Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, on November 10 (XINHUA)
When Chinese President Xi Jinping went to Viet Nam to attend the 25th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, followed by state visits to Viet Nam and Laos, there was keener world attention to the itinerary than usual. It was Xi's first overseas trip after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which charted out the path China would follow for the next five years; and Xi's re-election as the CPC general secretary consolidated his position as one of the historically influential leaders of China.
With the strong and stable Chinese economy as a major engine of global development and with China assuming greater responsibilities in international affairs, Xi's Southeast Asia visit was to be an indication of China's foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis its neighboring countries.
Analysts say the journeys reflect that neighboring diplomacy remains a priority in China's foreign policy. Moreover, Xi's speeches at the APEC meetings demonstrate China's resolve to continue safeguarding globalization and free trade, creating bright prospects for Asia-Pacific regional cooperation.
Committed to globalization
The Asia-Pacific region today is witnessing uncertainties in economic development as multilateral free trade agreements face the threat of being downgraded to bilateral ones and restrictions are being imposed on free trade and investment. This has made protectionism a major risk to the region's growth at a time when it lacks major economic drivers.
The trend of rising trade protectionism is bound to jeopardize APEC's fundamental architecture of free trade and its major goal of realizing open, inclusive and integrated development. It would also endanger the group's commitment to the Bogor Goals, a set of objectives its members agreed on in Bogor, Indonesia, in 1994 for realizing free and open trade in the Asia-Pacific region.
In his speeches at the APEC meetings in Viet Nam's central port city Da Nang, Xi urged the 21-member bloc to remain true to APEC's founding purpose: to advance trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, build an open economy, uphold and strengthen the multilateral trade regime, and help rebalance economic globalization.
"We need to take determined steps toward a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific in line with the agreed roadmap, and herald a new round of development in the Asia-Pacific in the course of opening up," Xi said.
Emphasizing the importance of an open economy, innovation-driven development, connectivity and inclusive development, Xi outlined pragmatic ways to achieve common development. They include furthering economic globalization, fostering an open economy, and promoting trade and investment liberalization.
The Chinese president gave the example of China to explain the role an open economy plays in the development of a nation. He described China's achievements in boosting comprehensive reform and innovation, and enhancing inclusiveness and benefit-sharing in development. He also talked about the blueprint for China's future development, which attaches immense importance to greater integration with the rest of the world and developing an open economy of higher standards.
"History has taught us that closed-door development will get [us] nowhere, while open development is the only right choice," Xi said. "Looking ahead, China will open still wider and its development will deliver even greater benefits to the rest of the world."
Xi's sharing of China's development experience indicates China's commitment to interconnected development and building a community of shared future for mankind, said Shen Dingli, a professor on international studies at Shanghai's Fudan University.
Chen Xiangyang, a senior researcher with China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, added that the speech shows China's confidence and willingness to assume a larger role in pushing forward globalization and world progress.
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a grand welcome ceremony hosted by Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee, ahead of their talks in Hanoi, Vietnam, on November 12 (XINHUA)
A special bond
The China-Viet Nam relationship has always been regarded as camaraderie plus brotherhood. Xi held talks with the country's top leadership, including General Secretary of the Communist Party of Viet Nam (CPV) Central Committee Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
During the discussions with Nguyen Phu Trong, both leaders agreed to maintain the tradition of high-level exchanges, adhere to a friendly policy toward each other's country, and enhance strategic communication and political mutual trust. They also agreed to deal with differences in a proper way so that China-Viet Nam relations would move in the right direction. In addition, the two sides consented to deepening party-to-party exchanges and stepping up experience-sharing in party and state governance.
Xi said that with the international and regional situations in the new period undergoing profound changes, the China-Viet Nam relationship is becoming more significant.
Nguyen Phu Trong called it a matter of great significance that Viet Nam was Xi's first overseas destination after the 19th CPC National Congress. Viet Nam, he added, is willing to work with China to strengthen exchanges on party and state governance, carry forward traditional friendship, and strive to lift the relations between the two parties and two countries to a new level.
Commenting on the implications of the visit, Wang Linggui, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said as both China and Viet Nam are socialist countries, the relations between their two ruling communist parties play a unique role in guiding the relations between the two countries.
In recent years, the two neighbors have deepened and broadened practical cooperation in many fields.
China has been Viet Nam's biggest trading partner for 13 years in a row, and Viet Nam has become China's biggest trading partner among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. Bilateral trade in 2016 reached nearly $100 billion. There are over 300 passenger flights between the two countries every week. More and more Chinese companies are investing in Viet Nam.
To reinforce the pragmatic cooperation, the two sides have agreed to further synergize their development strategies by signing a memorandum of understanding on the joint implementation of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and Viet Nam's Two Corridors and One Economic Circle plan.
The Belt and Road Initiative aims to revive and extend the ancient Silk routes through an overland Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road that will connect Asia with Europe and Africa through improved infrastructure, greater trade and better people-to-people exchanges.
The Two Corridors and One Economic Circle plan envisions building two economic corridors from Viet Nam's northeastern coastal province Quang Ninh to China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province, as well as the Beibu Bay Rim Economic Circle, which is a highlight of China-ASEAN economic cooperation.
Wang said the docking of the two development initiatives would push the China-Viet Nam comprehensive strategic cooperation partnership to a new stage.
Don Tuan Phong, Acting President of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Associations, told Xinhua News Agency: "We greatly appreciate China's Belt and Road Initiative, which plays an important role in international cooperation and has a significant impact on peace and stability in the region and the world."
During Xi's visit, a series of consensuses were reached on strengthening cooperation on trade and maritime issues. A joint statement issued during the visit said the two sides agreed to jointly implement the five-year China-Viet Nam economic and trade cooperation plan starting from this year and implement several key cooperation projects. The two governments also decided to push for the early completion of the Hanoi light rail project. They will also complete the designing of a standard-gauge railway linking Hai Phong, Hanoi and Lao Cai cities in Viet Nam, part of a cross-border railway network that connects China with Viet Nam's eastern coast, as scheduled.
The joint statement also said China and Viet Nam are committed to promoting sustained, stable and balanced development of bilateral trade. China is willing to expand its imports from Viet Nam and prioritize the assessment of the import of Viet Nam's dairy products to China. China will also open up markets for select categories of fruits from Viet Nam and cooperate in such fields as agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
On maritime cooperation, China and Viet Nam agreed to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and strive for an early conclusion of a code of conduct on the basis of consensus through consultations. The two sides agreed to manage and control their differences concerning maritime issues and refrain from taking actions that would complicate the situation and aggravate disputes, so as to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.
Xi also laid a wreath at Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and attended the inauguration and handover ceremony of the Viet Nam-China Friendship Palace, a China-sponsored project. A center for cultural activities, the palace can accommodate 1,500 people. It will also house a tea room, a Chinese medicine therapy room and a library.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) and Lao President Bounnhang Vorachit attend the foundation-laying ceremony for the China-built Mahosot Hospital in Vientiane, Laos, on November 14 (XINHUA)
Community of shared future
Xi's trip to Laos marks the first visit by a Chinese head of state and top CPC leader to this neighboring country in 11 years.
Since establishing diplomatic ties 56 years ago, China and Laos have enhanced their political mutual trust and expanded practical cooperation. They have also seen their people-to-people exchanges grow, contributing to a comprehensive and deepening bilateral relationship, which has brought substantial benefits to the two peoples.
In Laos, Xi met with Bounnhang Vorachit, General Secretary of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party Central Committee and President of Laos; Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith; and Lao National Assembly President Pany Yathotu.
The leaders of the two countries pledged to maintain the fine tradition of high-level exchanges to guide the development of bilateral ties in the new era.
Chen Fei, a researcher with Beijing-based think tank The Charhar Institute, said the strong traditional friendship between the two countries has laid a solid foundation for the bilateral ties to develop in the new era.
China has been one of the major contributors to Laos' foreign assistance. Now it is also the largest foreign investor in Laos and the second largest trading partner of the country.
Xi's visit yielded a long list of bilateral cooperation outcomes. According to a joint statement issued during the trip, the two countries reaffirmed their firm support in issues related to each other's major interests and agreed to accelerate the synergy of the Belt and Road Initiative and Laos' development strategy.
China and Laos have agreed to jointly build a China-Laos economic corridor, forge ahead with landmark projects such as the China-Laos Railway, and elevate the scale and level of their economic and trade cooperation to promote their economic complementarity.
They will also deepen cooperation on industrial capacity, finance, agriculture, energy and water conservancy, in addition to telecommunication, infrastructure and healthcare.
Xi's visit also saw a series of cooperation documents inked in fields as diverse as building the China-Laos economic corridor, a digital Silk Road, electricity and science and technology.
Constructed with Chinese financial support, the 414-km China-Laos Railway, linking the border gate between China's Mohan and Lao's Boten towns with the Lao capital Vientiane, is a key project in Laos under the Belt and Road Initiative. Chen said it would transform land-locked Laos into a land-linked nation, injecting new impetus into national development.
Lattanamany Khounnyvong, Lao vice minister of public works and transport, said Laos is an agricultural country that needs three days to send its vegetables to China. But once the railway is completed, it will need only three and a half hours. The improved transportation will also help Laos attract more foreign investment.
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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