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Ties that Bind
ASEAN deputy secretary general talks about community building
 NO. 21 MAY 25, 2017

On the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, AKP Mochtan, Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN for Community and Corporate Affairs, talked to Beijing Review reporter Li Nan about the Belt and Road Initiative and China-ASEAN ties. The following is an edited version of the interview:

Beijing Review: This year marks the 50th anniversary of ASEAN. How would you comment on its achievements? What is ASEAN's vision for the next 50 years? Is it set to become a regional bloc like the EU?

AKP Mochtan: One of the biggest achievements of ASEAN is building peace and confidence among the member states. Once we have peace, security and stability, we can focus on development. After 50 years, the ASEAN economy is the sixth largest in the world. We have become a people-oriented community. The vision is to continue the community-building journey.

How do we compare to the EU? We are celebrating our 50th anniversary while the EU is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Between ASEAN and the EU, we are celebrating 40 years of dialogue relations. Internally, our pace is compatible to our own community. We take lessons from the EU but we have our own dynamics.

AKP Mochtan, Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN for Community and Corporate Affairs, delivers a speech in Beijing on May 15 (WANG XIANG) 

What is your view on the Belt and Road Initiative? How can ASEAN synergize its Vision 2025 with the initiative?

The Belt and Road Initiative is a transcontinental development cooperation plan, connecting Asia, Africa and Europe as well. It's a road of peace, prosperity and innovation. And it's inclusive.

ASEAN has its own dynamics. The synergy lies in basically how we maximize the opportunities between the two initiatives, especially the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road and the ASEAN initiative, say for example, on connectivity.

There is a saying: An invisible red thread binds our destinies together. It might tangle but it will never break. The Chinese vision, the ASEAN vision, ASEAN connectivity and the Belt and Road Initiative will give each of us greater opportunities. This will be a very important joint development that we need to work on together. The challenge is, how do we put this into action?

How do we translate this vision? There are economic corridors between China, India, Myanmar, Bangladesh and other countries. I understand that on the Chinese side, maybe there is a committee, and high-level working groups are being assigned to work it out. But how do we invite the participation of other nations, scholars or experts?

We need to make sure that the initiative is really environmentally friendly, for example, that it preserves the maritime heritage. We need to translate it into plans that can be shared.

There is a new scenario with U.S. President Donald Trump in office. How do you see U.S foreign policy toward Asia, especially ASEAN? What is your view on Sino-U.S. relations?

The new U.S. administration is still evolving. Its policy is still being formulated. But the indications that we have perceived are that the U.S. places great importance on East Asia and ASEAN. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Jakarta [in April]. At that time, he also visited the ASEAN Secretariat and met Secretary General Le Luong Minh, when he confirmed that President Trump would attend the ASEAN Summit in November.

The ASEAN foreign ministers were in Washington and had a fruitful meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson [on May 4]. These are indications that East Asia and ASEAN remain important for the U.S.

On the ASEAN side, we continue to be open and engage our important stakeholders. So I look forward to closer cooperation between ASEAN and the U.S. and also with other dialogue partners.

Regarding China-U.S. ties, we need to recognize that the relationship is interdependent. Both have very deep, very large trade and investment connection and people-to-people connection. You can't separate the two because they are very closely interlinked. President Xi Jinping has visited the U.S. I think it was a very fruitful trip.

There are challenges and issues that the U.S. and China can work out together. The underlining fact is that these are very important nations and the relationship has reached a very mature stage. I have confidence that China and the U.S. will continue to be sound strategic partners.

Heavy-duty vehicles are ready to upload and offload products outside the China-ASEAN Seafood Exchange in Fujian Province on May 12 (XINHUA)

What about China-ASEAN relations in this new era?

The ASEAN-China ties—our relations at the government-to-government level—are strong and mature. China is involved in various ASEAN forums including summits. So we have the mechanisms, the relationship and the plan of actions since 2014.

We always have thematic cooperation. For example, last year was China-ASEAN education cooperation year. In 2015, it was the year of maritime cooperation. This year is the year of ASEAN-China tourism cooperation. Now we need to strengthen the relationship further and promote more people-to-people and community-to-community exchanges. It will complement the mature and strong relationship at the government level.

At the end of the day, we can create a sense of ownership between the Chinese community and the ASEAN community at the grassroots level. This is what we need to promote.

How would you expect the delegations of ASEAN scholars and media you have been leading to China to strengthen China-ASEAN ties? What is the goal of this trip in particular?

This is part of the community-to-community relationship building. One of the important communities is the scholar and economist community. I have been seeing an increasing number of ASEAN centers, for example, universities, networking. The think tanks and universities in China are also increasingly focusing on research and exchange with universities and think tanks in ASEAN countries.

On this visit, we interacted with Beijing Review and the Pangoal Institution [a Chinese nonprofit think tank]. In addition, we are going to Xi'an and Wuhan cities. The point is sharing the time and opportunities to discuss things with other universities, students as well as provincial officials beyond the capital city.

My colleagues from ASEAN universities and media have visited Beijing and Shanghai earlier. But for most, this is the first time they will be visiting Xi'an and Wuhan. We hope we can expand and broaden the relationship between our communities.

What is your view on media cooperation between China and ASEAN? What role can it play in enhancing better understanding and connectivity among people?

The media is developing very fast. We need to take advantage of digital communication and social media. We need to go beyond traditional media cooperation and include netizens, bloggers and tweeters as part of strengthening the relationship.

In this age of digital communication, everything is instantaneous and things spread widely. But it is also important that you have sources which provide reliable content and check and recheck the data and facts. If we can expand our interconnectivity on this digital platform, we can gain more from the media.

To reiterate, we need to think beyond the traditional media, how to get into social media relationships. There are tremendous opportunities that we can gain. I have WeChat and a long list of friends on WeChat. The app is said to be used by many not only in ASEAN but different regions. And that helps communication.

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Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

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