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Country, ASEAN build bridge from heart to heart

By Hou Yanqi | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-02-26 09:15
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People visit the RCEP pavilions during the 19th China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, in September 2022. [Photo/Xinhua]

China and member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations kicked off the 2024 ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges on Feb 2 with a high-standard, high-level launching ceremony in Fuzhou, Fujian province.

It is only through friendship of the heart that a long-lasting relationship can be established. In more than 2,000 years of friendly exchanges, China and ASEAN have jointly created a diverse and splendid Asian civilization and written a magnificent poem of civilizational integration.

The agreement of China and ASEAN to designate 2024 as the ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges is aimed at tightening cultural ties, consolidating the foundation of public opinion and providing lasting momentum for the development of China-ASEAN relations. Under the theme of "Enhancing Connectivity and Resilience", Laos, which holds the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN for 2024, has prioritized "promoting the role of ASEAN culture and the arts for inclusion and sustainability", which is in line with this.

Under the framework of the ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges, the two sides will carry out a series of exchange and cooperation activities in the fields of youth, women, education, culture, tourism, sports, science and technology, and media.

The ASEAN-China Youth Campus, the ASEAN-China Educational Exchange Week, the ASEAN-China Cultural Forum, the tourism exhibition during the ASEAN-China Expo, the ASEAN-China Martial Arts Competition, and the ASEAN-China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition, among others, have been scheduled and are being intensively prepared.

We hope that more and more colorful activities will be included on the list of activities for the ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges, and that more people from China and ASEAN countries will participate in these activities.

We believe that the most powerful driving force for strengthening people-to-people exchanges between China and ASEAN countries comes from the people, and the most practical benefits will be enjoyed by the general public.

Taking tourism as an example, in 2023, China's outbound tourism experienced a strong recovery, with 3.42 million Chinese tourists traveling to Thailand and 1.4 million to Malaysia, ranking second and fourth, respectively, among those two countries' source markets.

China and ASEAN countries are also taking measures such as facilitating visas and increasing flights, and China has announced mutual visa exemptions with three ASEAN countries — Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. The two sides are also exploring various policy initiatives, including strengthening the 10+1 tourism cooperation mechanism.

Driven by various activities of the ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges, two-way tourism will surely usher in faster development, bringing more employment opportunities and greater economic benefits to people from both sides.

The majority of young people are direct beneficiaries of China-ASEAN people-to-people exchanges. In the 2021-22 academic year, ASEAN students accounted for approximately 30 percent of the total number of international students in China. The ASEAN-China Young Leaders Scholarship and other programs have been steadily expanded.

We will continue to support Chinese local governments in providing targeted scholarships for ASEAN students, and encourage well-known Chinese universities to open their doors to more outstanding young people from ASEAN countries. We will also continue to expand cooperation in the fields of vocational education and professional training, and implement projects such as the "Plan of Training for 10,000" to provide stronger talent support for China-ASEAN cooperation.

People-to-people exchanges are all-encompassing, and there are many more achievements waiting to be realized together. We look forward to everyone's participation.

The ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges will build a "heart-to-heart bridge" between China and ASEAN countries. It will not only help Laos, as chair, to enrich the theme of the meetings, but also promote higher-quality development cooperation through people-to-people exchanges.

We will also take practical actions to advocate the inheritance, innovation, exchange and mutual understanding of civilizations, promote Asian values centered on peace, cooperation, inclusiveness and integration, and promote the transformation into reality of the vision depicted in the China-proposed Global Civilization Initiative.

In this sense, the ASEAN-China Year of People-to-People Exchanges is the latest practice in building a closer China-ASEAN community with a shared future, and it reflects the joint contributions made by China and ASEAN in promoting world peace, security, prosperity and progress.

The author is ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the People's Republic of China to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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