During a press conference on Feb. 17, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Lei Hong, answered questions about the unofficial meeting between the United States and the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
From Feb. 15 to 16, the United States and leaders from ASEAN member states held an unofficial conference in California. An alliance declaration was issued at the meeting, the discussions during which included peaceful conflict resolution, and upholding regional peace and safety — especially in the ocean.
Lei Hong’s response was just as China’s response has been in the past: We welcome the United States to build a relationship with ASEAN. At the same time, we believe that the relationship between the United States and ASEAN should assist everyone in the region to have positive interactions and cooperation with each other. This relationship should also assist stability and progress in the region.
Lei Hong said that at the meeting they also noticed other countries had plans to stir up problems in the South China Sea. The majority of ASEAN countries do not sympathize with these plans, because stirring up problems will only harm the existing trust between countries in the region. It will also disturb, and even break down, the efforts of countries in the region toward upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea. In order to uphold that regional peace and stability, and to promote the peaceful resolution of conflicts, China is willing to unite with other ASEAN members on a path to carry out constructive actions.
After the meeting, U.S. President Obama said to the press that each side should use arbitration and other methods to peacefully solve the South China Sea conflict. He called for a stop to the creation of man-made islands, new construction and militarization in the disputed South China Sea region. The United States will continue to allow air and maritime navigation in the area according to international law.
To this, Lei Hong said that China had seen the related reports. In reality, this is not the first time that an American leader has made similar comments regarding the South China Sea conflict. The conflicts in the South China Sea are not the preserve of the U.S. Accordingly, the U.S. should tread lightly and construct an atmosphere conducive to conflict resolution, through negotiation, for those directly involved. It should not take this opportunity to stir up the South China Sea conflict, to paint the situation as more tenuous than it is in reality, or incite disharmony between countries in the region.
An article from the Huffington Post states that U.S. and ASEAN leaders holding an unofficial meeting shows that the U.S. sees Southeast Asia as a crucial part of its major “Pivot to Asia” strategy. The U.S. wants to rally countries in the area to protest Chinese methods, which is actually a Cold War line of thought. Looking back on British and American maritime war history, maybe the U.S. should peacefully allow China to become the major country in the region.
In this regard, Lei Hong said that in today’s world, both at home or afar, when countries big and small have increasingly blended interests, safety is shared by all interested parties and is for the good of all countries. The new path that China and the U.S. are going down must be beneficial to both countries and the rest of the world. Recalling what has been done in the past, it must not be a path in which disastrous policies cause major countries to collide head-on with new, up-and-coming countries. The Asia Pacific region is big enough, and can allow for both China and the U.S. to make progress together. China and the U.S. should continue to foster a new type of relationship between major countries, thereby guiding interactions between their two countries and those in the Asia Pacific region, while bringing benefits to the people of the U.S., China and the rest of the world.
Regarding the problem of China and ASEAN relations, Lei Hong says that China has always valued, and has been dedicated to, its relationship with ASEAN. In order to promote conditions of peace, stability and progress in the area, China is happy to see dialogue between ASEAN partners and also progress toward friendly cooperation.
Lei Hong indicated that China is ASEAN’s most active and special dialogue partner. China has held this position since 1991. In 2003, China was the first dialogue partner to be established as a strategic partner of ASEAN. China was also the first to establish a free trade zone with ASEAN, and has been ASEAN’s largest trade partner for the past seven years in a row. Last November, during a meeting between leaders of China and ASEAN, both sides signed an agreement to upgrade the free trade zone and successfully designed the third five-year plan for practical strategic partnership on both sides, which outlined the direction for cooperation over the next five years.
Lei Hong announced that this year is the 25th anniversary of the dialogue partnership between China and ASEAN, and it is also the year that both sides have agreed to an education exchange. This September they will hold a summit to commemorate the 25 year anniversary of establishing the dialogue partnership. We are looking forward to being on the same path as ASEAN, deepening pragmatic partnerships in the region, and promoting China’s partnership with ASEAN on a new level by holding a series of celebrations.
In regards to how China will support ASEAN community building efforts, Lei Hong noted that this is the inaugural year of the ASEAN Economic Community. China is pleased by its achievements with ASEAN in the process of unification. We also note that development is the primary mission of ASEAN members, and there still exist inequalities in development within ASEAN itself.
Lei Hong highlighted that China, being its important partner, has been a staunch supporter of ASEAN community building from the start. As we continue to widen comprehensive cooperation with ASEAN, we will also be committed to helping shrink the development gaps between countries and to promote progress for everyone in the region. China and ASEAN leaders met 17 times during 2014. Premier Li Keqiang proposed that a cooperative system be established between the Lancang River and the Mekong River to benefit all parties. In November of last year, China held the first conference for foreign ministers with the five countries who share the Mekong River: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. This officially began the process of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation. As agreed by all parties, the city of Sanya in Hainan, China, will host the first conference in the final week of March to fully establish the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation; and leaders from all six countries will discuss plans and create a blueprint for cooperation. In order to prepare for the conference, China will host a meeting for senior diplomats next Wednesday. We believe that the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation will become a beneficial addition for Chinese-ASEAN relations, and will go a long way to support ASEAN’s community in building and promoting the region’s unification process.