CAEXPO supports ASEAN centrality
The 20th China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) and China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in Nanning are two of the most significant events in the ASEAN region. It is more than just a trade expo with the usual fascinating array of goods and products on display. These are important, but it’s the dialogues and meetings that deliver the full significance of CAEXPO because they provide a strategic guide to regional policy development.
In 2014, I was invited to speak in the first Australian partner participation in CAEXPO. I got to know the outline of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and how this meshed with what is now the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It was the first time the concept had been explained fully to an international audience and the impact was significant. It set the parameters for business engagement and development in the following decade and more.
This year’s CAEXPO has continued that tradition of policy commitments with the opening ceremony speech by Chinese Premier Li Qiang. He emphasized the significance of building a closer China-ASEAN community. These remarks followed the recent ASEAN meeting in Jakarta where the issue of ASEAN centrality in regional decision making was a major point of discussion.
Li acknowledged ASEAN centrality in the process of forging smooth China-ASEAN relationships. This is another important indication of China’s desire to work within existing regional trade structures of which CAEXPO is a practical example. This is a direct counter to the approach taken by the United States which seeks to undermine ASEAN centrality in regional decision making by turning organizations like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) into a geopolitical platform.
Echoing decade-old remarks, Li placed ASEAN countries at the intersection of the “Belt and Road” on both land and sea. They reflected the historical connections of China trade from the ancient land-based Tea Horse Road and the maritime trade centers in the Straits of Malacca.
His remarks provided a clear indication of the vitality and growth of the BRI. This came as a shock to Western observers who have been led to believe that the BRI is a spent force. Nothing could be further from the truth as the multi-faceted BRI continues to expand its engagement with ASEAN in many key areas.
The BRI is not just about physical infrastructure. It includes capital infrastructure investment to connect Chinese and ASEAN financial markets. It includes trade and soft infrastructure co-ordination to make cross border trade and settlement more efficient. The establishment of common digital standards across ASEAN is an essential foundation for progress in these areas.
Consistent with the objectives of the BRI and ASEAN, the expo has a strong emphasis on the digital economy and green economy. The theme of the expo particularly supports businesses operating in emerging sectors of new information technology and new energy.
CAEXPO shows that China is committed to expanding cooperation in culture, tourism, training, and youth exchange because these foster mutual understanding and friendship between the people of the region. The success of the expo in terms of the number and variety of participants, shows that China is a growing economy determined to continue its engagement with the region.
On one level, CAEXPO provides an important platform for exhibitors to highlight products and services available within the region and which form the foundation of trade relationships. Many are the traditional products of trade, but they also include the breakthroughs seen with the Huawei Mate60 built on China developed chip technology.
One feature overlooked in the colourful displays of ethnic dress and custom is that CAEXPO is held in Nanning, the capital of south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. This is just one of five Autonomous regions in China, a factor rarely recognized in Western media coverage which paints China as a monolithic state. These regions illustrate the cooperative pathway that is an essential part of prosperity in the ASEAN region.
On another level, CAEXPO provides the political and strategic framework that underpins the broad improvement of trade relationships, peace and prosperity within the region. Premier Li’s remarks confirmed China’s commitment to regional prosperity and cooperation within the ASEAN framework. – CGTN