before his China trip.
Both sides are working to enhance the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement and are tackling new priorities resulting from the pandemic, such as the digital economy and public health, he added.
Advancing vaccination and reciprocal recognition of health certificate QR codes to deal with the protracted pandemic were among the topics of Wang's talks with the Singaporean minister on Wednesday.
Vaccine disparity opposed
Wang said countries should work together to object to "vaccine nationalism" and prevent vaccine disparity. Vivian praised the two nations' mutual support during the pandemic, and looked forward to further exchanges.
China and Singapore agreed to push all contracting parties to finish domestic approval procedures on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade pact.
Regarding the Myanmar situation, Wang said China supports ASEAN's noninterference principle as well as its approach to facilitate Myanmar's return to order and stability.
As the world is increasingly multipolar, international relations should be democratized, both sides agreed.
Xu Liping, a researcher of Southeast Asian affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China and ASEAN are front-runners in the East Asia region's fight against COVID-19 as a result of their mutual support.
"The four foreign ministers' China visits will help advance two-way collaboration on building the Belt and Road and offset the impact brought by the pandemic," Xu said, adding that the visits are also expected to help nurture constructive consensus and solutions on the Myanmar situation.
China and ASEAN countries should rule out interference by external forces when negotiating the expected text of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, and their ever-closer friendship is based on lasting cultural and historical links that are not subject to geopolitical games, Xu added.
On Thursday, Wang met with Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin bin Tun Hussein.
Wang said Beijing and Kuala Lumpur agreed to launch a high-level committee on bilateral cooperation and advance two-way teamwork on vaccines and regional cooperation. They also agreed to promote peace, stability and development in the South China Sea region, further support multilateralism and oppose unilateralism.
On Friday, Wang is expected to meet separately with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno L. P. Marsudi and Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin.
In Manila, the first shipment of Chinese vaccines purchased by the Philippine government, which is the first batch of the 25 million doses ordered from leading Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac, arrived on Monday.
"China now is the first and only country to provide vaccines to the Philippines through both donation and commercial procurement," said Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, adding that more vaccines will arrive to further help boost the Philippines' economic recovery.
Rising ties with ROK
At Wang's invitation, Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Chung Euiyong will visit China from Friday to Saturday in his first trip to the country since taking office in February.
Bilateral political relations "have advanced in a close, efficient manner", and two-way trade grew last year despite global economic headwinds, Chinese Ambassador to the ROK Xing Haiming said last week.
From this year to next year, the two nations will hold the "China-ROK Cultural Exchange Year", and next year marks the 30th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations.