The special meeting between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ foreign ministers sends “a clear message” to the world about the two sides’ commitment to deepening their partnership, the Cambodian foreign minister said.
Hor Namhong, who is also the country’s deputy prime minister, spoke with China Daily ahead of the Special China-ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Beijing.
The meeting, the first of its kind between China and ASEAN foreign ministers, has attracted vast media attention against the backdrop of tensions in the South China Sea.
“ASEAN and China are strongly committed to further deepening and broadening the strategic partnership in all dimensions and at all levels in the years to come,” Hor Namhong said.
Cambodia will play a positive role in coordinating talks between China and ASEAN members to help resolve remaining issues, including the South China Sea, he said.
“Cambodia will keep working closely with other ASEAN member states and China to further deepen and broaden cooperation in all areas,” he said.
The minister suggested that differences over some matters, such as the South China Sea issue, could be resolved “through close and friendly consultations, based on key political and legal elements of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea for a win-win outcome”.
At the meeting, Hor Namhong said he will stress the continued commitment of China and ASEAN members to further promote ASEAN-China cooperation in all fields.
Since the establishment of the strategic partnership in 1993, China and ASEAN have made remarkable achievements in areas including political ties, security, economic ties and socio-cultural cooperation.
“China is one of the most dynamic strategic partners of ASEAN,” Hor Namhong said.
“China has consistently supported ASEAN integration and community building as well as ASEAN’s central role in evolving regional architecture through cooperation in other important frameworks, including the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus and the East Asia Summit.”
The China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, established in 2010, has boosted trade in the region.
Bilateral trade expanded at an average annual rate of 21.6 percent from 2009 to 2012. Total trade volume reached $318.6 billion by the end of 2012, a yearly increase of 13.6 percent from $280.4 billion in 2011.
“It is pleasing to note the preliminary work that was undertaken by ASEAN and Hong Kong to realize the ASEAN-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement. The negotiation on the agreement is expected to commence in early 2014,” Hor Namhong said.
People-to-people exchanges have noticeably improved. The number of scholarships given to ASEAN students studying in China has increased since 2005. In 2011, 50,000 ASEAN students studied in China.
Hor Namhong suggested that China and ASEAN members continue to promote science and technology transfers and human resource development in important areas, including agriculture, rural development, poverty eradication and disaster management.
China and ASEAN should also strengthen cooperation in narrowing development differences and supporting ASEAN integration and community building, he added.
This year marks the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Cambodia. It is also the China-Cambodia Year of Friendship.
“I have great satisfaction that over the past 55 years, our bilateral cooperation has been developing in all fields with the frequent exchanges of high-level visits and at all levels between our two countries,” the minister said.
He Liu contributed to the story.