China and ASEAN push forward trade agreement, enhance partnership

China and ASEAN are pushing ahead with talks on a third version of a free trade agreement, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi said on Thursday at an ASEAN summit in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

Wang said China backs the full implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest trade bloc that covers nearly a third of the world’s population and is seen as an alternative to the U.S.-led Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

“At a time when the international system is undergoing a complex and profound evolution, China is willing to cherish the fruits of cooperation with ASEAN, grasp the correct direction of the development of relations between the two sides, and continuously deepen the comprehensive strategic partnership, so as to create a more favorable strategic environment for their respective development and revitalization, as well as for the long-term peace and stability of the region,” Wang said.

According to customs data released on Thursday, the value of China-ASEAN two-way trade hit $447.3 billion in January-June, down 1.5% year-on-year.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that the partnership between the southeastern Asian countries “continues to flourish and thrive.”

“Economically, we are each other’s largest trading partner with total trade of USD 975 billion. China is the fourth largest source of FDI (foreign direct investments) for ASEAN, valued at USD 13.8 billion in 2021. Now our partnership becomes even more vital amidst growing challenges,” Marsudi said.

Wang is set to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken later on Thursday at the summit, the latest in a series of interactions between the rival superpowers.