11 July 2024

Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn became the first ASEAN member to openly support the upgrade of ASEAN-China ties to a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” according to a foreign ministry’s statement in Phnom Penh.

Sokhonn made this point on Wednesday during the virtual ASEAN-China Ministerial Meeting hosted by Brunei, as the ASEAN chair. “In acknowledging the most substantive partnership that ASEAN and China have achieved since the establishment of dialogue relations, Cambodia’s support for the elevation of ASEAN-China ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” the statement said.

Early last year, China made a request for the promotion of their bilateral ties, which is currently celebrating the 30th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. Since then, ASEAN senior officials have held meetings to discuss the implications of Beijing’s request.

So far there was no consensus even though most of the member countries expressed support. Certain key members suggested that other dialogue partners should be considered. An informed source, who asked not to be identified, revealed that Australia has also made a request to upgrade its bilateral ties.

At the virtual meeting, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi also said that given the excellent ties between the two sides, they should join hands to open a new era of cooperation. He also added that China regards ASEAN as its primary partner in the fight against Covid-19.

Wang also revealed that China has so far provided more than 190 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to the 10 ASEAN members together with other anti-Covid-19 supplies. China has donated 1.5 million doses to Thailand. Since April, Thailand has purchased more than 10 million doses of Sinovac, China-made vaccines.

He said China will continue to cooperate with ASEAN in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in the area of capacity building in the production and distribution of vaccines and medical supplies as well as recovery efforts.

Another most cited reason for elevating China’s status has been the rapid growth of bilateral trade and investment cooperation. Wang pointed out that in the first half of this year, the bilateral trade exceeded US$410 billion, up 38.2 percent year on year. ASEAN is now China’s No. 1 trading partner replacing the European Union. This trend will continue in the foreseeable future because regional production chains have not been greatly affected by the pandemic.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Asean-China relations, there will be a special summit in China later this year. Throughout the year, both sides have organized webinars and activities to promote their friendships. This year has been assigned the Asean-China Year of Sustainability Development Cooperation.

ASEAN has nine strategic dialogue partners namely China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, the US, Russia, and the EU.