The People’s Republic of China and BIMP-EAGA held a virtual webinar on 16 December to discuss initiatives and opportunities for deepening cooperation.
Jointly organized by the BIMP-EAGA national secretariats and China's Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) and supported by the BIMP-EAGA Facilitation Centre, the webinar adopted the theme, “Boosting Trade and Economic Ties in the Post-Pandemic Era between BIMP-EAGA and China.” It was hosted by the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), which is the Philippine coordinating office for the subregion, via Zoom, while welcome remarks were given by Yu Xiang, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Asian Affairs, MOFCOM. Trade and Industry Undersecretary Abdulgani Macatoman, Philippine Senior Official for BIMP-EAGA and Chair of the BIMP-EAGA Senior Officials’ Meeting, delivered the closing remarks
Areas of mutual interests
China has been a development partner of the subregion since 2005. In 2018, the inaugural BIMP-EAGA and China Cooperation (BECC) Ministers Meeting in Kuala Belait, Brunei Darussalam elevated cooperation to the ministerial level. In 2019, the second ministerial meeting in Kuching, Sarawak adopted a plan of action for 2020–2025 that focuses on nine priority areas of collaboration:
- agriculture, fishery processing, and food industry;
- tourism and socio-cultural exchanges;
- trade and investment;
- digital economy;
- poverty alleviation and inclusive development;
- human resource development;
- environment; and
- power and energy.
Local governments from Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan provinces in China have also expressed interest in being part of the BECC.
In his message at the webinar, MOFCOM Vice-Minister Ren Hongbin said BIMP-EAGA is an important component of ASEAN–China cooperation. He noted that his country’s bilateral trade with the four BIMP-EAGA countries, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, is increasing and may reach a new record high this year, while direct investments from Chinese enterprises surpassed $3 billion in the first 10 months.
He suggested four areas for enhancing cooperation:
- Strengthen strategic alignment to advance post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery.
- Make good use of free trade agreements, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and China–ASEAN Free Trade Area, to promote trade and economic cooperation.
- Leverage financial support to enhance development capacity.
- Encourage innovation-driven subnational (provincial) cooperation as many Chinese coastal provinces have a long history of interactions and close trade ties with BIMP-EAGA.
Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Economy) and Malaysia's BIMP-EAGA Signing Minister, delivered the keynote message. He said BIMP-EAGA is keen to collaborate with its development partners. He remarked that China has played an important role in the subregion. He cited efforts to promote bilateral trade through trade exhibitions and missions and China's support for capacity building in tourism, ICT, environment, agriculture, e-commerce, etc.
He noted the growing economic ties between ASEAN and China, becoming each other’s largest trade partner for the first time in 2020. He said China's support for ASEAN initiatives will directly benefit BIMP-EAGA. He cited that “China is committed to enhance smart and sustainable urban development under the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, which includes many cities in the subregion.” He also mentioned the establishment of mutually beneficial partnerships between the cities of ASEAN and China.
Given the renewed cooperation in e-commerce between ASEAN and China, the Malaysian minister said “BIMP-EAGA should continue to explore cooperation in the digital space with China especially with regard to building the capacity of MSMEs (micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises).”
Opportunities for cooperation
Resource speakers at the webinar discussed trade and business prospects in the subregion and business venture experience in BIMP-EAGA and China. Hj. Alimen Hj. Jaafar, country director for Brunei Darussalam representing the BIMP-EAGA Business Council chairman, talked about opportunities in the subregion’s economic corridors, particularly the development of cross-border value chains, which can facilitate knowledge transfers, economies of scale, and upstream and downstream linkages.
Initiatives in the private sector include linking the chambers of commerce and business councils of BIMP-EAGA and China and establishing joint business associations.
Meanwhile, Yang Limei, deputy general manager of China Development Bank, and Le Quang Lan, director of the Market Integration Directorate of the ASEAN Secretariat gave insights on areas for enhanced cooperation. Yang talked about the $5-billion special fund that China Development Bank is setting up to support cooperation initiatives. Le said the fund could focus on projects that support pandemic recovery efforts and connectivity improvements. He also sees opportunities for leveraging China's role as a resource mobilizer and knowledge source for the subregion, helping it build institutional capacity and develop enabling policies at the regional and national level, and giving micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises opportunities to become part of the global supply chain.