Fast-growing bilateral trade between China and ASEAN countries has led to consensus that closer economic cooperation is desired by both sides despite frictions on the seas.
Bilateral trade between China and ASEAN amounted to 400.1 billion U.S. dollars last year, nearly six times that of 10 years ago. In the first half of 2013, bilateral trade surged to 210.56 billion U.S. dollars, up 12.2 percent year on year.
China has become ASEAN's largest trading partner, while ASEAN ranks as China's third-largest trading partner.
"An economically stable ASEAN and China are crucial to the world economy. It is incumbent upon us to deepen ASEAN-China cooperation to meet our common objectives," said Myanmar President H. E. U. Thein Sein during the ongoing 10th China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) in the south China city of Nanning.
At CAEXPO's opening ceremony on Tuesday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said China and ASEAN should work together to cope with risks and strive to maintain stable economic operations and healthy development, which Li said are the common interests of all parties.
"We are facing various new challenges and the China-ASEAN strategic partnership will be conducive to facing and conquering these challenges," said Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
"China and ASEAN have increasingly combined forces to lift the influence and competitiveness of both sides in the world economy," said Zheng Junjian, secretary general of the secretariat of the China-ASEAN Expo.
To deepen economic cooperation, premier Li proposed upgrading the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA), adding that the Chinese side will strive to expand bilateral trade to 1 trillion U.S. dollars by 2020.
Launched in 2010, CAFTA has become the world's largest free trade area among developing countries, covering a total population of 1.9 billion.
CAFTA has been effective in promoting mutual economic benefit between China and ASEAN, and will have an important role in improving Sino-Philippine relations, said Corazon H. Dichosa, an officer with the Board of Investments of the Philippines.
"In the FTA, there are a lot of opportunities for China-ASEAN cooperation. Under the framework, we are strengthening cooperation with China in terms of investment and trade," said Dichosa.
As the "country of honor" for this year's CAEXPO, the Philippines set up four themed pavilions exhibiting products from coffee to souvenirs, handmade jewelry and snacks. Dozens of purchasers clustered in front of the booths discussing business.