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An opportune time for closer Asia-Europe cooperation: new challenges and opportunities

By Zhang Jun | China Daily | Updated: 2018-10-11 07:29

Historically, the Eurasian landmass was the heartland of the world, giving birth to both Eastern and Western civilizations. As early as more than 2,000 years ago, our ancestors opened the ancient Silk Road straddling Asia and Europe, which became a bridge of exchanges between the people of the two continents. After the end of the Cold War, political leaders of Asia and Europe started to think about how to facilitate exchanges and cooperation across the continents, hence the birth of ASEM in 1996. Over the past 20-plus years, ASEM has deepened understanding and friendship and invigorated political dialogue, economic cooperation, and social and cultural exchanges between Asia and Europe.

The international landscape is undergoing complicated and profound changes, with rising uncertainties and destabilizing factors. Regional flashpoints have kept emerging, and nontraditional security threats remain severe. Although the world economy presents an upward momentum, economic globalization has met setbacks, and protectionism is rearing its head. Countries are facing a major choice between openness and isolation, moving forward and back sliding, and win-win cooperation and a zero-sum game. Such is the backdrop for the upcoming ASEM Summit.

Common challenges require closer cooperation. ASEM was established when the Cold War came to an end and economic globalization gathered pace. Multilateralism and an open world economy are its solid anchor and abiding commitment. Facing unilateralism and protectionism, ASEM members need to unite as one, translate challenges into opportunities, and meet difficulties head on, so as to usher in an even brighter future for cooperation.

Asia and Europe need to firmly uphold the multilateralism-based international order. Peace and stability underpin development. The 70-year-long overall world peace would not be possible without the post-War international order. The centrality of the UN and its Security Council should be respected, and the purposes and principles of the UN Charter should never be challenged. All countries need to honor their commitments and undertake international obligations rather than irresponsibly take a selective approach to international rules. We in Asia and Europe need to strengthen our unity and coordinate actions on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and climate change, two major subjects of global concern.

Asia and Europe need to stay committed to an open world economy. After the end of the Cold War, 13 economies in the world that have enjoyed more than 25 years of rapid growth have all adopted the policy of opening-up. We need to uphold the just and nondiscriminatory multilateral trading regime and work for open and inclusive regional free trade arrangements and an open world economy. We also need to reject all forms of protectionism and accelerate the establishment of a single market covering both Asia and Europe. Openness has been and will always be an important precondition for the sustained growth of our continents.

Asia and Europe need to deepen practical cooperation for connectivity. Connectivity ensures the smooth flow of the economy and meets the common expectations of people in Asia and Europe. We need to fully leverage the role of the ASEM Pathfinder Group on Connectivity as the main channel for coordination, and work hard for early results in priority areas such as trade and investment facilitation, sustainable development, the digital economy and people-to-people exchanges. To achieve interconnected development today, we also need to step up exchanges and cooperation on innovation, promote green, low-carbon and smart development, and foster new highlights of growth in Asia and Europe.

Asia and Europe need to promote exchanges and mutual learning between civilizations. The 53 ASEM members represent hundreds of ethnic groups and multiple religious beliefs. Different history, national conditions, ethnic groups and customs have resulted in different civilizations. These civilizations may have distinctive features and thrive in different localities, but there is no such thing as a superior or inferior civilization. The exchanges and interactions between civilizations have always been a source of inspiration and strength. We should promote people-to-people exchanges between ASEM members to facilitate understanding and friendship between our peoples and contribute to economic and social development and peace and stability in Asia and Europe.

Ever since the founding of ASEM, China has taken an active part in this process in the spirit of seeking common ground while putting aside differences. We have worked to build consensus and strengthen cooperation, making important contribution to the sustained and sound development of ASEM.

China is an anchor of peace in Asia and Europe. Stability in China, a country of more than 1.3 billion people, is in itself an important contribution to the cause of peace in Asia and Europe. In the discussions on hot spot international and regional issues in ASEM, China has been committed to finding a political solution through dialogue and negotiation to maintain regional peace and stability. China votes for nothing else but peace.

China is an engine of development in Asia and Europe. Since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative five years ago, China has engaged in more than $5 trillion of trade in goods with participating countries, made more than $60 billion of outbound investment and created hundreds of thousands of jobs for local communities. Most ASEM members are located along the trade routes of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. China is ready to work with them to use the opportunities presented by the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation next year and strengthen cooperation for common prosperity.

China is a propeller for cooperation in Asia and Europe. With 31 cooperation initiatives proposed by Chinese leaders in the past 22 years, China is among the countries with the most follow-up actions. In recent years, China has done a great deal of widely applauded work to expand Asia-Europe cooperation, including the proposal to resume the ASEM Economic Ministers' Meeting, the efforts to establish the ASEM Pathfinder Group on Connectivity and a leading role in practical cooperation in technological innovation, sustainable development, a new type of urbanization and care for people with disabilities.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up. President Xi Jinping has stated that China will never shut its door to the world, but will only become more and more open. He announced a number of major steps of further opening-up at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference last April. These measures are being delivered, with tangible effect. No matter how the external environment changes, China will not waver in its commitment to deeper reform and further opening-up, which will be advanced at its own pace. In this process, important opportunities will be created for countries in Asia, Europe and the world at large.

We live in a world full of opportunities for cooperation. At the same time, we are all confronted with challenges posed by unilateralism and protectionism. Should we opt for cooperation or confrontation? Should we pursue reform or stay on the beaten track? The answer is clear. Countries in Asia and Europe must reject selfishness, a zero-sum mentality and isolationism. We should uphold solidarity, engage in win-win cooperation and pursue openness and integration. At the upcoming 12th ASEM Summit, China is ready to join hands with other members to address new challenges, cement the foundation for the new type of partnership and deepen cooperation for tangible outcomes. Together, with firm commitment to cooperation and consistent support for multilateralism, we will anchor world peace and development.

The writer is assistant minister of foreign affairs.

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