Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis
- China’s Foreign Minister Visits Myanmar, Indonesia, Brunei & Philippines
- Covid Vaccines To Pre-Empt Economic Recovery
- Numerous bilateral and Belt & Road projects instigated
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has just wrapped up a four-nation mission to Myanmar, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines, visiting all these ASEAN members last week, and coming on the back of his visits to five African countries the week before. We covered that trip here. Wang’s visit comes just days before the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden, with Beijing promising help with vaccine distribution, as well as cooperation on infrastructure and trade, to fuel the post-pandemic recovery. Wang’s trip comes three months after his visits to Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Singapore, and Thailand.
We can examine the highlights of this year’s trip as follows:
Myanmar is about to become the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ coordinator with China for the next three years.
Wang said that China is willing to continue to support Myanmar to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and provide Myanmar with a batch of anti-pandemic supplies as well as COVID-19 vaccines. China is also willing to discuss further cooperation on vaccines with Myanmar. He believes that Myanmar is certainly able to defeat the virus, and the “Paukphaw” friendship between the two countries will be deepened during the joint pandemic response. The China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) is a flagship project of the Belt and Road cooperation, and the practice of building the China-Myanmar community with a shared future. China is willing to work with Myanmar to implement the five-year plan for economic and trade cooperation, speed up the construction of the west, north, and east ends of the CMEC, promote an early implementation of the Kyaukpyu Deep Sea Port, the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone, and the New Yangon City, to boost Myanmar’s development for the benefit of its people.
The two countries signed an MoU to conduct feasibility study of a railway linking Mandalay, the country’s second largest city in Myanmar’s central region, with Kyaukphyu, the main town in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Wang Yi with Aung San Suu Kyi
Wang Yi said China is willing to further step up medical and health cooperation with Indonesia to jointly build a global community of health for all. He hopes that the two sides can sign the cooperation plan for aligning the Belt and Road Initiative with Indonesia’s vision of Global Maritime Fulcrum at an early date, actively press forward such key projects as the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway and “Two Countries, Twin Parks”, as well as the regional comprehensive economic corridor, strengthen cooperation on tourism, agriculture and vocational education & training, and foster new growth drivers of digital economic cooperation so as to continuously inject robust momentum into the economic growth of both countries. China is willing to import more Indonesian products and has a positive attitude towards expanding the scale of bilateral currency swaps. Both sides should work together to maintain digital security and build a cybersecurity community. China is willing to promote maritime cooperation with Indonesia by introducing innovative ideas into such fields as navigation safety, marine scientific research, maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, and environmental protection and creating highlights of such cooperation.
Indonesia’s Coordinator for Cooperation with China and Coordinating Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said that Indonesia appreciates China’s timely support for vaccines and hopes to continue to promote cooperation on vaccines, drug development and exchange of medical personnel with China. Indonesia is willing to work with China to expedite the joint contribution to the Belt and Road Initiative, advance the construction of the regional comprehensive economic corridor and push for progress of major projects such as the Jakarta-Bandung high speed railway and the “Two Countries, Twin Parks”. Indonesia welcomes increased investment from China and is also looking forward to hosting China’s electric vehicle manufacturers. Indonesia is willing to strengthen cybersecurity and maritime cooperation with China, activate bilateral trade working groups, convene maritime cooperation committee meeting as soon as possible, spur exports of agricultural and fishery products to China, and deepen financial cooperation.
Prior to the meeting, the two sides witnessed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Developing Cybersecurity Capacity Building and Technical Cooperation and the Memorandum of Understanding on China-Indonesia Cooperation on the “Two Countries, Twin Parks”.
Wang with Indonesian President Joko Widodo
Wang Yi said that China is ready to maintain high-level exchanges with Brunei, make joint efforts for the celebration of the 30th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations, and draft development plans of bilateral relations in the next 30 years based on the success in the past 30 years. The two sides need to continue to enhance anti-pandemic cooperation, launch the “fast tracks” and “green lanes” for the flow of personnel and goods, and sustain stable industrial and supply chains. China supports its domestic enterprises in engaging with the Bruneian side on vaccine cooperation. The two countries need to push the China-Brunei intergovernmental joint steering committee to make further progress in achieving its set goals, facilitate the two flagship projects of Hengyi PMB Refinery and Petrochemical Project and Guangxi-Brunei Economic corridor, maintain development momentum of economic, trade and investment cooperation, explore new areas of growth in 5G, digital economy, AI, big data application, expand agricultural and tourist cooperation, and enhance higher education and students exchanges. China is willing to provide Brunei with more development opportunities and welcomes Brunei to attend China-ASEAN Expo and China International Import Expo, and actively participate in the construction of the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor.
