CHINESE Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said China shall remain a “good friend and a good partner” to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and will continue to respect the so-called “centrality” in the region.
The Chinese envoy made the remark in his speech during the 2nd Manila Times Business Forum held at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City on Wednesday.
Zhao was giving his views on the Asean Economic Community (AEC).
“As a good friend and good partner, China will continue to give firm support to a stronger Asean, the building of Asean Community and Asean centrality in the regional cooperation of East Asia,” the Chinese official said.
His statement came amid a bitter sea row between China and some Asean members that lay claim to some islands in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).
The Philippines has sought arbitration to resolve the dispute before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. (See related story).
Although China has been seeking a bilateral mode to discuss the row, the Philippine government, through President Benigno Aquino 3rd, stood firm in favor of arbitration, saying China has to respect “Asean centrality” in light of the Declaration of the Code of Conduct signed by Beijing and Asean in 2002.
Zhao maintained that China’s relationship with Asean is “bilateral.”
“China will make every effort to promote the economic and trade cooperation with Asean as one important part of the bilateral relationship,” he said.
In the same speech, Zhao noted that China and Asean countries “enjoy a deep foundation and strong bonds” and that “cooperation promises great potentials and broad prospects.”
The Chinese diplomat, however, made no specific mention about the disputes that Beijing has with Asean member-countries.
Since the China-Asean dialogue was launched in 1991, Zhao said, comprehensive cooperation has been developed rapidly.
“In the economic area, China was the first to establish a free trade area with Asean, which is also the largest FTA among developing countries in the world. From 2003, when the Strategic Partnership between China and Asean was established, China and Asean have made big headway through concerted efforts and scored great economic fruit,” he pointed out.
The Chinese ambassador reported that as proof of this “fast growth,” bilateral trade hit a record high of $480 billion in 2014, almost nine times as much as the figure in 2002 when the China-Asean Free Trade Area was signed.
The $480 billion represented an average growth rate of more than 20 percent.