PHNOM PENH, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) -- Amid a complex international environment, trade between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) continues to grow and show tremendous potential.
Regional economic and social development stand to benefit as the two sides strengthen relations.
China and ASEAN are global manufacturing bases that boast colossal consumer markets. They have become each other's largest trading partners. Bilateral trade, growing against the odds of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past three years, hit a record high in the first 10 months of 2022 by reaching 798.4 billion U.S. dollars, up 13.8 percent year on year.
By the end of July this year, China and ASEAN had become each other's most active investment partners, with cumulative two-way investment exceeding 340 billion dollars, Chinese customs data showed.
In a push for common development, China and ASEAN have signed and implemented the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and jointly built the world's largest free trade area, bringing their open and interconnected development to a new level.
The RCEP, which groups 10 ASEAN countries, along with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, entered into force on Jan. 1, 2022. As the largest free trade pact ever forged, its members cover nearly a third of the world's population and gross domestic product.
"The most obvious benefits brought by the entry into force of the RCEP are increased trade among member states and further promoted regional economic integration," said Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general of the Department of Trade Negotiations under Thailand's Ministry of Commerce.
In recent years, major projects such as the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor and the China-Laos Railway and improved infrastructure such as cold chain and storage have made it increasingly convenient for agricultural products from ASEAN countries to enter the Chinese market.
Take Thai durian as an example. In addition to air transport to China, there are also land transport options and marine transportation from Thailand's Laem Chabang Port to China's Qinzhou Port in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guangzhou Port and Nansha Port in Guangdong Province, among others.
With the connectivity between China and ASEAN further enhanced, high-quality cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative has witnessed landmark achievements, including the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, which ushered Cambodia into a "high-speed era," and the China-Laos Railway that helped the land-locked country of Laos realize its dream of becoming a land-linked country.
The Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, ASEAN's first high-speed railway, will soon be put into trial operation. At the same time, the construction of the China-Laos-Thailand Railway and Malaysia's East Coast Rail Link will be accelerated.
As China-Malaysia and China-Indonesia industrial parks grow more robust, the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor efficiently connects Europe and Asia.
With the opening of freight service recently in the Muangxay Station in northern Laos, all seven freight stations along the Lao section of the China-Laos Railway have been put into operation.
"In the past, it took at least 20 days for agricultural products such as rice to be shipped from Laos to China's Chongqing (Municipality) and Sichuan Province," said Wu Yang, manager of Minsheng International Cargo Freight Agency Co., Ltd., which has long been engaged in China-Laos trade. Wu said now goods could travel from Laos to Chongqing in just four days by the China-Laos freight train as part of the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor.
At present, more than 640 categories of items can be transported by the railway intermodal freight trains through the trade corridor, flowing to 335 ports in 113 countries and regions around the world.
ASEAN member states and China have agreed to continue to promote regional economic integration, welcome the official launch of negotiations on further enhancing the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area and support the full and effective implementation of the RCEP, according to a joint statement on China-ASEAN cooperation released at the 25th China-ASEAN Summit.
They vowed to deepen cooperation on customs, and technical barriers to trade and sanitary and phyto-sanitary regulations to facilitate unimpeded trade and make full use of a variety of platforms to support ASEAN, such as the China International Import Expo, China-ASEAN Expo and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit. The aim is to expand exports to China, including agricultural products, according to the China-ASEAN Joint Statement on Strengthening Common and Sustainable Development.
Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute of Cambodia, said that cooperation between China and ASEAN has yielded results. He said that both sides, as critical driving forces for free trade and multilateralism, have made significant contributions to enhancing mutual understanding and trust and maintaining peace and stability in the region.
With thriving regional economic integration, China-ASEAN cooperation will enjoy stronger momentum and greater prospects, providing new driving forces for regional and world economic development.