THE 17th China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) and the concurrent China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit concluded on November 30, 2020 in Nanning, the capital city of South China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, a total of 86 investment projects worth 263.87 billion RMB or Yuan (around 40.1 billion U.S. dollars) were signed at the four-day event, an annual increase of 43.6 percent, according to data released by the Expo’s Secretariat at the closing ceremony. China’s President Xi Jinping, in his opening address, on behalf of the Chinese Government and people and also in his own name, extended a hearty welcome and warm greetings to all the guests attending in person or via the Internet. He stated that this year’s CAEXPO, themed “Building the Belt and Road, Strengthening Digital Economy Cooperation”, aimed to deepen China-ASEAN cooperation on the digital economy, promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, and inject new vitality into the economic and social development of both sides.
The investment projects in the fields of health, big data, logistics, new manufacturing, new materials, new energy and finance, accounted for 85.3 percent of the total. With an exhibition area of 104,000 square meters, this year’s expo set up 5,400 booths for 1,668 enterprises, including Fortune 500 and industry-leading companies. In addition, 1,956 enterprises from China and abroad participated virtually in the event. More than 150 trade and investment promotion activities were held both online and offline during the expo. Pakistan participated for the first time as a special partner country. At a briefing in Beijing, China’s Foreign Office Spokesperson, Hua Chunying, when asked to comment on Pakistan’s maiden participation at the prestigious event as a special partner country, was sanguine. She responded that Pakistan has been actively supporting and participating in the China-ASEAN Expo for many years. The Expo has served as a platform for Pakistan to strengthen economic and trade cooperation with China and ASEAN. This year, for the first time, Pakistan was invited to attend the Expo as a special partner of the China-ASEAN Expo. Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi delivered a video speech at the opening ceremony of the China-ASEAN Expo and the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit, expressing Pakistan’s sincere wish to further strengthen cooperation with China and ASEAN.
Hua Chunying reiterated that Pakistan is China’s good neighbour, good friend and good brother connected by mountains and rivers and it is China’s all-weather and all-round strategic cooperative partner. Pakistan is geographically close to ASEAN countries. She emphasized that China is ready to make joint efforts with Pakistan and ASEAN to deepen economic and trade cooperation between China, ASEAN and Pakistan so as to achieve win-win results. The heartening aspect of this year’s CAEXPO witnessed an increasing number of companies in the region striving to expand their footprints in the Chinese market despite the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. The outcome of this enhanced participation is that they are also invigorating the region’s digital economy through cross-border e-commerce, including live streaming sales, online shops and sub-applications on mobile devices.
The participants had to undergo tough regimen of COVID-19 tests, yet a record number of participants showed up displaying their faith in China. COVID-19 has changed the entire lifestyle globally, from travelling to participation in events, dining and especially in conduct of business, holding conferences, seminars and summits. Information technology is enabling people to conduct their interaction, whether commercial or social, online. Coming back to four-day CAEXPO, online distributors held sway since demand by online retailers has risen considerably. The participating distributors relied on live streaming using major Chinese e-commerce platforms, including Alibaba-backed Taobao, Pinduoduo and JD. com, as well as video-sharing social networking service Douyin. Many distributors used the online selling channel on Mini Program, a sub-application built within China’s social networking giant, Wechat to solicit more business opportunities.
Chinese organizers of the CAEXPO must be taking comfort and pride in the fact that their live streaming platforms served the participants well since China’s live streaming market is a trend now. Because of the pandemic, clients prefer using live streaming to make purchases. Despite western propaganda to the contrary, China has managed to contain COVID-19 and its economy is bouncing back. Since it is a huge market, it attracts a lot of attention from Asian manufactures and service providers. CAEXPO provided a very good platform for distributors as well as manufacturers to enter into the Chinese market, while it simultaneously served as a very good window for them to promote their products and services to international players from the Occident and the Middle East, many of whom were present at the event.
Many regional participants find it prudent to tether their fortunes with China since it attracts all the big players in the world to come to China. There is optimism about a bright prospect for digital economy in not only China, but also the whole Asia, thanks to the signing of the landmark Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes the 10-member ASEAN, and other five signatories including China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Since the beginning of this year, China-ASEAN regional economic cooperation has exhibited strong resilience and vitality despite the impact of the COVID-19, becoming the most successful and dynamic model of Asia-Pacific regional cooperation. The next event, the 18th China-ASEAN Expo is preliminarily scheduled for September 10 to 13, 2021, with Laos continuing as the Country of Honour and Pakistan the Special Partner Country.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.