China offers ASEAN support on vaccines, medical supplies

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the visiting ministers that China and ASEAN should “jointly carry forward Asian values” in a subtle dig at the West

China on Tuesday offered ASEAN countries its vaccines as well as closer cooperation on joint vaccine development and production, as it hosted ten foreign ministers from the Southeast Asian grouping.

The meeting comes as China looks to deepen its economic ties with the region as well as push back at what it sees as a renewed effort at regional engagement from the new Biden administration in the United States in particular, as well as from the India-Australia-Japan-U.S. Quad grouping, which earlier this year came out with a regional vaccine initiative.

On Tuesday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the visiting ministers that China and ASEAN should “jointly carry forward Asian values” in a subtle dig at the West. President Xi Jinping had in 2014 put forward the idea that it was for “Asian people to uphold Asia’s security”.

Mr. Wang made a similar point on Tuesday, saying that “taking root in the Oriental tradition, both sides should strengthen mutual learning and cultural exchanges, and carry forward Asian values, instilling positive energy to global and regional governance.”

“Both sides should continue to embrace the ‘Asian Way’ of consensus building and accommodating each other’s comfort levels, build an inclusive and co-existed family, and forge a cooperation circle featuring common development,” he said. “We should adhere to independence, self-reliance and self-strengthening to support the ASEAN integration, and forge a closer community with a shared future.”

China’s hosting of the ASEAN foreign ministers in the city of Chongqing marked the 30th anniversary of ties and came as Beijing deals with recent disputes with both the Philippines and Malaysia. The meeting reiterated the need to “advance consultations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea” but as the recent incidents underlined, progress has been slow.

Beijing is banking on deep economic links to both offset maritime disputes and the push among some ASEAN countries for closer defence ties with the U.S amid their concerns about China’s growing military footprint in the South China Sea.

Mr. Wang said China-ASEAN trade had grown to $684.6 billion and the expectation is for that to only grow following the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal.

On COVID-19, China said it would “do its best to provide vaccines to ASEAN countries and strengthen cooperation in vaccine R&D, production, procurement, vaccination, and supervision with other countries”, Mr. Wang said, as he also put forward a proposal to implement a “China-ASEAN Public Health Cooperation Initiative” and an “ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies for Public Health Emergencies.”

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