ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan affirmed this at an interview granted to a VOV reporter at the 8 th China-ASEAN Fair in Guangxi, China.
VOV: This year marks the 20 th anniversary of ASEAN-China establishment of diplomatic ties. What’s your evaluation of bilateral relations in recent years?
Secretary General Pitsuwan: Over the past 20 years, bilateral relations between China and ASEAN have been very productive and comprehensive. We have gone very quick and very fast in all areas, especially in economics. Growth from 1991 up until 2011 is almost 40 times. We are reaching nearly US$300 billion now.
In political area I think we learnt from differences and diversities. It is very practical for ASEAN to understand China, accommodate China and appreciate China because we are also different in government, in outlook, in every particular value.
Culturally, I think we are very close to each other because a lot of people in ASEAN are of Chinese ancestry so the value, the culture, the mind accept are very close to China and Chinese. So I think in all areas, over the last two decades we have gone long long way between us and the foundations we have achieved are very well to move forward into the future.
VOV: What is the prospect of bilateral cooperation in the future?
Secretary General Pitsuwan: The future prospect is very open and in the sky to limit.
I think we have to bring more awareness to our people, 1.3 billion Chinese and 600 million ASEAN, about the rich potential and opportunities that we have between ourselves. That also requires efforts from both sides to convince our people that they can benefit from special relationship we have. Particular when West Europe and North America are going through their own trouble, we should focus on regional markets and demand. And I think we are on the right part to create our own market.
VOV: The China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (FTA) has been established for one year, helping promote trade relations between the two sides. However, trade imbalance cannot be settled. What is your advice for ASEAN countries to deal with the issue?
Secretary General Pitsuwan: Premier Wen Jiabao said he is very much aware of trade imbalance. We are committed ourselves to deal with any problem of trade agreements in China-ASEAN FTA. We have to work very hard to deal with the problem.
I think one strategy is to encourage more investment from China in ASEAN economy. Our trade growth is very impressive but it is not high and we need to boost this. At that time around US$30 million worth of Chinese investment in ASEAN and we need to increase this in the future.
We have to encourage small and medium sized enterprises to come into the picture because in every economy in ASEAN and China, 90 percent of employment and 95 percent of GDP come from small and medium sized enterprises. So we have to get them into the picture. Because they are small and medium sized so they need help, support, encouragement and financial facility from the government.
VOV: You have said that Chinese investment in ASEAN is limited. What is the reason?
Secretary General Pitsuwan: One of important issues that Chinese enterprises are not quite aware of opportunity in ASEAN is infrastructure development in manufacturing, food processing and tourism.
Tourist connectivity is very important, not major cities such as Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing but also small and medium sized cities like Nanning which is big city for ASEAN but here in China is of middle grade. Cities in the middle and the west of China should promote air connectivity with ASEAN countries.
ASEAN exporters would like to see more accommodation customs and quarantine regulations for ASEAN products coming into the Chinese market that why ministers from both sides are working on standard policies and trade barriers.
We have to make sure 1.9 billion consumers are a real market rather than a potential market. Imbalance trade is very difficult to sustain. Consumers from both sides can see mutual benefit of the trade relations.