Wang Yi said that China supports Brunei in taking over the ASEAN rotating chairmanship and is ready to work with Brunei to elevate China-ASEAN relations, promote the early enforcement of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, build a China-ASEAN cybersecurity community, improve public health cooperation, and forge a Blue Economy Partnership. The two sides need to uphold the ASEAN’s centrality in regional cooperation, safeguard an open and inclusive regional structure, guide all parties to focus on development and East Asia, and maintain the sound momentum of regional cooperation in East Asia. We support anything that helps to uphold the ASEAN’s centrality, whilst we should be alert to any attempt to sabotage its centrality.
The Bruneian side said that Brunei attaches great importance to its relations with China, as there are broad common interests and tremendous potential of cooperation between the two countries. Brunei is willing to take the opportunity of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of China-Brunei diplomatic relations and China-ASEAN dialogue relations to further promote its cooperation with China. Brunei is grateful for China’s assistance for its fight against the pandemic, and appreciates the China’s announcement that its vaccines will be provided to ASEAN countries as a public good once successfully developed. Brunei hopes to enhance bilateral cooperation in fisheries and tourism, and promote the construction of Hengyi PMB Refinery and Petrochemical Project and Guangxi-Brunei Economic Corridor. It welcomes more Chinese enterprises to invest in Brunei to explore new areas of cooperation in e-commerce and digital economy, and help realize diversified economic development of the country. Brunei is ready to, during its rotating ASEAN chairmanship, prioritize the cooperation with China, elevate China-ASEAN relations to a new level, further strengthen the construction of free trade areas, promote the cooperation in poverty alleviation, education, cybersecurity and sustainable development, and reach consensus on Blue Economy Partnership. Brunei will continue to actively participate in China-ASEAN Expo and China International Import Expo.
The two sides announced the launch of an energy cooperation working group under the framework of China-Brunei intergovernmental joint steering committee, and stated they will maintain communication on the establishment of a marine cooperation working group to jointly promote cooperation in relevant areas. The two sides will continue to work on the comprehensive and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and to facilitate the agreement on substantive and effective regional norms.
Wang with The Sultan of Brunei Haji Hassanal Bolkiah
Coronavirus pandemic responses and economic revitalization were the top agenda in bilateral talks on Saturday of the Philippine and Chinese governments during the two-day official visit here of Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
In Wang’s third visit to the country, he and Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr took off from discussions that started last year on the coronavirus pandemic – from containment, vaccines, and economic revitalization.
The Chinese government agreed to donate 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said. The bilateral meeting also included talks on investments and infrastructure developments. The foreign ministers committed to stronger collaboration on projects under the “Build Build Build” program.
The Philippines and China signed the Philippines-China Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation, granting 500 million RMB to finance livelihood projects, infrastructure facilities, feasibility studies for major projects, and other mutually agreed projects.
The ministers also “agreed on the importance of preserving and promoting regional peace, stability and security.”
Saturday’s meetings also included the unveiling of a plaque to mark the designation of the Bank of China’s Manila Branch as Renminbi Clearing Bank in the Philippines. The launch of the Renminbi facility is seen to “help boost the country’s financial sector and improve trading rates for participating Philippine banks.”
Wang Yi with Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr
China’s offer of vaccines to ASEAN nations is part of the national ‘Health Silk Road’ agenda to ensure economic recovery after the pandemic remains a priority for both China and Southeast Asian governments. All major ASEAN countries have carried out economic rescue plans, in which foreign trade and foreign investment are significant components.
We have previously covered these plans in earlier articles concerning Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines. As most of Southeast Asia relies on foreign trade and investment, building closer economic ties with China is a pertinent choice for them to put their economies back on their feet. The ten ASEAN nations collectively became the biggest trading partner for China for the first time last year, with collective trade overtaking the European Union. In the new context of the slowed spread of COVID-19 after vaccine rollouts, the implementation of the Belt and Road projects mentioned in these talks will be accelerated to boost employment and economic development in ASEAN.
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