DPM Heng Swee Keat at the opening ceremony of the 18th China-ASEAN Expo

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 10 September 2021

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the opening ceremony of the 18th China-ASEAN Expo on 10 September 2021. 



Your Excellency, Wang Qishan, 
Vice President of the People’s Republic of China,

Distinguished Heads of Delegation of the ASEAN Member States, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.   


This year marks three decades of ASEAN-China dialogue relations, at a time when the whole world is battling COVID-19.  There is no better reminder of our shared future as one humanity than this pandemic. The theme of this EXPO – to jointly build a shared future – is most timely. Trade between ASEAN and China have flourished since dialogue relations were established thirty years ago. Despite COVID-19, trade grew in 2020 and is now worth more than US$500 billion. We are now each other’s largest trading partners. 

Looking ahead, ASEAN and China will benefit further from closer economic integration, especially with a fast-growing digital economy and an expanding middle class. 

The Corridor 

In particular, we can explore how ASEAN and China can collaborate on the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative – New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor. Started as an initiative between Singapore and China, the Corridor has the potential to benefit the wider region as an alternative trade route. During my visit to Chongqing in 2019, I witnessed first-hand the extent of the Corridor’s network and its immense potential. By providing a more direct link between Western China and Southeast Asia, the Corridor reduces the time and cost for the movement of goods and the provision of services between these fast-growing regions and beyond.  Last year, despite COVID-19, we saw a 30 per cent year-on-year increase in trade volume along the Corridor. We can further build on this growth momentum. 

Strengthening Trade

Beyond the Corridor, ASEAN and China should continue our cooperation to strengthen the rules-based multilateral framework for trade and investments. We should work towards upgrading the ASEAN-China  Free Trade Agreement to further reduce non-tariff measures and address new priorities to keep up with the times. Digital collaboration will be a key building block. By leveraging on existing platforms such as the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, we can make faster progress.

We should also rebuild our air links and further liberalise the ASEAN-China Air Transport Agreement to boost regional connectivity. Air travel in the post-pandemic world will be different. But strong air links will remain critical to economic recovery, and in deepening mutual understanding between our peoples. Beyond ASEAN and China, the RCEP promotes greater integration in the region. Singapore and China have ratified the RCEP, and we look forward to the RCEP coming into force. Through greater economic cooperation, we can grow our companies and improve the lives of people in the region. 

Sustainable Development 

Apart from economic cooperation, sustainable development is another important area of partnership. We designated this year as the ASEAN-China Year of Sustainable Development Cooperation. Southeast Asia is home to the world’s largest blue carbon stock, and has significant potential to contribute to nature-based solutions for carbon sequestration. Initiatives such as the ASEAN-China Environment Cooperation Strategy and Action Plan, and the BRI International Green Development Coalition can catalyse knowledge exchanges, joint projects and investment opportunities. Within ASEAN, the Catalytic Green Finance Facility provides loans and technical assistance for green infrastructure projects. With a focus on sustainable development, we can leave behind a greener planet for our children. 


The relationship between ASEAN and China has grown from strength to strength since formal dialogue relations began three decades ago.

Let us work closely together to broaden and deepen this cooperation, and do our part in the global community, in the next 30 years and beyond. Thank you.