24 Jun 2020

China’s Role in ASEAN’s Post-Covid-19 Economic Recovery – A Global Perspective from Government Ministers and Senior Business Experts

Business China and UK-based Asia House jointly organised the third session of the FC Global Business Series on 23 June 2020. FC Global Business Series is a series of online webinars focused on sharing the latest trends and information concerning China, ASEAN and the world. The webinar boasted a strong line-up of regional speakers who are current or former political leaders, business leaders and renowned subject experts from Singapore, China, ASEAN and UK. These speakers include Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Ministry of Trade and Industry, His Excellency Cesar Purisima, former Philippine Secretary of Finance, Mr Mukhtar Hussain, Group General Manager and Head of Belt and Road Initiative and Business Corridors of HSBC, as well as Mr Tu Xinquan, Dean and Professor of China Institute for WTO Studies of University of International Business and Economics.  Business China CEO, Ms Tin Pei Ling gave the opening remarks for the session, speaking briefly on the purpose and aim of the FC Global Business Series to bring the latest insights in China, ASEAN and the world, as well as Business China’s mission.

Riding on the success of the past two sessions, this webinar attracted an international audience of about 500, from Singapore, China, UK and ASEAN countries, of which 80% are senior management from the public sector and business community.

COVID-19 has accelerated the tension between US and China which has caused global disruption to trade and economy. Supply chain disruption has caused a shift from globalisation to regionalisation, with the focus shifting to the East. While companies are diversifying their production to ASEAN, at the same time, Chinese companies are going international and moving to ASEAN. China is a rising superpower and being the first to emerge out of the pandemic, they will play an important role in ASEAN’s economic recovery. New opportunities will emerge for regional economies which will foster greater economic collaboration between China and ASEAN. Singapore can play an increasingly important role to facilitate economic link between China, ASEAN and the world, to expedite the recovery for the region. 

During the panel discussion, Dr Koh Poh Koon shared that China continues to be an economic powerhouse with their big domestic market which will be of interest to businesses based in ASEAN. ASEAN will also be growing, being estimated as the fourth largest economic block in the world within the next decade despite the pandemic disruption. Close collaboration is key in overcoming common challenges and transforming ASEAN to seek new opportunities. ASEAN and China can work closely in areas such as keeping trade routes and supply lines open, resuming cross-border travel in a safe and progressive manner, and supporting regional and global efforts to uphold a stable and peaceful international order.

Mr Mukhtar Hussain shared that the relationship between China and ASEAN has been strong for decades with intensifying bilateral relationships. COVID-19 has amplified the need to engage the private sector while promoting a third-party collaboration to make BRI multilateral. He believed that the BRI is an enabler of cooperation and economic growth in the post-COVID-19 environment.

Business China Chairman, Mr Lee Yi Shyan, aired a question pertaining to the possibility that Europe and ASEAN might build an even closer relationship given the current situation during the session.  

His Excellency Cesar Purisima commented that COVID-19 has amplified many issues such as trade war, debate of globalisation and increased polarisation of domestic politics. He agreed that China continues to play an important role in the economic recovery post-COVID-19 and ASEAN should still keep up the engagement with China, EU, and the rest of the world to fulfil ASEAN’s mission as a trading hub. ASEAN should look inwards to remove the barriers to integration and present ASEAN as one market. ASEAN centrality would mean harmonisation of standards, using digital technology to make cross-border trade across ASEAN countries easier, and to consider aligning customs border.

Professor Tu Xinquan shared that COVID-19 has showed that the global supply chain has some inherent vulnerabilities and is economically and commercially reasonable to shorten or diversify supply sources to enhance security and resilience.  Prof Tu also highlighted that China has been working to be integrated into the international society and believes that China will not decouple with the rest of the world. To increase regional cooperation, Prof Tu urged to complete the RCEP agreement and accelerate the process to remove obstacles in order to create more opportunities for economic recovery in the region.

The audience also took the opportunity to raise their concerns and questions, with the speakers succinctly answering them with examples while taking into consideration the many factors affecting the situation. The Q&A segment saw questions such as “China Plus One” strategy, BRI project’s investment funding, as well as what China and ASEAN can do to encourage stability and sustainability being answered.

The next session of the FC Global Business Series will be on “Respond, Reset and Renew: New Consumerism in Post-Covid-19 China and ASEAN”.