Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished panelists, co-panelists, moderator of our session General Yao,
Let me thank State Councilor and Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe for inviting me and my delegation to speak at the Beijing Xiangshan Forum this year. This, as General Yao said, is my third time speaking. And let me just say that Xiangshan Forum has gone from strength to strength. And let me congratulate the China Association for Military Science, and the China Institute for International Strategic Studies for the success of this 8th Beijing Xiangshan Forum.
Doctor Henry Kissinger in his book "On China" aptly begins its first chapter titled "The Singularity of China" - a China that has always existed, as early as any known human civilization and one too that will doubtlessly exist far into mankind's future.
Due to China's durability and plain vastness, superlatives abound in its descriptions. I think every student in schools here in China would be familiar with the list of inventions or discoveries by Ancient China, including paper, movable type printing, gunpowder, the compass, silk, acupuncture, iron smelting, even rockets. I am sure Defense Minister Wei would be very proud that the ancient China discovered rockets, much earlier than many civilizations, or any other civilizations. And the list goes on. But those same students may also know the cautionary tale of how despite the greatness attained by China in the past, and at its zenith, by some accounts an astonishing 30% of the World's GDP, somewhere after the 15th century, China turned insular and closed its doors to the world. The tragic events that followed particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries with the decline of Imperial China and its "humiliation" are again familiar to Chinese citizens.
But here we are sitting comfortably today in this beautiful building in modern Beijing. It's hard to believe whether you travel across China, driving, travelling by high-speed rail, or flying across the many modern skyscraper cities of China that it has been barely 70 years after the devastation of the Second World War. As many speakers before me have alluded to, this is the 40th year anniversary of Deng Xiaoping's economic liberalization that started in 1978. And all of us would agree that transformation has been astounding. It is a modern miracle powered by the industry and innovativeness of the Chinese population.
After joining the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in 1980, as well as the World Trade Organization in 2001, China's total trade has multiplied by nearly a hundred fold to USD$4.2 trillion. It is now the world's biggest trading nation and through that peaceful rise, more than 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty.
Today, ASEAN and China economies are deeply integrated. China has been the top trading partner of ASEAN for 8 consecutive years, accounting for 17.1% of ASEAN's total trade last year. In fact, bilateral China-ASEAN volume hit a record high last year, amounting to more than US$515 billion. The ASEAN-China Free Trade Area is one of the world's largest and was upgraded in 2015. Singapore is no exception and our trade with China was nearly US$100 billion - the largest among Singapore's trading partners.
If there is any lesson to be drawn from these two Chinas - one in decline that started from the 15th century and one that is rising in the 21st century, it must be that even as large and venerable as China is, it needs the World, as much as the World needs China. That "Singularity of China" cannot thrive in isolation. China's well-being and that of the world at large are co-dependent. China's singularity depends on the state of the health of the Cosmos in which it inhabits and in which it must also shape to maintain.
This year's Beijing Xiangshan Forum comes on the heels of the conclusion of the annual ADMM/ADMM-Plus meetings that were held in Singapore just last week. Here is a thriving example of China taking pains and expending much effort in contributing to and shaping the common regional security architecture. Allow me to draw some practical observations as the current Chair of ADMM and ADMM-Plus. We should be aware that the 18 countries represent four billion people and 90% of the world's military, so the impact has indeed a global reach.
First, the positives. That Defense Ministers could and should meet regularly, exchanging views and ideas rather than bullets and missiles, is a modern concept and a virtuous one. To quote Winston Churchill, "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war". We started the meeting of 18 Defense Ministers and their delegations with the hope that there would be commitment if we met once in three years. We need not have been faint-hearted. Indeed, on their own accord and momentum, it was the ADMM-Plus countries that proposed that we meet more often. From the 1st ADMM-Plus to now only the 5th, we have agreed to meet every year.
Our military troops are engaging each other more than ever. Since its inception in 2010, the ADMM-Plus has conducted seven field training exercises that have brought together more than 12,000 military personnel. Next year, the ADMM-Plus is poised to conduct six training exercises across six different domains - HADR, counter-terrorism, peacekeeping operations, military medicine, humanitarian mine action, and maritime security, as well as table-top exercise on cyber-security. China currently co-chairs the ADMM-Plus Experts' Working Group on Counter-Terrorism together with Thailand.
Despite this busy schedule, individual countries are proposing more troop exercises. An excellent example, which Defense Minister Wei mentioned, is the ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise, now currently ongoing in Zhanjiang, first mooted by then-Chinese Minister of National Defense Chang Wanquan in 2015.
I visited the ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise in Zhanjiang just two days ago. This exercise featured both ASEAN navies and the PLA Navy, with a particular focus on CUES, the code for unexpected encounters at sea. Next year, the ASEAN-US Maritime Exercise will also be taking place. These frequent military-to-military and defence leadership interactions build trust and confidence that can lead to even more significant institutional ballasts. Another prime example is GAME. What is GAME? GAME is Guidelines for Air Military Encounters, that all ASEAN member states had adopted and with all of the ADMM-Plus countries including China giving their in-principle support. It's a counterpart of CUES, but in the air.
These positive developments should give us all encouragement to deal with more difficult bilateral or multilateral issues, which we must not paper over, thinking that they will go away or solve themselves. The China-US rivalry in this region, the tensions in the South China Sea and nuclear threat on the Korean Peninsular are ongoing challenges that can push us all into a negative vortex, if things go awry. At this ADMM-Plus meeting, the ASEAN defense ministers expressed concerns over the recent incidence between two destroyers of US and China near the Spratly Islands.
As a rising power, China's development will benefit itself, the region and the world. China should continue and step up its engagement the world, as it does here in the forum, ADMM-Plus and Shangri-La Dialogue. It's essential for our military leaders to build rapport, understanding and confidence through interactions at various levels especially the top leadership. For today's modern militaries with modern platforms and armaments, with many parts moving quickly and far, it is essential to build these personal ties which can prove very useful to de-escalate tensions and prevent miscalculations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me thank you for this invitation to Xiangshan Forum. And I would like to close that when other agencies between states have disagreements, I think that those would be the exact situations in which Defense Ministries and their militaries must not only maintain but strengthen communications to maintain the peace and allow diplomatic initiatives time to take effect.
Thank you very much.