As this year's East Asian leaders' meetings on cooperation arrive on Tuesday, the regional countries are facing a world that is still wrestling with the COVID-19 pandemic and struggling to find remedies for an increasingly lopsided recovery of the global economy.
The three-day virtual gathering, which convenes Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members as well as Japan and South Korea, is under the theme "We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper." The theme reflects the kind of understanding and a sense of shared urgency among those parties to come together even closer and strengthen consensus so as to better coordinate and trudge through this era of overlapping perils.
For decades, the spirit of a community with a shared future has boosted strategic mutual trust, economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges between China and its East Asian neighbors.
For instance, over the past 30 years, China and ASEAN countries have stuck together through thick and thin and supported each other in coping with the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the 2003 SARS pandemic, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
Bilateral trade relations have seen remarkable progress. Today, both sides are each other's largest trading partners. And among ASEAN's dialogue partners, China has been No. 1 on many fronts: the first country to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia; the first to become ASEAN's strategic partner and the first to start free trade area negotiations with ASEAN.
The two sides have also handled their disagreements on issues like the South China Sea through dialogue based on mutual respect and consultation. In recent years, regional countries have proved to be wise enough and fully capable of properly handling their differences. To turn the South China Sea into a sea of peace, cooperation and friendship, the relevant parties still need to speed up their consultation on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea so as to reach an agreement at an early date.
Against the backdrop of the once-in-a-century global health crisis, the spirit of a community with a shared future is even more urgently needed for regional coordination and cooperation. During the fight against COVID-19, China and East Asian countries have supported each other with medical supplies and by sharing prevention and treatment experience. China has also provided ASEAN countries with more than 300 million COVID-19 vaccines, and has pledged to carry out vaccine cooperation with more ASEAN members.
Economic and trade cooperation has been another bright spot of the all-round China-East Asia cooperation. Despite the pandemic, trade between China and ASEAN skyrocketed from 8.36 billion U.S. dollars to 685.28 billion last year. And in the first half of this year, bilateral trade reached 410.75 billion dollars, up 38.2 percent year-on-year.
Last year's signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has been widely viewed as a significant achievement for regional free trade cooperation and integration. This mega free trade pact, once taking effect as scheduled, will not only inject strong impetus into regional economic recovery and economic integration, but also boost the world economy. According to forecasts by the Peterson Institute for International Economics last year, this pact will raise annual global national incomes in 2030 by 186 billion dollars.
Amid the waves of protectionism and unilateralism, RCEP is an unmistakable victory for true multilateralism. Multilateralism is one of the guiding principles that have ensured the fruitful cooperation between China and ASEAN in recent years.
In the future, China and ASEAN members need to continue to jointly improve global governance in the spirit of true multilateralism and open regionalism, and firmly oppose Cold-War mentality and zero-sum games.
This age of economic globalization and global interdependence has already woven the fates of all countries together. As a result, building an even closer community with a shared future for China and ASEAN is in the interests of the two sides as well as those of the wider world. China and its regional partners have no other choice but to march forward hand in hand.