【Taihe Review】Ong Tee Keat Speaks at ACW 2023 Opening Ceremony(友会资讯)

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Tan Sri Ong Tee Keat

Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute

President of the BRI Caucus for Asia Pacific

The essence of the coming-of-age ties between China and ASEAN lies not in the nomenclature of a comprehensive strategic partnership per se, but more in the ensuing efforts to strengthen mutual trust through multi-dimensional capacity development and confidence building between China and its neighbouring Southeast Asian bloc.
In light of the robust growth in trading of goods and services between China and ASEAN year-on-year, the upward trend of economic collaboration is further anticipated optimistically. This would continue to make China and ASEAN the biggest trading partner of each other in many more years to come.
New drivers are earmarked to be brought to the table to help boost the post-Covid 19 economic recovery in the region. Vaccine research and production, alongside with digital economy, green economy and blue economy, just to name a few, are all set to characterize the post-CSP collaboration between China and ASEAN.
Nonetheless, we have to acknowledge the hard reality that amid the changing geopolitical dynamics across the world, the economy-driven collaboration may no longer be sufficient to meet the rising aspirations in the region.
Against the prevailing backdrop of hostile wedge-driving between China and ASEAN in the rising geopolitical face-off, widening gulf of trust-deficit remains a real litmus test to the CSP.
Model of the China-ASEAN cooperation has to go multi-dimensional and holistic in the face of new challenges. Track 2 diplomacy is now in dire need to bridge the gap of trust-building. China, the nearest neighbor of ASEAN that has the most public goods to offer to humanity, needs to be better understood in the right perspective.
In this context, trust building is an imperative element in managing the CSP relations between ASEAN and China. Trust deficit must be efficiently arrested with determination.
Much has been talked about the People-to-people exchange under the framework of Track 2 Diplomacy. No doubt, tourism might constitute part of it, but the tourist arrival statistics do not necessarily translate into trust-building.
In this regard, it’s imperative that both China and ASEAN seek to explore new frontiers of collaboration beyond sheer economics and infrastructural development. In brief, the China-ASEAN cooperation should go multi-dimensional and holistic if the resilience of CSP is to be preserved.
On regional economic integration, the coming into fruition of the RCEP provides a timely platform for the region to address the risk of supply chain disruption.
With the inclusion of China which is well equipped with a full gamut of industrial and supply chains, RCEP is visibly having the comparative edge vis-a-vis IPEF in addressing any potential supply chain disruption. The latter with the deliberate exclusion of China has yet to have a viable alternative to the Chinese supply chain though the IPEF Supply Chain Agreement, which was recently concluded with a proposed emergency response mechanism in the face of potential supply chain disruption.
The same is doable in RCEP as 11 out of 14 signatories of IPEF are the members of RCEP, where India, Fiji and the U.S. are not in the fold. Whilst 3 ASEAN member states, namely Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos are excluded from the IPEF, thus calling into question the inclusivity of IPEF.
While China and ASEAN are having their interests intertwined under the various frameworks of cooperation, efforts to synchronize the inconsistencies, if any, between the respective tariff codes under the frameworks of RCEP, ASEAN+1 and the upcoming ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA 3.0) are absolutely crucial and necessary in the interest of multilateral economic collaboration.

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