Multilateralism: Still the Key to a Prosperous East Asia
Ambassador to ASEAN Deng Xijun Published a Signed Article
18 February 2022
Recently, the still-raging Omicron variant has led to a sharp surge of infections in East Asia, further distancing a future free of COVID-19. Slowed economic growth has made it harder to keep up people’s living standard. The big picture gets gloomier. Traditional security issues are complicated by the new ones, giving rise to more uncertainties. Perhaps it has to be admitted that East Asian cooperation has again come to a crossroad amidst the complex regional and international landscape.
Yet solutions offered by various countries differ. As for China, it firmly believes that multilateralism remains the “master key” to challenges faced by East Asia as well as the anchor for regional peace and prosperity.
Peace and security, a must for development and prosperity, remain the shared aspiration of people in the region. Then what shall and could be done? For instance, we regional countries need to serve as the builders and guardians of peace in the region. We need to pursue dialogue instead of confrontation, build partnerships instead of alliances, and make concerted efforts to address the various negative factors that might threaten or undermine peace. Moreover, we need to champion sincere dialogue, practical cooperation, openness and inclusiveness. We need to fend off security risks and actively explore a regional security architecture. Having stood against power politics and hegemony all along, China is steadfast as always to safeguard the enduring peace of the region together with our neighbors. China will never seek hegemony or a sphere of influence, still less will it bully other countries.
As victory over COVID-19 and economic recovery remain the common priorities for regional countries, there is much more we could do together. For instance, it is of paramount importance to stand in solidarity, share information and strengthen joint prevention and control. The strategic significance of vaccines cannot be over emphasized. Cooperation in vaccine R&D, production and distribution requires our concerted endeavors, so as to make vaccines truly accessible and affordable for everyone.
Openness is the sure way for the sustained East Asia cooperation. Open regionalism and free trade are conducive to the next phase of regional economic integration. And true multilateralism means inclusiveness rather than exclusion, integration rather than decoupling. The sheer obsession with high standards and pursuit of dominance in regional economic agenda, in disregard of openness and inclusiveness, would lead the region nowhere. Free trade prevails when it fits the situation on the ground in East Asia.
Diversity and inclusiveness are embedded in East Asia’s DNA. Be it the political systems, religions, cultures or models of development, East Asia has been well known for its immense diversity, even since the ancient times. It has been openness that guides the regional economic integration. It has been coordination and consultation on an equal footing that drives the ASEAN-led regional cooperation. And it has been inclusiveness that underpins an open and non-exclusive East Asia family.
Those who are preoccupied with an ideology-driven and value-oriented mindset risk of severely undermining the foundation of cooperation in East Asia and would perhaps find themselves the least wanted by regional countries. Unfortunately, the self-claimed “beacon” would eventually find itself unnecessary and unhelpful in this part of the world, as each and every nation here has its own way of shining.
When it comes to East Asian cooperation, China and ASEAN have been the backbone. China unswervingly supports ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture and unswervingly supports ASEAN in playing a leading role in regional affairs. China is proud to have made significant contributions to East Asian cooperation. The development of China, a major opportunity for the region, is in no way a “challenge” as painted by some other countries.
East Asian cooperation has been inexhaustibly powered by the steady and sound growth of China-ASEAN relations. China will, as always, unswervingly take ASEAN as a high priority in its neighborhood diplomacy and unswervingly support ASEAN unity and community building. Last year, President Xi Jinping and leaders of ASEAN Member States jointly announced the establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership between China and ASEAN, identifying fields and measures of cooperation and thus charting the course forward. The new milestone will inject strong impetus to China-ASEAN ties.
The tremendous progress of cooperation between China and ASEAN speaks for themselves. For instance, our 878.2 billion US dollars of two way trade in 2021, with a growth rate of 28.1 percent, enables us to remain as each other’s largest trading partner. RCEP that came into effect on the very first day of 2022 ushers the regional free trade into a new era. Major infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative are delivering real dividends to local people. The China-Laos railway that started operation at the end of last year is serving as a fresh channel of transport between China and ASEAN.
Yet against the prevailing trend of cooperation regionwide, an updated Indo-Pacific Strategy has caught our attention in recent days. Dominated by the Cold-War mentality, it has an easy excuse of “China threat” and is in pursuit of geopolitical rivalry. Be it the five objectives or the action plan, people don’t need to make an effort to find out its hidden agenda of containing China and defending hegemony. On the paper, the “strategy” is about a free and open region. In reality, it is busy with building regional blocs such as AUKUS and QUAD. On the one hand, it talks about bolstered regional security. On the other hand, it is about to reinforce deterrence by helping an ally with nuclear submarines and risking the region of potential nuclear proliferation. On the one hand, it looks to regional prosperity. Yet on the other hand, it undermines the ASEAN-centered regional cooperation architecture by driving a wedge among regional countries with the attempt of instigating confrontation, thus seriously threatening the fruits and prospect of regional cooperation.
At the crossroad, it is worth pondering, more than ever, the course and direction ahead. And one thing is for sure. China will continue to keep up with the trend of the times, remain focused on improving people’s livelihoods and safeguarding regional peace and development. Guided by the spirit of building a global community with a shared future, China will remain as steadfast as ever to champion multilateralism and work together with ASEAN toward an even-brighter future of East Asian cooperation!