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Setting an example


Good China-ASEAN relations can help realize an ecological civilization

The bonds between Chinese and Southeast Asian peoples go a long way back in history. In the early 15th century, Zheng He, a famed navigator during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), led seven expeditions between 1405 and 1433 to the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. His fleets visited what are now modern-day members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. His peaceful voyages helped spread China's culture and influence in Southeast Asia and eastern Africa. They also brought valuable ideas back to China.

ASEAN, one of the world's most successful multi-civilizational and multicultural regional groups, is linked with China by geography and history. East Asia is a highland of peace and stability and its economic growth is tangible. ASEAN countries respond positively to China's Belt and Road Initiative.

Apart from the geographical and cultural proximity, China and ASEAN have been becoming economically interconnected since the inception of the Belt and Road Initiative, helping bring vast numbers of the local populations out of poverty.

ASEAN has seen robust investment from China in the last decade. In some ASEAN countries such as Cambodia and Laos, China has constituted the largest source of foreign investment for a couple of years.

In 2021, the trade volume of goods between China and ASEAN was $878.2 billion, reaching a year-on-year increase of 28.1 percent, making ASEAN China's largest trading partner, ahead of the European Union.

The strong economic ties and friendly relations between China and ASEAN lay a solid foundation for the two sides to expand their cooperation into the ecological conservation.

Jointly achieving the green transition is an essential part of China-ASEAN cooperation. President Xi Jinping promoted the concept of an "ecological civilization" for balanced and sustainable development featuring harmonious coexistence between man and nature. The concept brings us a very different way of thinking.

The three-fold planetary crisis of nature, climate and the environment is cross-border. China's decision to stop building new coal-fired power plants abroad provides a huge opportunity for massive investments in solar, wind, and green hydrogen in the ASEAN countries.

The Belt and Road International Green Development Coalition serves as a global platform to boost green cooperation. Singapore, for example, is sharing its world-leading green technologies, green-finance practice, and city-building experience in transforming itself from a "mudflat" into a garden city and becoming the envy of the region. Singapore today is one of the greenest cities in the world.

Supercharged by the newly-effective Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the region is linked via land and maritime corridors. These corridors are fast going green. Modern transportation systems not only increase the efficiency of transport and boosting economy, but help reduce emissions.

The China-Laos Railway delivered more than 4 million metric tons of freight as of early June this year, hugely helping landlocked Laos to link to global markets and increase cross-border tourism.

By the end of 2021, China's operating mileage of high-speed railways exceeded 40,000 kilometers, accounting for more than two-thirds of the global total, and it is sharing its knowhow with ASEAN countries. The high-speed electric multiple units customized for the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway rolled off the production line in early August and arrived in Indonesia on Sept 2,2022. Anyone who has experienced the traffic congestion and air pollution in western Java will appreciate how important this is. Let's hope China can help continue the line all the way through Java to Surabaya.

Malaysia's East Coast Rail Link is also moving ahead and the newly opened Chinese-built Cat Linh-Ha Dong Metro Line project, Vietnam's first metro line, is doing wonders in the beautiful capital of Vietnam.

Southeast Asia, with its complex mix of ethnicities, religions and languages, could have easily fallen prey to deterministic "clash-of-civilization" predictions. It didn't happen due to good leadership in Indonesia and many other countries and thanks to peaceful ties to China.

The 21st century is witnessing the return of Asia.

ASEAN is on track to become the fourth largest economy in the world by 2030. It already has a combined economy of $3.4 trillion. Good China-ASEAN relations can help the world bring economic development, an ecological civilization and sustained peace.

The author is president of the Belt and Road Initiative Green Development Institute and former executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn