ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Just when the audience thought the opening ceremony was over, the leaders from China, the ASEAN Member States, and Secretary-General of ASEAN, were all invited on stage.
Minutes earlier, the audience were pleasantly surprised when a moving video of an ocean liner stopped on stage, and opened a concealed door. About a dozen young people stepped out of the liner, and placed bushels of grains on stage.
Nice touch, but not out of the blue, since the theme for this year’s China-ASEAN EXPO (CAEXPO), and the China-ASEAN Business Investment Summit was “Current Harvest, Seeding the Future”. But with the leaders from almost all the ASEAN Member States, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang gracing the opening ceremony, the organisers had another ace up their sleeves.
When all the leaders were assembled on stage, they were invited to scoop out the golden grains – symbolizing the bumper harvest of ASEAN-China cooperation over the past decade, and scatter them on a makeshift “field” in front of them. The grand finale delighted the crowds, when the leaders “watered” the plots. To everyone’s surprise and delight, “shoots” sprouted – symbolizing continuing cooperation and integration for an even brighter future.
“China’s cooperation with ASEAN is a case of mutual help. To put it in simple terms, when I help you, I am also helping myself,” said Premier Li in his opening address.
“The Chinese has a saying that it takes ten years to grow a tree. The tree of China-ASEAN cooperation is thriving and strong, bearing rich fruits of our cooperation. We need to keep our relationship growing from strength to strength,” added Mr Li, who said that China will continue to build on efforts to resolve over-lapping claims in the South China Sea through peaceful negotiations.
Pledging support for ASEAN’s integration, the Chinese leader also called for enhancements to the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA), pointing out that with the cloud of uncertainty looming over global economic recovery, there is an even stronger need to rally together.
The Premier’s message was supported by ASEAN leaders who also spoke at the ceremony. They include Myanmar President Thein Sein, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Lao PDR Thongsing Thammavong, and Viet Nam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
“As (ASEAN) Country coordinator for China for the next three years, Thailand also pledges to facilitate and support China’s relations with the other member states,” said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the island republic is looking forward to the next CAEXPO in 2014, when Singapore will be the Country of Honour. Mr Teo also affirmed the progress of ASEAN-China ties, and how the cooperation had benefitted the region. He welcomed Premier Li’s remarks on enhancing the FTA with ASEAN, adding that both sides could explore cooperation in services such as education, finance, etc.
In his address, ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh pointed out that the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area holds vast opportunities for businesses to collaborate and complement each other. The ACFTA has the largest consumer market of 1.95 billion consumers and a GDP of US$10.527 trillion in 2012.
“The ASEAN Member States and China both have enormous wealth of skills and resources that could be shared and developed into core competencies, allowing our domestic businesses to thrive in the regional and global markets. As we are reviewing and celebrating the results of 10 years of strategic partnership, we need to maximize these opportunities and elevate ASEAN-China economic co-operation to a new level,” said SG Minh.
The ASEAN leader also met Vice-Governor Zhang Xiaoqin, and they shared their views on ways to improve China-ASEAN relations, as well as improvements to the CAEXPO and China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (CABIS).
The opening ceremony today also witnessed the launch of several other initiatives. In a recognition that the future of the region rests with young people, the China-ASEAN Youth Federation was launched with the objective of deepening and strengthening the friendship among future generations.
Ministers of science and technology from both sides unveiled the China-ASEAN Technology Transfer Center, which is expected to enhance sci-tech-based driving force for bilateral cooperation.
In an acknowledgement of the contributions of the Silk Route in connecting the two economies, the representatives of port cities of China and ASEAN launched the China-ASEAN Port City Network to promote bilateral connectivity on land, enhance maritime connectivity and work new glories on the maritime Silk Road between China and ASEAN.
Not forgetting the critical role of business and enterprises in bringing better lives to the people, and their role in the economic well-being of the region, representatives of entrepreneurs and those from commercial associations also established the China-ASEAN Entrepreneurs' Association and the China-ASEAN Business Federation.
Over the next few days, huge crowds are expected to sweep through the EXPO site, as they check out pavilions, stalls and counters from all over China and ASEAN. For those who are craving for their favourite snacks, or that memorable coffee they had enjoyed at a café in Viet Nam, the CAEXPO is an unbeatable one-stop giant shopping centre.
By Danny Lee
Director for Community Affairs Development at
The ASEAN Secretariat
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