By Lin Hao
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept. 12 (Xinhua)-- Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has said that the ASEAN-China strategic partnership has helped in forging a "deeper, stronger and enduring" relationship between China and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). "Our common ties are thousands of years old. In more recent times,ASEAN and China have moved forward together,"Anifah told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Anifah said that China was the first major non-ASEAN country to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia ( TAC), the first to have a strategic partnership with ASEAN, the first to launch negotiations on Free Trade Area (FTA) with the regional group, adding that the FTA with China remains one of the most comprehensive FTAs in the region.
"These are no small steps,"Anifah said, adding that because of the strategic partnership between China and ASEAN, established in 2003, the two-way trade and investments between the regional grouping and China have expanded tremendously over the years.
Official data show that bilateral trade between China and ASEAN amounted to 400.1 billion U.S. dollars last year, nearly six times that of 10 years ago. In the first half of 2013, the bilateral trade surged to 210.56 billion U.S. dollars, representing a 12.2 percent increase year on year.
Anifah said the relations with China is critical to ASEAN, as China is ASEAN's largest trading partner and is expected to remain to be so over the medium term. China is also now the world' s second largest economy.
The cooperation and relations between ASEAN and China has remained outstanding in many ways despite the growing influence of ASEAN's other dialogue partners on regional and global issues. "Among all our dialogue partners, ASEAN's functional cooperation with China is perhaps the most active and China has been the most innovative in terms of coming up with new and sustained ways of strengthening cooperation,"Anifah said. "We believe that over the medium term, the positive trends related to economic links and functional cooperation will continue, "he added.
During the 10th China-ASEAN Expo held earlier this month, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang vowed to build a "diamond decade" with ASEAN after a"golden decade" in the past, saying his country will strive to expand bilateral trade to 1 trillion U.S. dollars by 2020.
On the South China Sea, Anifah said issues concerning the overlapping territorial and maritime disputes should be managed calmly, reasonably and rationally through dialogue and negotiation.
He told Xinhua that the momentum of dialogue and consultation on the South China Sea must be sustained to promote greater understanding and to avoid possible tension.
He opined that ASEAN and China must implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) fully and effectively and begin the process of establishing the more detailed Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) as soon as possible.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said this week that China and ASEAN will hold meetings on the implementation of the DOC and the new meetings will also involve "official consultations on the COC within the framework of the implementation of the DOC."
Anifah said ASEAN and China must give the correct perception to the wider international community that both sides are managing the issues concerning the South China Sea amicably. "At the same time, ASEAN and China should continue to send a clear message that our relations are multi-faceted and not defined by a single issue,"he said.