China, ASEAN strengthen ties despite South China Sea disputes

Beijing, Nov 22 (EFE).- China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced Monday the establishment of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, despite ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

“This is a new milestone in the history of our relations and will inject new impetus into peace, stability, prosperity and development of our region and the world,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said during the virtual summit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the ties between Beijing and the bloc.

The term “comprehensive strategic partnership” is one of the priority diplomatic categories for Beijing, which includes, for example, the relationship it has had with the European Union since 2003.

The agreement comes amid geopolitical tensions in the South China Sea and following the announcement in September of the AUKUS defense pact between Washington, Canberra and London to stand up to the Asian giant in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Chinese government claims about 90 percent of this maritime space – rich in natural and energy resources and a key international trade route – compared to countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, in addition to Indonesia.

The most recent dispute in that sea involves the Philippines, which last Thursday condemned the actions of three Chinese coast guard ships that blocked the passage and fired water cannons at two Philippine supply ships.

In recent years, the Philippines has repeatedly protested China’s actions and the presence of Chinese fishing boats in the area that Manila considers part of its exclusive economic zone.

Beijing has built military outposts on some of these islands, despite the fact that five years ago the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China did not have entitlement to the area, a ruling that Beijing does not recognize.

Xi on Monday limited himself to stressing that “joint efforts are needed to safeguard stability in the South China Sea and make it a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.”

“We can build a peaceful home together,” Xi said, adding that “China will never seek hegemony, still less bully smaller countries.”

“China supports ASEAN’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon-free zone,” he added, seemingly in reference to the fact that the AUKUS defense pact will equip the Australian fleet with nuclear-powered submarines.

In addition, the Chinese leader announced his country’s intention to “contribute an additional US$5 million to the Covid-19 ASEAN Response Fund,” in addition to “an additional 150 million doses of Covid vaccines” to member countries.

Xi added that China would “import more quality products from ASEAN countries, including buying up to US$150 billion worth of agricultural products from ASEAN in the next five years.”

ASEAN was founded in 1967 and now consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. EFE


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