YANGON, May 7 (Xinhua) -- China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are at a new starting point for closer relations and both sides are willing to seek new progress in their strategic partnership, Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar Yang Houlan said.
It's time the two sides deepen their practical cooperation for mutual benefits, Yang told Xinhua in an exclusive interview on the eve of the ASEAN Summit to be held in Myanmar.
Yang said China and ASEAN are close neighbors sharing cultural similarities and common interests, which make them cooperation partners. China is the first major country out of the region that joined the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and is also the first country which has established strategic cooperative partnership and free trade area with ASEAN.
Over the past decade which Yang described as "golden years" in China-ASEAN cooperation, bilateral trade increased by five fold to 400 billion U.S. dollars at present, while two-way investment went up by three fold to more than 100 billion dollars. China has become ASEAN's biggest trading partner, while ASEAN has also become China's third largest, and comprehensive cooperation has been developing at various levels.
Yang stressed that the 10 years' experience has fully shown that China and ASEAN are in a "community of common destiny" as their increasing mutual trust and cooperation has brought phenomenal benefits to countries and people in the region.
Currently, Yang said, both China and ASEAN are at a stage of rapid industrialization and urbanization. The year 2014 marks the start of the second decade of China-ASEAN strategic partnership. The two sides should continue to seek new strategic breakthroughs in the future and deepen their practical cooperation for new progresses.
To this end, Yang cited Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's proposals last year as a guideline.
At the 10+1 summit held in Brunei last October, Premier Li put forward a two-point consensus and seven-point proposal to further China-ASEAN relations, including deepening strategic mutual trust and focusing on economic development for greater benefits, exploring a treaty on good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation between the two sides, initiating talks on upgrading the China-ASEAN free trade area, promoting infrastructure construction for further connectivity, enhancing financial cooperation against risks, steadily pushing forward maritime cooperation, strengthening security cooperation and expanding exchange in the fields of culture, science and technology and environmental protection.
The ambassador expressed the hope that the two sides could reach a consensus and sign a treaty of amity and cooperation at an early date as it would provide a legal and institutional guarantee for China-ASEAN strategic cooperation.
He said the two sides should work together for a higher version of the China-ASEAN free trade area and strive for a bilateral trade of 1 trillion dollars by the year 2020.
The year 2014 also marks the "Year of China-ASEAN Cultural Exchange" and China has decided to offer 15,000 quota of government scholarships to students from ASEAN member countries and establish more ASEAN-oriented education centers in China in the next three to five years, Yang said.
China will continue to support the building of cooperation platforms such as China-ASEAN center, China-ASEAN think-tank network, China-ASEAN public health cooperation fund to lay a solid foundation for further cooperation.
He said China is ready to strengthen maritime cooperation with ASEAN countries and work with them to build a new maritime silk road in the 21st century, as Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed during his visit to Indonesia last October.
In this regard, the two sides should keep communication in terms of policy making and give priority to realizing road connection, ensuring free trade and currency flow while promoting people-to-people communication and exchange.
As for the relations between China and Myanmar, Yang expressed appreciation for the development in their political, economic, military and cultural cooperation over the recent years.
Citing Chinese data, the ambassador said that trade between the two countries increased 28.3 percent on year to 10.15 billion dollars in 2013, when China's total investment in Myanmar, including that from Hong Kong and Macao, exceeded 21 billion dollars, making China Myanmar's largest trade partner and source of foreign investment.
In July 2013, the China-Myanmar natural gas pipeline was put into operation, becoming the latest achievement in the two countries' mutually beneficial cooperation.
Yang reiterated that China's Myanmar policy remains firm, transparent and sincere, stressing China is looking forward to a peaceful, stable, developing and prosperous Myanmar, which is not only in the interest of the Myanmar people but also of China and the other countries in the region.
As close neighbors and important cooperative partners, China and Myanmar have no better choice but to maintain their friendly ties, he said, adding that as long as the two countries continue their fine tradition of equality, mutual trust and cooperation, they will have a brighter future for cooperation.