China is looking to upgrade its ASEAN ties to a “Strategic Comprehensive Partnership”. It already has an extensive free trade agreement with the bloc, whose members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. ASEAN is China’s largest trade partner with annual bilateral volumes at US$685.28 billion in 2020.
Strategic Comprehensive Partnerships go further than trade agreements in that they align laws as well as security and related cooperation and are also the highest level of relationship possible between Governments. ASEAN already cooperates with China to some extent in the security aspect as it is a permanent attendee of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
The Strategic Comprehensive Partnership proposal was made by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of this week’s ASEAN summit and was revealed by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his official remarks in which he expressed in principal, support for China upgrading its relationship with the bloc.
A meeting to discuss an upgrade would reportedly take place next month and be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who has also expressed support for the idea.
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